Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"I am still not all I should be...."

Phil. 3:13-14  No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.

None of us are all that we should be.  We all fall way short of being the godly person we should be.  This is true because we are in constant warfare with Satan.  He relentlessly works against us, trying to get us away from God and keep us away.  We live in the flesh and do not have the spiritual stamina to resist him all the time.  No one is so strong spiritually that he is going to get it right all the time.  We will never get to a point where we don’t have to diligently take care of our souls.

We often fail in our quest for godliness, but we dare not dwell on our failures.  We can’t undo what we have done, but Christ can.  When we confess our sins to Him, He takes them away from us and gives us pure hearts, hearts that are whiter than snow.  Instead on hanging onto our failures and living in regret, we focus on eyes on Jesus.  As long as we are looking behind us at what we have done, we can’t see Jesus who is before us. 

The key to keeping our eyes focused on Christ is to accept His forgiveness and to forgive ourselves for what we have done.  We learn from our failures and press on so that we don’t do them again.  The more determined we are to keep pressing forward, the more successful we will be at finishing well the life of faith.

Jesus is waiting for us in heaven.  In order to get there we must give our faith our very best effort.  We must be determined to overcome in our daily battles with our temptations to sin.  We must never give an inch to Satan knowing that if we do he will take a mile. 

Staying consistently in the Word, praying much, and diligently living out the Word enables us to strain for that which awaits for us in heaven, Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Keep on working out your salvation.


Phil. 3:12  I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection!  But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be. 

I don’t know about you, but this verse of Scripture really blesses me.  Think about it.  The Apostle Paul is expressing his own spiritual struggles.  He knows that he is not where he would like to be, where he should be, in his walk with the Lord.  Paul, the author of most of the New Testament, the founding father of the early church, knew he needed to continue to grow and become more like Christ.  It really comforts me to know that I am not the only imperfect pilgrim on my way to heaven. 

No one is perfect.  We all need to keep working out our salvation.  We all need to strive to improve our standing with God.  We all have good and bad days.  We all are prone to wander.  We all stumble and fall.  We all have days in which we doubt.  But, what separates the saints from the aints is the attitude of the heart. 

You will never be better than you are now unless you keep on working at improving your standing before God.  Your goal must always be to become more godly, more useful to Christ in your living.  No one will be who Christ wants them to be by coasting.  It takes purposeful and determined work.  Satan is a formidable foe and will relentlessly work against you.  He does not want you to succeed!  Take responsibility for your soul and diligently seek the Lord in your life while He is near to help you.  He wants you to succeed, but it’s up to you. 

Keep on working out your salvation and you will be the best you can possibly be in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

How much is Christ worth to you?

Phil. 3:8-9  Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with him.  I no longer count on my own goodness or ability.

Everything for the believer must be worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ.  However, I fear that it simply is not the case for most of us.  So often we value our relationship with Christ a lot less than we do other things.  We may say otherwise, but in practice, it is so.  We cherish so many things and people.  We built our lives around them.  We cling to them.  We treat them as if indeed they are more valuable to us than Christ is.  Think about your life.  What do you give more value to in practice than you do Christ in your life?

To know Christ must be our driving force in life.  No one or nothing can help get us home to heaven except Christ.  To know Christ is not the same as knowing about Him.  To know Christ means that we know what it is to experience His forgiveness and acceptance as His own.  To know Christ means that we are being transformed into a holy people.  You cannot know Christ and not be changed into a godly person.  To know Christ is to know what it is like to be loved unconditionally and sacrificially.  It is to live a life knowing that you are loved and acting like it.

We need to grasp the fact that our relationship with Christ is the only real thing that matters in life.  Everything else must fall in line behind Him.  Jesus is THE way to heaven, the truth of heaven, the life of heaven.  No one will ever approach our Father in heaven without Him.  His place in our lives reflects how we really feel about Him.  Your pursuit of Him will determine not only the kind of life you live now, but the kind of life you will live eternally.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What matters the most to you?

Phil. 3:7  I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.

The Apostle Paul had just recounted all the reasons why he had a right to have confidence in the flesh regarding his standing with God.  He had recalled his Jewish pedigree, his rise to fame as a Jewish zealot, and his reputation as one who had no faults as far as being a follower and defender of the Jewish law was concerned.  In his own eyes and in the eyes of his peers, he had it altogether.

