Saturday, October 30: Esther 4-Problems, trouble, how do you respond?

And who knows but that you have come to [your] position for such a time as this?" (14).

Esther was not looking to be a heroine. She, like most of us, was likely living her life one day at a time. Presently she was growing insecure about her position as queen.  It had been 30 days since the king last invited her into his presence. Out of nowhere pops this crisis for her people. Could she play a role?  Should she play a role? What should she do?

For a brief moment she entertains doing nothing. “Let’s ride it out and see what happens,” may have been her thought. Her uncle’s words above burst her bubble, “OK, I’m in.  I’ll speak to the king. But first…” But first let’s pray… “Uncle, you have the community pray for me and I and my maid will pray. Then I’ll go to the king.” Esther is talking serious prayer, prayer + fasting for 3 days!

Reading Esther’s story unfold drives me to ponder how I react during times of trouble or problem. Do I reach out to my Lord or just try to handle it on my own?

My brief review is a mixed answer. Sometimes I look to myself. Sometimes I look to the Lord. I can think of examples of both. The Spirit’s nudge… “Look to Me, I will never leave you nor forsake you. I will always be there for and with you.”

Not every problem requires 3 days of fasting and prayer but asking the Lord for guidance is ALWAYS a wise choice…

Lord God, Thank You for Your promise to be with me (us) always. Thank You for the invitationto always be attentive to my (our) prayers. Develop in me the desire and habit to talk with and consult with You as I live my life, during times of trouble and times of calm. In Jesus name. Amen.

 

Friday, October 29: Esther 3- Time, secrets, faith.

Almost a decade has elapsed since the story began. It begins in Xerxes 3rd year (1:3). The beauty contest took a number of years, the beauty treatments themselves required 12-months and the text mentioned that Esther didn’t go to the king until his 7th year (2:16). Now as chapter 3 continues, the account we learn is Xerxes’ 12th year (3:7). I thought about the passing of time. Esther has been a faithful queen for half-a-decade and for all that time she had kept her Jewish heritage a secret. The text is silent about this. I wondered if members of the court knew Esther’s secret. Did her attendants know? Surely some people must have known since Mordecai, the Jew, was her uncle. Was the king in the dark about her Jewishness?  Obviously, Haman was.

I wondered how she maintained her heritage and her Jewish faith in relative secret.  Secret keeping is difficult in its own right. Add to that maintaining a faith in secret…

I thought about some of the women I have met who have converted to Christianity from Islam through some medical mission efforts. Many of these women have to return to Muslim families after they are healed.  Sharing their faith in Jesus could and likely would mean expulsion from the family and possible death. Add to that the fact that women have virtually no rights and no way to feed or provide for their children should they be abandoned by their husband.  What do they do? In some instances I know they have been counseled to be quiet about their faith in Jesus. How hard it must be to maintain faith when you are isolated and alone. That, apparently, was Esther’s situation.

I began to count my blessings. I have brothers and sisters and family that share my faith, who encourage me and help me and pick me up when I fall and smile when God blesses and …

Lord Jesus, thank You for my family and friends, brothers and sisters in faith who are there to walk the walk of faith with me. I don’t know where I would be without them. I don’t know how Esther survived. I am so grateful for the family of faith You have placed around me. Thank You, Lord, thank You. Amen.

 

Thursday, October 28: Esther 2- What do you see

Esther’s rise to Queen of Persia is a story made for today’s reality TV. Orphan girl raised by her widower uncle (no mention of an aunt) is the back story. We could follow Esther as she keeps her heritage secret and becomes the favorite of Hegai, the contestant manager and beauty consultant. Just imagine the conversations among the contestants during that year!

Then out of all the beautiful contestants vying to chosen queen, Esther wins!

I can easily imagine Hollywood highlighting Esther’s amazing looks, wonderful charm and the breaks she made for herself along the way.

Maybe the story should be one of those hero/heroine stories? “Rudy,” “Invincible,” or “Blind Side” with a beauty pageant rather than football theme? Again, Esther’s orphan upbringing could be stressed invoking sympathy and showing how a person can overcome any obstacle. Esther could be portrayed as na├»ve and sheltered as she enters the contest and out blossoms this amazing beauty who wins. Then early on the job she saves the king, exposing the plot. With a little Hollywood makeover they could do it.

I played with the above plot possibilities because I realized that we can read this story simply from a human perspective.  Poor girl makes good, eventually saves the king (and this is only one chapter, just wait the story will grow). And yes, that is true, but…

But there is an unspoken layer, God. God orchestrating His saving will.