These things were very important to him, and probably to most of us, his family, faith, fruitfulness, faithfulness, and fame.  Most of us define ourselves by one or several of these things.  We value our worth as individuals by how well we do in these areas of our lives.  We compare ourselves to others based on these things.  If we see ourselves as successful in these things, we consider our lives to be good, and certainly worthy of God’s favor.

But look at today’s verse.  Paul came to a point where he no longer considered them of any value at all.  What happened?  Paul had a life-changing encounter with Christ.  He saw his life from a totally different perspective.  What once defined him as a person no longer defined him.  Paul now defined himself by the life of Christ in him.  Paul eagerly walked away from everything he knew and valued and put himself totally into his relationship with Christ.

I wonder how you might value your life.  What defines who you as a person?  When you look into a mirror, how do want others to evaluate your life?  What kind of a person do you strive to be known as?  Are you willing to give it all up for Christ?

If Christ does not define who you are as a person, you are wasting your life away.  Nothing else in life matters except our standing before God.  Jesus must be the center of who we are and all that we do. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

What a gracious and merciful God you are!

Neh. 9:31  But in your great mercy, you did not destroy them completely or abandon them forever.  What a gracious and merciful God you are!

The Israelites had defied God.  They had ignored His command to not intermarry with the pagan people around them.  They had brought them into their homes and established lives with them.  As a result, they were led into even greater sin.  Yet, God did not do what they deserved to get.  He did not wipe the Israelites out.  He let them face the consequences of their sin, but He remained a witness amongst them.  He continued to raise up prophets to teach and admonish them.  He repeatedly tried to woo them back to Him.

I am so thankful that we serve a God who loves us unconditionally.  He loves us even though we mess up and defy His instructions to us.  He loves us and relentlessly tries to woo us back to Him.  He does not give up on us, even when others do.  He does not give up on us even when we give up on ourselves. 

Dear friend, worship the Lord our God today.  He is great in mercy and is gracious to us.  He never stops loving and pursuing us.  He doesn’t like it when we wander from Him.  He doesn’t like it when we disobey His Word.  But, He always welcomes us back within the fold of His love when we repent and turn back to Him. 

“Thank you, O Lord, for who you are.  You are gracious and merciful to us.  You are great in your compassion for us.  You never give up on us or abandon us in spite of our giving up on you or abandoning you.  You relentlessly pursue us all the days of our lives, longing to have fellowship with us.  Lord, thank you for the many opportunities you give us daily to live rightly before you.  Thank You for your relentless work to make us holy.   Lord, to you be all honor and glory, both now and forever.  In You alone we place our trust.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Six-hour Worship Service

Neh. 9:3  The Book of the Law of the Lord their God was read aloud to them for about three hours.  Then for three more hours they took turns confessing their sins and worshipping the LORD their God.

When was the last time you were in a 6 hour church service?  For most of us a service that lasts much more than an hour really makes us antsy and anxious for it to end.  How would you like to listen to 3 hours devoted to the reading of God’s Word?  Many of us struggle to even read the Word, let alone spend 3 hours doing it.  What about listening for 3 hours as the Word is being explained?  Most of us like our sermons short and sweet. 

I like to read my Bible a lot.  I get up early in the morning to spend time with the Lord in the Word, but not 3 hours worth.  We can only imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites on that day.  Remember, this was a gathering of people from all over the land.  They were not divided into their own little groups.  They had gathered as one people to worship the Lord under the direction of Ezra and Nehemiah.  They had no personal agenda and they did not have to protect their own little groups. 

Notice what happened.  After spending concentrated time in the Word, the people confessed their sins and worshiped the Lord for another three hours.  Three hours of confession and worship!  Three hours of waiting before God for pure hearts and lifting their hearts up in worship.  Spending uninterrupted time with the Lord was their agenda.  Nothing else matter.  They lingered in the presence of God until their soul needs were met. 

I wonder what would happen if we today would be more focused on what God has to say, what our needs are as they are exposed by the Word, and worship that is not dictated by the clock.  I wonder what would happen if we were to linger in the presence of God until the Lord was done changing our hearts and minds.  I wonder what we would have to do differently in order for it to happen.  I wonder if anyone of us will take this devotional to heart today.  I wonder.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Glory to God in the highest!

Luke 2:14  Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors.”

Glory to God in the highest—for the fullness of time had come.  It was the perfect time, God’s time, for Jesus to come.  God had prepared all history for this moment.  Everything on earth was ready for a Savior.  Those born under the Law were ready to be set free.  Publically God’s children were anxiously waiting for the promised Messiah. 