Reading this book it came to me that I make choices regularly to see or not see God’s hand at work in life… to recognize or not recognize God’s hand at work in my life…

I found myself looking back over my years and consciously paying attention to God’s providential and saving movements in, around and with me all my years…

O, God, thank You for being there for and with me. Thank You for working in my life even before I acknowledged You as Lord and God. Thank You for not giving up on me… thank You, thank You, thank You. In Jesus’ name I thank You. Amen.

 

Wednesday, October 27: Esther 1- Life with no restraint

I found myself thinking about King Xerxes. He had absolutely no restraints. Whatever he wanted to do, he did. The opulence of the party: 7-day duration, the decorations, guest list, gold goblets and flowing wine. And when he makes a decision, it is law, period. No review, no check and balance.

When his wife, the queen, says ‘no’, she is deposed on the spot and a search for a new queen set in motion. Need it done, want it done… do it.

An ego run amuck.  A life without restraint.

I wondered what his life was like when the doors were closed? Was he content? Did he enjoy life? Was he satisfied? No way to know and my thoughts are merely projections of myself and any reading I may have done.

I flipped to God’s words through Paul. Everything is permissible but not everything beneficial (1Cor 6:12. 10:23). Then I pondered this self imposed restraint… and how it instructs life for one seeking to follow Jesus.

I thought again of Paul. I pummel my body… (1Cor 9:27) thinking again of how this instructs one seeking to follow Jesus. And more scripture flowed in my soul… “you are a new creation” (2Cor 5:17), take off the old and put on the new (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10 ) and so on.

No restraint sounds ideal on paper… but left to ourselves with no restraint, sin flourishes and lives are hurt.

O, Lord Jesus, thank You for sending the inner voice of the Holy Spirit, for teaching me right and wrong, for showing me Your way which develops godly restraint and seeks not to please self, but to live to please You –Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To You, O God, I pray in and through Jesus. Amen.

 

Tuesday, October 26: Nehemiah 13- Accountability

How sad!  Only two days ago I read about the wonderful spiritual reforms in Israel. Now today I read about all Nehemiah needed to do to reestablish godly order in Jerusalem after a few years away. The word ‘accountability’ kept popping into my mind. It was as if I was watching a baseball game on TV and the word ‘accountability’ kept scrolling along the update banner on the bottom of the TV screen. Accountability… Accountability… Accountability… over and over again.

Left without accountability, Israel went berserk. Many of the reforms that Nehemiah instituted during his governorship needed to be instituted again.

What gives? Don’t these people get it? Can’t they remain faithful? These and similar thoughts fired around my mind. And even as they were reverberating in my thoughts, the Holy Spirit’s whisper began, “Don’t be to smug, Bill. Don’t be too quick to point a finger. Don’t grow holier-than-thou. The human heart hasn’t changed since then. You are just as able to turn from Me as they were. Sin and your sin-marred self must be held in check and accountability with others can be a great help…”

And so the Spirit spoke, not audibly but clearly, to my heart and mind… 

Lord, I am prone to thinking I am better than I really am… thank You for this reality check. Thank You for the reminder about the benefits of honest accountability with others as I walk this life of faith. Amen.

 

Monday, October 25: Nehemiah 12- Celebrating God's goodness.

The devotional heart of this chapter came toward the end of the reading. I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks… One choir processes in one direction and the second in the other. Together they circle the entire city up upon the walls until they met at the temple where The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; … The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. (31, 40-43).

The Lord has brought them back to the land and reestablished Jerusalem.  God was to be praised! When it comes to celebrating the goodness of the Lord, Israel did it right. They did not hold back, they celebrated… pageantry, procession, participation and preparation. And the result, just check out v 43: The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

God is deserving of our praise.  God was certainly the focus of this celebration as all Jerusalem sang and sacrificed to the wonders of the Lord.

Another thought occurred to me, people respond to well orchestrated and well executed worshipful leading. People rejoiced (43), people gave (44) and people purified themselves before the Lord (45). So powerful was the move of God that Nehemiah reestablished the ministry of singers with directors for the singers as David had done years ago.

Song reaches to places of the heart that words alone can never go.  Singing is not the sum total of worship.  Notice people giving and purifying lives and don’t forget all of this grew from Ezra’s preaching and teaching of the word… these, too, are worship. But singing and song – directed singing and song - sets worship ablaze in people hearts so that those other elements can spring for deep roots.

Think about it…

Lord, just yesterday we worshiped and in a few days we will worship again. We will use songs to You and about You to set our lives ablaze that we worship You with the whole of our being, giving, confessing, learning and growing in and for You. In Jesus name. Amen.