Glory to God in the highest—for the favor of God rests with man.  Think about it.  God has favored man with His presence!  We are not alone in our spiritual battles.  We no longer have to wonder where God is.  God favors those who are His.  He favors us with His Spirit.  He favors us with spiritually minded hearts that enable us to understand the Word and gives us a desire for Him.

Glory to God in the highest—for the future of man is with God.  God gives us a reason to live and a reason to die.  He gives us a life worth living for, a life filled with God’s peace, joy, contentment, love, and power.  He gives us a life that satisfies the soul, both now and forever.  He gives us eternal life, a life where there is no more sorrow, pain, confusion, doubts, fears, or death. 

Glory to God in the highest—there is now peace in the heart of man of all those who will receive Him as their Savior.  This is a peace that holds the soul steady through all the storms of life.  It is a peace rooted in God’s grace.  It is a peace knowing our sins are forgiven and there is now no more condemnation for our sins.  It is a peace that causes the soul to sing, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Wise Men of Christmas

Matt. 2:1,2  Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod.   About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We have seen his star as it arose, and we have come to worship him.”

Consider with me today the wise men of Christmas.  We can learn much about our own lives as we gaze into their role in the Christmas story.

Wise men look for Jesus.  Jesus can be found.  He will be found by all who sincerely seek Him.  Look in the Scriptures and you will find Him.  Look in creation, which is His handiwork, and you will find Him.  Look at the cross of Calvary and you will find Him.  Jesus did not come to a select few that they may be saved.  He came that all people will behold Him and find Him.  He came that all who are willing to be saved will be saved.

Wise men obey God rather than man.  We live amongst a people who do not know God and have no desire to know Him.  We are faced with many choices daily; do we obey God or man?  The world does not like it when we boldly live for Christ.  We are bound to run up against opposition.  Wise men take a stand for God.  They live godly lives regardless how it is received in the work or marketplace. 

Wise men worship Jesus.  When we live in the presence of Jesus it humbles us.  Wow!  God allows us to enter into His presence!  What a privilege!  In Christ unholy people are made holy and fit to come before in worship.  When we live in the presence of Jesus we are moved to praise Him.  How can we do anything less?  Praise is always fitting in worship services.  When we are in the presence of God we are awestruck.  Wow!!  God!!

The world worships the presents of Christmas.  We worship the presence of Jesus.  Let us live as wise men and bow before our Lord and King today.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Wonder of Jesus

Is. 9:6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  And the government will rest on his shoulders.  These will be his royal titles: Wonderful……….

While in this prophetic description of Christ, wonderful is used to describe Jesus’ role as our counselor, I want to separate the thought for a few moments and consider our Lord and the wonder He is to us.

Oh, the wonder of His love!  This is the message of Christmas, God loves us.  He loves us so much that He willingly came to earth, took upon himself our humanity, went to the cross and died for our sins.  How can it be?  How can God love me that much?  I don’t know, but He does.  He loves us and will never leave or forsake us.  He loves us and gave us the Holy Spirit to keep us and make us ready for our day of redemption.

Oh, the wonder of His grace!  Grace is the feet to God’s love.  Grace is God giving to us what we do not deserve from Him.  Grace is giving to us what we need even when we don’t know we need it.  It is God’s restraint on those things which I don’t need or what may harm me.

Oh, the wonder of His being!  He is Jesus, the long awaited salvation of mankind.  He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One from God.  He is the one who sits on David’s throne.  He is the Promised One promised to Abraham because he believed God.  He is our great High Priest, seated at God’s right hand, forever making intercession for us.  He is our Advocate before God, our righteousness and holiness from God.  He is Lord, the Master and ruler over all.  He rules over all He has made and holds it all together. 

Oh, the wonder of it all!  Oh, the Wonderful One, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  He is not the baby lying in the manger; He is the creator, sustainer, and giver of all life. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Immanuel: God with Us

Matt. 1:23  “Look!  The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel (meaning, God is with us).”

God is with us, GOD is with us.  God is WITH us.  God is with US.  No matter how you say it, this is the grandest news man has ever heard! 

GOD is with us.  The designer, creator, and sustainer of all that is, is with us.  The beginning and end of all things is with us.  The giver of all life and the hope of all ages is with us.  He who knows all things knows us for He became one of us.  He who cannot be contained for all heaven is His footstool, became flesh and dwelt for awhile amongst us.