 

Saturday, October 23: Nehemiah 11- Names, names, names.

Not much happens in this chapter. It is a chapter filled with the names of people selected to live in Jerusalem and repopulate it.

I read it once, thinking there is not much here but a list of names. I read it again paying more attention to the names and lineages, but again I thought, “Not much here but names.” I began to wonder, “God, what’s the nugget for today?” As that thought entered my thinking, I also thought, “My, there are a lot of names, names of people I don’t know, names I cannot pronounce.”

These two thoughts seemed to collide… “Ahhh, I thought these people may be unknown to me. Their names may be unpronounceable to me but not to God. The Lord saw fit to make sure their names are written in Scripture. God knew each one of these people intimately. He numbered the hairs on their heads and the days of their lives. These men and their families were precious to the Lord…”

A simple truth, but a wonderful one… God knows me. I am important to Him. He knows my name, the number of hairs on my head and the days of my years. God knows me intimately and my name is written in His family register!

This thought reminded me of a wonderful song by Tommy Walker, He Knows My Name, which goes like this:

I have a Maker
He formed my heart
Before even time began
My life was in his hands

I have a Father
He calls me His own
He'll never leave me
No matter where I go

He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And He hears me when I call

If you are connected to the internet, you may want to check out this YouTube of the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBmtGSuw04Y.

God knows your name and God loves you. God knows my name and loves me.That’s what filled my meditations as I contemplated the names listed in Nehemiah 11.

Lord, my heart is filled, realizing that You, Lord God of heaven and earth, know me, care for me and love me. O, Lord, I can’t wait to gather with Your family and worship You tomorrow… See You tomorrow at worship, Lord… Amen.

 

Friday, October 22: Nehemiah 10- Living Differently.

Yesterday we read about the peoples’ honesty before the Lord. They examined their lives in light of God’s word.  The account continues in today’s chapter, chronicling the written pledge the people made to the Lord to live differently.

Surrounding culture creates an unseen but very real pressure on all people living within the culture. It exerts pressure to conform, to live like everyone else. Culture pressured people in Nehemiah’s day and it does in our day. People of faith must beware!  Culture has a way of squeezing faith out of people, slowly yet steadily…

Israel, in Nehemiah’s day, pledged to no longer marry foreign women or give their daughters to foreign husbands. They pledged to uphold the Sabbath, no longer buying foreign merchandise on the Sabbath. And they pledged to honor and respect every 7th year as a Sabbath year not working the land, as well as canceling debts with brothers. Other pledges were made to live according the God’s word.

The first three in particular show the pressure of culture on people of faith. The cries to intermarry and to do commerce with the pagans were strong and Israel succumbed. For reforms to take place, Israel had to affirm and conform that they would live differently.  That they would live as God’s word instructed.

The Holy Spirit’s nudge was not so subtle, “Bill, look at your life; plumb it against My word. Culture is pressuring you… make changes. Make appropriate God-honoring changes to your life…”

Is the Spirit speaking similarly to you???

Lord, I have learned the lesson before many times.  True confession (like Nehemiah and the people in chapter 9) results naturally in obedience and change of behavior. Lord, bring me to true confession and repentance.  Show me where I dishonor You in my living.  Holy Spirit, provide me with the power and courage to change, to resist my culture and my personal sin-bents and live a God-honoring life. I pray in Jesus name. Amen.

 

Thursday, October 21: Nehemiah 9- Seeing ourselves for who we truly are.

According to the date in the opening verse, Israel has been listening to the Word, read and explained, for three and-a-half weeks. They have celebrated the feast of Booths according to the direction of the Word and, apparently, the Word has exposed their sin and cut them to the heart. They stand this day, the 24th day of the seventh month, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. … They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their father. (1-2).

As I sit this morning, I marvel at and am encouraged by their honesty before God and with themselves. The community stood together admitting their sin and the sins of their fathers.

These people invited the Word of God deep into their souls… and were willing to change and grow.

O, Lord, that I would be so brave, that I would be so bold, that I would be so honest before You.

O, Lord, I invite Your word, as I read and study and ponder it, into those deep places in my life… Renew me!... Change me!... Convict me!... Strengthen me!… through Your word. Amen.