God IS with us.  No matter how distant God may at times seem to be, He IS with us.  How can we know for sure it is true?  He said it is so.  He has declared that He is with us, that He will never leave or forsake us, even unto the end of the earth.

God is WITH us.  God did not create us and leave us to fend for ourselves.  He does not reside in heaven and leave us alone.  God is with us.  He is with us in whatever we go through in life.  He is with us to help us when we lose our way.  He is with us when we are confused and frustrated in the times of life.  He is with us all the days of our lives, both now and forever.

God is with US.  God is with us, His children.  God is with all who come to Him for the forgiveness of their sins and choose to live under His authority over their lives.  He has chosen US to be His children and live holy lives.  Do not fear what comes your way, God is with US.

Immanuel, God with us, is the Christmas story.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

For unto us a child is born.....

 Is. 9:6-7  For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

A great deal has been said and written about these titles for Jesus over the years.  Little can be added to it, but I do want us to linger for a moment and reflect again on them.  It is good for us to not only think about our Lord, but then to visualize ways in which we know these things are true in our lives.

He is our Wonderful Counselor.  He is all-knowing and full of compassion.  He does not leave us in the dark on how we ought to be living.  He is not insensitive to us and lovingly instructs and guides us in the ways we should go.  The Lord is the way and will never advise us to go a different way other than the way that leads us to heaven and a deeper walk with God.  Imagine the problems we would have if He were to hide the way from us and demand that we in our own wisdom find it.  Instead He makes himself known to us and instructs us how to know him in his goodness, righteousness and holiness.

He is our Mighty God.  He is able.  There is no need of life we will ever have that He is not able to handle.  There is no sin that He is not able to forgive.  There is no battle He is not able to win.  There is no crisis of life that He is not able to see us through.  There is no limitation in His power, love, wisdom, grace, mercy, and ability to make us into a holy people, a people after his own heart.

He is our Everlasting Father.  There is no end to His fatherly love and care for us.  There is no end to His desire to do good for us.  There is no end to His protective care over us.  There is no end to His working in our lives to make us fit for heaven.

He is our Prince of Peace.  He is the crowning glory of peace.  He alone is able to give us peace that satisfies our souls.  He alone is able to give us the calm confidence we need to weather the storms of life.  There is no real peace apart from Him. 

There is so much more that could be said about our Lord.  I have not even scratched the surface of just how wonderful He is.  Linger for a moment at His feet and think about these things.  Feast on the Mighty God we serve.  He is such a Wonderful Counselor as he leads us through our life journey.  He watches over us at all times and forever shall be our Father in heaven.  He is our Prince of Peace.  There can be no real peace unless we are living in Him daily in our lives.

Friday, December 20, 2013

An Enduring Worship Service

Neh. 9:3  The Book of the Law of the Lord their God was read aloud to them for about three hours.  Then for three more hours they took turns confessing their sins and worshiping the LORD their God.

Now, this is a worship service I would have loved to be in!  For three hours the Word of God was read to the people and for three hours the people responded to it by confessing their sins and worshiping God.

Very few people would tolerate such a service today.  Most people get very antsy when a service lasts much more than an hour.  Most of us today want to hear the Word read and expounded on for absolutely no more than forty minutes and it is much better if it’s for around twenty minutes.  Most people will just get up and leave the service if it involves much more than that.

When was the last time you actually sat down and read the Word for more than just a few minutes?  Can you say that you have ever sat still and read it for three hours at one sitting?  Could it be that our tolerance level for worship is a reflection of how much time we spend in the Word? 

The Word was read for three hours.  We are not told if that included just the reading of the Word or if it also included expounding on it.  Either way, it just would not go well with us today.  But, it didn’t stop there. 

Having heard the Word, the people then took another three hours out of their day to repent and worship the Lord.  I personally believe that the Word of God convicts people of their sins.  Yet, how many of us can honestly say that it convicts us?  Are we not hearing what God says? 

It used to be that when the Word was proclaimed, an altar call was given so that people could publicly respond to the Lord speaking through His Word.  Today, we are getting rid of our altars.  Is it any wonder that our faith is so weak and ineffective? 

I am not advocating for six hour worship services, but I am advocating for a much better response on our part to God’s Word.  We must regard the Word as the voice of God.  We must return to it, listen to it, and respond to it in a proper way.  God will not do anything in us or our churches until we do.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Minding Our Own Sin Business

Neh. 9:2  Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners as they confessed their own sins and the sins of their ancestors.

The Israelites meant business.  They were determined to do the right thing.  They had finally gotten to the point where all that mattered to them was to get right with God.  The first thing that they did was to separate themselves from all foreigners.  This was no small task for their lives were intertwined with the foreigners they lived amongst.  They had embraced their lifestyles, worshiped their gods, and intermarried with them.  The sincerity of their hearts can easily be seen here.  They understood that if they were going to do business with God, they had to be willing to change their ways, no matter how difficult it may be.

Notice that the Israelites did not concern themselves with the sins of others.  They understood that they were responsible for their own sins.  In order for anything to change in us, we too must deal with our sins before God.  We must make it our business to admit, confess, and surrender our sins to the Lord.  We must not let the sins of others be a distraction to us.  Each one of us is responsible for our own sins.  Someone else’s sins are between them and God, not us. 

Instead of stewing over the sins of those amongst us, let us mind our own business and take care of our own sins.  Nothing is going to change in our homes, churches, or world if we are not willing to let the Lord convict us of sin.  A broken and contrite heart before God is what moves God to act.  Be a leader to those in your life; lead them by your example to your knees before God who alone can save us and heal us.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wanting more out of your relationship with God.

Neh. 8:13  On October 9 the family leaders and the priests and Levites met with Ezra to go over the law in greater detail.

The spiritual leaders of Israel met privately with Ezra to go over the law in greater detail.  What a wonderful example for us to follow!  It was in their hearts to find out in greater detail how to live by the law they had been given.

This should be the desire of every believer’s heart, especially those who are leaders in their homes and in the church.  Our need to know more about God’s Word should drive us.  We dare not to ever be content with what we know and understand.  Growth can only happen when we have a thirst and hunger for God.

We have a tendency to lose our appetite for more knowledge and understanding.  We get the idea we have it all nailed down and can’t be taught new things.  We get comfortable with what we know and do not want to take the risk of having to change our minds on things.  We become too proud to admit that we continue to have struggles with our understanding.  We are more comfortable coasting our way to heaven than we are exploring deeper and new truths.

If we are not growing in our walk with the Lord, chances are good that we are going away from Him.  The Spirit in us stimulates spiritual growth.  He is not an idle resident of our hearts.  He is always at work to change us, equip us, and empower us for service.  We are called to serve the Lord, not to be bystanders in the Kingdom. 

Ask the Lord to never let your hunger and thirst for more understanding and knowledge grow faint or die.  Ask Him to help you to take advantage of opportunities you have to gain greater understanding.  Ask Him to keep people in your life who can guide you as you search the Scriptures.  And, ask the Lord to help you to be willing to help those the Lord brings into your life.  Ask the Lord to help you and then do something about it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Truth with Understanding

Neh. 8:11, 12  And the Levites, too, quieted the people telling them, “Hush!  Don’t weep!  For this is a sacred day.  So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.

When was the last time you were in a festive mood because you had heard God’s Word and understood it?  Sounds kind of strange doesn’t it?  We just don’t get too excited when we hear the Word and understand it.  We are far more likely to be stoic rather than jubilant over it.  Some people like to say “Amen” when they hear truths they understand and agree with.  Most people don’t.  As a preacher, I enjoy hearing affirmation from people when the Word is proclaimed.  It tells me that what I am saying is being heard, understood and received. 

Now, it is important that the Word be presented in such a way that understanding is possible.  Words should never be spoken that hinder understanding.  I believe it is wrong to use flowery speech to say what can be said in much simpler words.  It is wrong to gloat over those who don’t understand what you say.  It is wrong to withhold understanding from others when you have the opportunity to give it to them.  And, it is wrong to give others anything but the Word because it is the only thing that needs to be understood for eternal life.

Thank the Lord for those who have brought understanding to you.  Thank Him for the opportunities He has given you to bring understanding to others.

Rejoice over those things the Lord has revealed to you in His Word.  Rejoice over the new things He helps you to understand.  Rejoice when others hear the Word with understanding hearts.  Let there be great joy in the camp of the redeemed!