 

Wednesday, October 20: Nehemiah 8- Starved for the Word

I try to imagine the scene.  Now that the community is established –walls secured, temple activities and sacrifices reinstituted with appropriate priests and Levites and homes in working order- they attend to the Word. In an elaborate ceremony, Ezra, the priest, reads the Word for hours as the people listen attentively. Like parched desert hikers the people soak themselves in the water of the Word. Reading and instruction were the order of the morning, celebrating the gift of God’s word filled the rest of the day.

On the second day, verse 13, they read about the feast of booths.  They realized that it was to be observed beginning that day and immediately obeyed.

This is where the Lord speaks to me.  Obedience, rather that emotion, is the true indicator of faithfulness. On the spot, the leaders call for and the people respond obediently…

In my imagining, God is smiling.  His people are home where they belong, physically and spiritually. They are in Jerusalem living His word…

Lord, to be home with You. To live under Your umbrella of grace and be living Your word. Lord God, as I sit this morning in Your word, cause it to live within me. Help me to obey and follow Your word and Your voice all of my life… In and through Jesus, I pray. Amen.

 

Tuesday, October 19: Nehemiah 7- More than the physical.

Yes, Jerusalem was in ruins.  Yes, the walls and gates needed to be rebuilt but rebuilding the people of God requires more than bricks and mortar. With the walls repaired and gates reinstalled, Jerusalem was physically safe. This allowed Nehemiah to focus on resurrecting the community of faith. Priests, temple workers, Levites and leaders need to be established and functioning.  Only then can the community reestablish their worship and sacrifice to the Lord God Almighty as prescribed in His word.

Most of the chapter is the verifying of appropriate lineages for priests and those who serve at the temple. Nehemiah was scrupulous in his observance of God’s laws.

It was verse 2 that caught my devotional heart. I put in charge … Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do. Being commander of the citadel did not require a particular family bloodline but Nehemiah understood that it did have requirements. This person secured the city, gates were opened and closed at his command. Entrance to the city was granted through his leadership. Corruption here could mean the infiltration and capture of the entire city, so Nehemiah made his choice based on integrity… Hananiah was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do.

Proverbs reminds us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Pr 1:7, 9:10, 15:33). Integrity is being trustworthy and being the same person day and night, when people are looking and when they are not.

Only certain people could be priests.  Priesthood required a particular family lineage but everyone, all Christ-followers, can develop the fear of the Lord and integrity in their lives…

Lord, how am I doing with this? Lord, do I fear You?  Do I awe and revere You?  Do I recognize who You are??? And Lord, integrity, am I growing in integrity? These character traits honor You. Lead me, guide me, discipline me as needed to bring out these and other Christ-like qualities in my life… to You be the glory. Amen. Amen.

 

Monday, October 18: Nehemiah 6- Straining till completion

Chapter 6 resumes the narrative about the wall completion. The task is nearing conclusion and enemies advance again, hoping to stall the project. Their attacks turn personal.  First, they concoct lies to bring Nehemiah’s name into disrepute. Nehemiah stays strong.

Next they attempt a ruse to get Nehemiah to inappropriately use the temple, which again would bring him and his leadership into disrepute. Once more Nehemiah refuses the bait. … and the walls are rebuilt.

In verse 9 and 14 pop up two moments of prayer.  Those moments were so instructive for me. These prayers are neither formal nor lengthy (though admittedly they could be summaries of longer prayer times). What delights me and sparks my ‘God-thoughts’ for the morning is the ease and naturalness of the prayers.

V 9: They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, "Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed." [But I prayed,] "Now strengthen my hands." Even as his enemies are slogging him with intimidation, his retelling drops in this simple prayer, Now strengthen my hands. And later as their second personal attack is being retold, Nehemiah slides into a narrative prayer at that time. V.14: Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me.

What stirs my soul about these two prayer moments is their naturalness. These are not formalized prayers but ‘in the moment’ prayers. And they speak to me about Nehemiah’s ongoing walk with the Lord. Nehemiah naturally thinks to pray and he does. Like two friends, when something comes up, they communicate. For Nehemiah, when something comes up, he chats with God.  That’s what encouraged me… the simplicity of a relationship with God.

O, Lord, that is what I want to cultivate in my life, an ongoing, everyday, no matter the issue, relationship with You. Lord, that is what I seek. I love You, Lord. Bless You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Bless You. Amen.

 

Saturday, October 16: Nehemiah 5- In it for the long haul.

Verse 14 seems to be a comment looking back over Nehemiah’s entire 12-year ministry in Jerusalem…not that they have been at it already 12 years.  Twelve years, verse 14 says,  that Nehemiah was governor for 12 years, and for those 12 years he and the people of Jerusalem kept at the task of rebuilding the walls and rebuilding faithful life in Jerusalem… 12 years.

Nehemiah was in it for the long haul. I have no idea how long Nehemiah originally thought it would take to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, but once he started, what he believed was a mission from the Lord, he kept at it until he completed the task.

It is much easier to start an endeavor than to finish it, and finish it successfully. Nehemiah never gave up. External pressure (previous chapters), he pushed through. Problems within the camp (today’s chapter), he analyzed the issue and wasn’t afraid to do what was just and right.

No matter the situation, Nehemiah sought to follow the teaching of God’s Word and what pleased the Lord… and he kept at it, year after year, problem after problem for 12 years. Nehemiah was in it for the long haul.

I started thinking about those things I believe God wanted me to do… build my family, love my wife, pastor PCOG. How about you, what do you believe the Lord is asking you to do?

I’m in it for the long haul, how about you?

Lord, give me stamina to keep on… give me wisdom to know what to do when issues and problems arise, give me friends and leaders and associates and companions in doing Your business all the days of my life… This I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Friday, October 15: Nehemiah 4- The demon of discouragement

Every great project will face times of difficulty and opposition. Difficulty may come in the constant and repetitive voice of the naysayers working hard to cut the life out of those involved in the project. Difficulty may come in the size of the project and the workload on those involved. Early days of excitement give way to laborious days of monotonous work with no end in sight. Voices within groaned. Was it worth it??? Difficulty may come in the form of direct, even hostile, opposition. Overcoming difficulties, whatever their face, is a given for the completion of every great task.

Successful people seek ways through the difficulties. Leaders keep on going and learn how to bring the others along. Victors battle the demons of discouragement with targeted strategies. People of God seek the Lord for guidance, protection and encouragement.

Every great project… whether making a marriage that goes the distance or launching a non-profit or raising faith-filled children or rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem…will have to overcome demons’ discouragement.

Pray, work, strategize, seek wise counsel.  Do what you need to do to get through…

O, God, give me a Nehemiah spirit when it comes to those projects of significance in my life…. my marriage, my family, my church, my seeking after You. Amen.

 

Thursday, October 14: Nehemiah 3- All for one.

 

Nehemiah was a tremendous organizer, project manager and motivator. This entire chapter details what families and groups of people were in charge of rebuilding what section of the Jerusalem wall. In a complete counter-clockwise tour of the walls, the responsibility for repair of each section and/or gate is parceled out. The plan is workable and brilliant in strategy and simplicity.

I was delighted and amazed listening to the descriptions of whom worked on the various sections. Priests, merchants, Levites, families, goldsmiths, makers of perfume, all labored to repair the broken-down walls. District rulers, country people and city people all put their shoulders to the labor.

The picture painted, as I read, was everyone pulling together to complete the work. It didn’t matter if you normally did that kind of work or not, you pitched in. It truly is a picture of everyone working toward one common goal… all for one!

I mused. Would that we in the church today (capital ‘C’ Church, yes, but more practically the local small ‘c’ church) labor that diligently and that unified for Jesus’ goal expressed on the Mt of Olives before his return to heaven:  Then Jesus came to them and said, "…Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…" (Matthew 28:18-20)

Lord, to that end I pray this morning.  That I, as part of Your church, and we, Your church local and universal, would labor with all diligence and unity, as one, in reaching the entire world with Your gospel message, discipling all who come to faith in You, Jesus, and teaching them the whole counsel of Your written word… Amen. May it be so. Amen.

 

Wednesday, October 13: Nehemiah 2- Courage, moving through fear to action

It is plainly obvious, after reading this chapter, why business-type people resonate with the book of Nehemiah. He is an entrepreneur with a call from God and a plan to move God’s plan ahead.

Any number of ‘getting-things-done’ lessons can be derived from this chapter.  For me, the Spirit’s nudge came at the top of the reading. Reminder, Nehemiah has wept, fasted and sought God’s blessing prior to this encounter with the king

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart." I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?" The king said to me, "What is it you want?" Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king… (1-5).

Interestingly, Nehemiah apparently wore his emotions on his sleeve, but the first phrase that energized my devotions was the end of verse 2, I was very much afraid. After all his spiritual preparation, Nehemiah was still afraid. Would God show up? Would the king be favorably disposed? He did not know. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). Nehemiah was relying on faith.  He did not know the outcome, only that God, apparently, had opened the door to speak.

I contemplated this.  How often do I allow fears to stop me from something I sense God would have me do? I sense a nudge to witness… fear… avoid. The nudge to speak up about a cause or situation… fear… avoid.