And, pray for those who don’t have the opportunities you have to hear the Word and understand it.  Pray that the Lord will get through to those who are denied access to the truth due to false teachings.  Pray that the body of Christ will grow in grace and truth until Jesus comes.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Joy of Restoration

Neh. 8:9,10  Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, “Don’t weep on such a day as this!  For today is a sacred day before the LORD your God.”  All the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the law.  And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of choice foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared.  This is a sacred day before our Lord.  Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

The people were weeping because they heard the Word and understood how far from God and His ways they had wandered.  They saw themselves as a people rejected by God because of their sin.  They were overcome with the lostness of their souls.  What the people were experiencing was not a bad thing.  Before restoration can take place, there must be remorse and repentance. 

Evidently the weeping did not stop.  After awhile, Nehemiah encouraged the people and helped them to realize that they ought to stop their weeping of remorse and start rejoicing for they had just experienced God through His Word.  God had not abandoned them!  He showed them the error of their ways and called them back to himself.  God had not left them; they had left Him.  And now, they had come back to Him!

It truly is a time of great celebration when hearts are restored to a right relationship with God.  We ought to rejoice with those who rejoice that they have been made right with God.  I wonder how well we do this, especially if it’s someone we have issues with.  Should we not be able to celebrate with pure joy when someone is touched by our Master’s hand? 

Dear friend, savor the joy of God’s restoration; it is a sacred event.  It is a time for much praise and thanksgiving.  It is a time to truly worship the Lord.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Do you have a sacred day?

Neh. 8:10  Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of choice foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared.  This is a sacred day before the LORD.  Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”

Do you have a sacred day?  Do you have a day set aside in which you set aside the normal routines of your life and focus on the Lord?  Do you gather with other believers for worship, edification, and fellowship?  And if you have such a day, what difference is it making in your life?

A sacred day is essential for the life of our souls.  God makes it clear that we are to have a day of rest and renewal.  He instructs us to set aside a day where He is the focus of it.  It is a day in which we are to rest from our labors.  It is a day whereby we are to learn from Him and let Him grow us stronger in faith.  It is a day when we are to gather with other like-minded believers for our common good and worship.  It is a day that we are not to treat lightly.  It is our meeting day with God.

We have gotten farther and farther away from embracing the thought of a sacred day in our lives.  We may block out an hour or two of our day for spiritual connection and renewal, but that is about it.  Most will resume their normal work week activities as soon as they have “fulfilled their Christian duty.”  Many have gotten the idea that we are doing God a favor by giving Him a part of our day.

We should never come to the close of our sacred day so tired that we dread the start of a new week.  We need time in our lives for renewal and restoration.  We need quality and quantity time with the Lord.  We not only hurt ourselves, but we hurt the cause of Christ when we fail to let Him direct the activities of our sacred day.  A worn out and weary soul will stumble and fall under the heavy load of living. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Reading and Understanding God's Word

Neh. 8:8  They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage.

I love this verse!  Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites clearly explained the meaning of the Word as it was being read to the people so they could understand it.  This must be the duty of anyone who would preach or teach the Word.  Everyone has the right to know what God says and means.

In order to explain the meaning of God’s Word, one must first understand it himself.  Understanding comes from diligently studying and praying over the Word.  There are no shortcuts to gaining an understanding of the Word.  Understanding comes from a desire to know what God means with what He said.  One must have an open heart and mind as he studies the Word.

Much meaning is lost when one reads the Word with preconceived notions about what it says.  Be careful that you don’t allow church doctrine to determine what you understand.  Let the Word speak for itself.  If there is a disagreement between what you have been taught and believe and what the Word is saying to you, diligently pray about it and let the Spirit confirm within you what is true.  The Spirit guides us into all truth.  He will never leave and honest seeker of truth hanging or lead them astray.

The Word proclaimed does the soul no good if it is not understood by those who hear it.  Let all who teach and preach the Word do so faithfully with the goal of always presenting truth in such a way that it is understood and lived.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Understanding the Word

Neh. 8:8  They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage.

The heart of most problems in the church today is our failure to keep the Word of God at the center of our preaching and teaching.  We generally only give lip service to the Bible.  We may teach and preach from it, but we don’t live it like we should be doing.  In many churches, the Bible plays second fiddle to other resources people use.  In many churches, people don’t even bring their Bibles (if they even own one) to church because it is seldom used.  The Bible is often considered as one of several resources used to make a “sermon”.  Many would be hard pressed to know where to find a passage suited for their needs.