What Nehemiah did was step out in faith without being pushy. Then when invited by the king to say what he wants, Nehemiah, by his own admission, prays (likely a quick ‘help me kind of prayer”) and then he pushes through his fear to action, speaking the grand hope on his heart.

The king grants his request… God has been working unseen all the time… the exiles will get help they desperately need! God wins!

Nehemiah did not allow fear to stop him.  He pushed through his fear to do what he believed God would have him do! A great lesson to ponder throughout this day!!!

O, God, somewhere, sometime today, let me live this lesson, and so glorify You and practice what You are teaching and showing me in Your Word. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Tuesday, October 12: Nehemiah 1- Do something

What a great account… Nehemiah, cupbearer to the king in Babylon, learns the plight of his people who have returned to Jerusalem. The news breaks him…

A thought washes over me.  Does anything break my heart? Does any plight, problem, concern, or issue break me? Or am I so insulated and guarded from the world and those around me that I don’t let any news get past my exterior where it might break my heart??? Oh, this is a difficult question…

I kept reading…

Nehemiah stewed and wept and mourned over the news of his kinsmen.  He even fasted.

The thought rolled in again.  Do I let anything past my exterior and under my skin where it could affect me like this news affected Nehemiah? Do I?…

The text doesn’t say if or what the Lord said to him during his weeping and fasting. Did he hear a word? Did he have a thought or idea? We don’t know. God did not see fit to tell us any specifics. What we do know is that Nehemiah rose, resolved to do something about which he needed to speak to the king. The only prayer we are privy to is his brief prayer asking God for success when he goes to see the king. We don’t even know what he was going to ask the king. Nehemiah’s prayer was straight to the point: Verse 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man."

A broken heart and resolve to do something… that is a recipe for a life blessed by God.

Think about it.

O, Lord, break my heart and place a burden within me to go and do something for Your kingdom’s sake… Amen.

 

Monday, October 11: Ezra 10- Dealing with Dirty Stuff (part 2)

Since our last reading was Saturday, let me recap the Ezra 9 challenge. When dealing with the dirty stuff of life, we observed that honest, self-assessment and sincere, frank & heartfelt prayer/confession are the first two important stages.

The story continues in chapter 10. Ezra’s public confession, on behalf of the people, led to personal confession by the people as they gathered and wept and confessed, too. Since the sin is on going, personal confession is vital. Individuals must deal with their own sins. You must deal with your own sins and I must deal with my own sin.

I observe one more step in the process. After dealing with one’s own sin through confession, repenting of it and turning from it are necessary actions. In Israel’s case, it took months to deal with the pervasiveness of the sin throughout the land, but they did, clan by clan, family by family, until each family dealt with it personally.

What God highlights for me is even though true confession wipes the slate clean, we have to confront that part of ourselves that practice said sin, and by the grace of God, seek to rid ourselves of it through obedience. Only then have we honestly dealt with the dirty stuff of life…

More to think about…

Lord, addressing sin-filled behavior has been tougher for me than confessing it. Root causes harder to pull out than single sin-actions.  Help me, O Holy Spirit, to go deep with You… to give You reign in the deepest places of my life to deal with the depravity with in me. In Jesus’ name and that I may grow to be more and more like Him. Amen.

 

 

Saturday, October 9: Ezra 9- Dealing with the dirty stuff of life

An honest assessment of self… those were the first words that came to mind after reading this chapter. The leaders presented the problem honestly and forthrightly to Ezra and he applied no sugar-coating. Appropriately he crumbled under the weight of the community’s sin in shame, disappointment, and disobedience.

Honest assessment of self (or in this case honest assessment of the community) is the first step toward dealing with the dirty stuff of life.

Ezra, who apparently wore his emotions on his sleeves, fell on his face before his God and stayed there all afternoon. Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the LORD my God and prayed… (5-6a).

Following an honest assessment, Ezra models a willingness to go with God in sincere, frank and heartfelt prayer and confession.

Two stages in dealing with the dirty stuff of life: (1) honest assessment and (2) sincere, frank and heartfelt prayer/confession… that’s a recipe for dealing with the dirty stuff of life.

Think about it.

O, God, it is so much easier to avoid the dirty stuff of my life. Forgive me for going easy on myself. Holy Spirit, pour strength into my bones so that I might deal with the stuff in my life that dishonors You, the Father and Jesus, my Lord. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

 

Friday, October 8: Ezra 8- A pause to pray.

Organized and prepared to journey to Jerusalem, Ezra instructs his entourage to fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions (21).

I’m impressed by this simple action by Ezra. What an example he sets for those traveling with him and for us today. As he embarks on a significant journey, he pauses to pray and ask God for a safe journey. That’s faith in action… that’s faith in everyday living.

Thanks, Ezra, for your example…

Lord, help me to put my faith into action with acts of dependence like this. Whether pausing to pray before meals or before trips, teach me to truly rely on You. I ask this through my Savior Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Thursday, October 7: Ezra 7- God's second move, going deeper.

God is reestablishing His people in Jerusalem. The first wave of repatriates labored to rebuild home and culture and altar and temple. It was arduous work, filled with frustration and discouragement. Now God is sending a second wave of exiles returning home to Jerusalem. At the lead is Ezra, a priest in the lineage of Aaron who is a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given… (6).

With the basics established, now it is time to grow into all the ways and laws of God. And Ezra, a teacher of the Law, is needed to help the people grow.

Pondering this, God showed me an analogy to personal discipleship. The first move of God establishes a ‘beach head’ of faith. These are the basics that often involve initial changes in one’s life. Jerusalem left fallow and being ruled by pagans needed to be resettled, cleaned up and appropriate God-worship established. Often the first move in a person’s life, after coming to Jesus, is to establish appropriate worship routine and get the basics of the faith started in one’s life… Scripture reading, prayer, some Christian friends to walk with you, weekly worship… things like this.

Then comes God’s second move, where God -usually through teachers, small-group leaders, pastors and churches- takes us more deeply into His word. There God begins to do further, deeper character change on our lives. This is what I saw in God sending Ezra to Jerusalem. It was time for the Jews to move more deeply back into the worship and life of the Lord.

These thoughts prompt me to ask, “Where are you in your journey of faith? Is God establishing his ‘beach head’? Or has the second phase of discipleship come… time to go deeper in to the ways of the Lord?

Think about it…

Lord, help me to apply myself to You, Your ways and Your Word. Send the Holy Spirit to teach me and lead me. Fill me with You… that I might grow to be more and more faithful to You and Your ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Wednesday, October 6: Ezra 6- Learn to celebrate God.

The Lord God comes through, the original decree to rebuild the temple is found and Darius, the present king, honors the decree and the temple is completed. Like I said, God came through. This is one of the lessons whispered to me by the Spirit this morning. God comes through. What He says He does.

A second thought bounces in my thoughts.  Learn to celebrate God’s goodness. Verse 16, Then the people of Israel--the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles--celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy. Israel is a celebrating people. They don’t hold back, when God acts, they celebrate and praise Him. Learn to celebrate God’s faithfulness, the Spirit whispers again. Learn to celebrate God’s goodness…

The last two words of verse six, with joy, cause me to ponder. Can a person celebrate God with an emotion other than joy? I suspect so. It is God that is being celebrated not a particular emotion like happiness. I think about funerals, emotionally sad times, and yet for people who have walked with Jesus, their funeral is an excellent opportunity to celebrate God’s faithfulness and goodness.  Different occasions have different emotions and yet, God is there with His watchful eye on us…

Learn to celebrate the Lord, whispers the Spirit one last time.

Lord, show me how to celebrate You. Teach me to celebrate Your goodness, Your faithfulness, Your presence in life. Lord teach me to celebrate You… Amen.

 

 

Tuesday, October 5: Ezra 5- Cared for.

The opening phrase of verse 5 caught my attention, But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews…. Even as the returnees weather the storm of opposition and discouragement, the eye of their God was watching them. God cares and God is watching…

For me this morning that word-picture is moving and compelling. The reminder that God has His watchful eye upon His people speaks volumes to my heart.

“God is watching out for me,” is my devotional personalization of the text. Even during the toughest times of life God has His eye out for me. He is watching and caring. Apparently there are lessons in the storm for me to learn, skills to master, character to be honed…

I sink into that text for a few minutes. A blessed feeling surrounds me… God is with me. Yes, God is with me. No matter life’s present circumstances, God is with me. God has His eye on me. Peace descends. God is good.

Lord, thank You for this Word. I am feeling loved and blessed, cared for and… Lord, my heart is weary this morning, thank You for this gift of grace and love. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

 

Monday, October 4: Ezra 4- Discouragement and opposition

Every great work will endure times of discouragement and face the opposition of those who seek to undermine it. Prevailing in great works takes fortitude.

The repatriated Jews of this chapter are experiencing a dark and dismaying time. Will they cave or will they fight through and stay the course to which they believe God has led them? We will discover this in the chapters to come…

For today we are left to contemplate discouragement and opposition.  They happen. Mark it down and make note.  If you feel called by the Lord to some task these times will come. Just because God is leading you does not mean all will be smooth sailing. Verses 4:4-5 are revealing: Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Wilberforce, one of my history heroes, could have caved hundreds of times. For two decades he fought to eliminate the slave trade. Foes battled, schemed, plotted and more than once, apparently won. But Wilberforce refuse to quit. Peoples … set out to discourage him and those with him. The opposition sought counselors to work against the abolition of the slave trade. Wilberforce and his allies stayed the course. Although too sick to remain in Parliament, Wilberforce learned of the passage of the bill he fought so long to pass, abolishing slavery only 3 days before he closed his eyes in eternal sleep.

The call of God generally requires fortitude to navigate through turbulent waters of discouragement and opposition. Whether fighting an injustice or simply walking a life of faith in Jesus, dark times will come. The enemy will try to thwart and discourage you but knowing this in advance can help. Knowing God is with you and will never leave nor forsake you helps, too. Hang in there, trust the Lord, and remain in the Word. Remember yesterday’s reading was about starting strong by building on the foundation of God’s written word…

Lord, when discouragement comes and following Your call grows wearisome, please refresh and strengthen me by Your Holy Spirit. To do Your bidding, to live Your way, I need Your strength. Please send it, Jesus, please send it. Amen.

 

Saturday, October 2: Ezra 3- Start strong.

 [T]hey built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices. Then in accordance with what is written, they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles with the required number of burnt offerings prescribed for each day. After that, they presented the regular burnt offerings, the New Moon sacrifices and the sacrifices for all the appointed sacred feasts of the LORD, as well as those brought as freewill offerings to the LORD. On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, though the foundation of the LORD's temple had not yet been laid (3b-6).

Having returned to Jerusalem and doing what is necessary to secure their dwellings, they built an altar, reinstituting worship and prescribed sacrifices. Six words are critical in the above account: in accordance with what is written. Although exiled in disgrace for unfaithfulness, Israel apparently had a change of heart in exile. God’s word breathed life into the community so when they were given opportunity to return, they built their foundation on the Lord and His word… in accordance with what is written.

Every journey has a beginning, every marriage, every school year.  We all experience numerous beginnings. Israel began well, they built their foundation on God’s word and we can do no better.

Listening to this chapter I thought, “What a simple word for me, for all who would follow Jesus. Build on the foundation of God’s word”.

Tomorrow, Sunday, the first day of the week, begins a new week.  As a new beginning I (you) have the opportunity to start strong, to begin our week with the Lord and His word. Worship with a community of faith, attention to His word… this is the strongest foundation.

Think about it… better yet, do it.

O, Lord, despite any fears I may have of people around me or of events that may be looming, I ask for strength and courage to build my life in accordance with what You have written. Lord, may I start this week and every week strong in You. I ask this in the name of Jesus, my Lord and Savior, Amen.

 

Friday, October 1: Ezra 2- Daunting tasks

Well, I admit that this wasn’t the most spiritually engaging chapter to read, name upon name that meant little or nothing to me. Despite my initial blah-ness about the text, I found God’s Spirit beginning to work inside of me.

Names represent people… God had moved upon 42,000+ people to reestablish His temple in Jerusalem. To execute His will, God worked in the lives of all those people simultaneously. I pondered the amazing way God works orchestrating all things…

Next, I pondered the daunting task of these people. Their goal was to rebuild and reinstitute God honoring worship in Jerusalem after total destruction and 70-years of abandonment. I recently read Swiss Family Robinson, the story of a shipwrecked family who has to figure out how to live on a deserted island. These returnees had to figure out how to build the temple.  Did they have the skills and the fortitude to do this? What dedication they showed, pulling up roots from a fairly comfortable life to return to a land that they don’t know. After 70-years most the returnees were born in Babylon and didn’t know Jerusalem.

I thought about analogies to faith. When Jesus rescues me and saves me, I am in effect starting life over. I have been transported (Col 1:9) to a new land, a land I do not know. I have to learn how to live in this new land. Temptations come luring me to live like I used to live because that is what I know. I have to learn new rules of life for living in my new ‘land’… and this takes much dedication.

And so my mind turned this morning after reading a not-so-spiritually engaging chapter. I guess I was wrong, God had a great deal to show me in my time with Him this morning.

Lord, give me the fortitude of these returnees.  Give me the strength to follow You wherever You lead and the strength to do what I need to do to obey and live for You. In and through Jesus I pray, Amen.