Another problem I see in the church today is that most people fail to properly understand the Word, let alone live it out.  The Word is mishandled from the pulpit and in the classroom.  Things are taken out of context to suit one’s own opinions.  Things are said that are simply not true.  Few put in the time and effort to gain a real understanding of what the Word says.  Many sermons are canned speeches, created by someone else and reproduced for others to use.  How can people who hear the Word understand it if those who proclaim it don’t understand it?

Without a proper understanding of the Word, how can we know what we believe and why we believe it?  Is it no wonder that so many professing faith in Christ don’t live like they have faith in Christ?  Every believer in Christ has a need and right to know what the Word says. 

If you don’t understand what you read or are being taught, don’t just ignore it.  Ask questions and study the Word for yourself until you do.  If you can’t get what you need from your church family, find one where the Word is being properly taught and proclaimed.  It is the only way to a right relationship with God and far too much is at stake if you don’t.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Respect for God and His Word

Neh. 8:5  Ezra stood on the platform in full view of all the people.  When they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet.

Why did the people stand on their feet when the Book of the Law was opened up to be read?  From the text it would appear to be because of their respect for what God was about to say to them.  They understood that this was not some ordinary speech they were about to hear, it was the Word of God set before them. 

Their respect for the Word stemmed from their respect for God.  Even though they had not been faithful to God, they did not lose their awareness that God was worthy of their respect and honor.  By standing they were paying God, the author of the Scriptures, His rightful honor and respect.
I wonder how many of have such a high respect for God and His Word that when it is opened up to us that we would be alert and pay attention to it.  In some churches the congregation stands up when the Word is read.  Standing is a good thing in that it keeps us focused on what is being read.  We are not as easily distracted when we are standing. 

Regardless whether we are standing or sitting, are we paying attention to the reading of the Word?  What we do when the Word is read shows our true respect for God and His Word.  How can we expect to receive anything from the Lord if we don’t respect Him enough to listen what He has written?  If our minds are elsewhere, we may as well not even open up the Word.  Listening to or reading the Word does the soul no good if our minds and hearts are not in it. 

The Lord deserves and demands our undivided attention to Him.  If you struggle in this area, ask the Lord to help you take Him and His Word more seriously.  Ask Him to help you stay focused on what He is saying to you so that you can learn from it and apply it to your life.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Paying Close Attention to God's Word

Neh. 8:3b  All the people paid close attention to the Book of the Law.

All the people paid close attention.  I would have loved to have been the preacher before that group of people!  Seldom does this hold true in our worship services today.  We are easily distracted by the things going on in and outside of us.  We easily lose our focus on what is being said to us.  We fight the battle of distractions and usually lose.

The people paid attention to the Book of the Law.  God’s Word is God speaking to us.  It is of utmost importance to us.  We must pay attention to what God says, eternity is at stake.  When the Word is opened up, it is God speaking to us.  Its message is directly aimed at us.  There are things that we need to hear about us.  There are things God wants us to do that we aren’t doing.  There are things wrong in our souls that need to be dealt with before God.  There are things we need clearer understanding of so we don’t teach false teachings.  We must work hard at paying close attention to the Word before us.

I wonder what would happen in our churches today if all who gathered for worship would pay close attention to the Word.  I wonder what changes would be made in how we live and worship.  I wonder what impact it would have on our relationships with each other in and outside the church.  I wonder if we would actually know that we have been in the presence of God.

Dear friend, pay close attention to God’s Word, whether you are worshiping in public or in private.  Listen to what God is saying to you.  There is a message from God for you whenever you meditate upon His Word if you open up your heart and mind to it.  Study it, meditate upon it, and learn from God what you are to be and do.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

If you can't handle the truth, don't get out your Bible.

Neh.. 8:1  Now in mid-autumn, when the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled together as one person at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had given Israel to obey.

The people of Israel had gathered together from all across the country to worship the Lord.  They asked Ezra, the prophet of God, to bring out the Book of the Law of God.  What a wonderful way to start any worship service!  The people wanted to hear what God had to say, not Ezra, not any other prophet or scholar, but God. 

There are so many gatherings of people today where the Word of God is not desired.  In some churches, you would be hard pressed to even find a copy of the Word available.  Some “pastors” do not bring their Bibles to church.  Many people do not want to hear what God has to say, they would much rather hear things that make them feel good about themselves.  It is not hard to understand why they might feel that way.

When God speaks, He does not care whether we like it or not.  He does not care if it makes us feel good or not.  He does not care if we are comfortable or not.  He speaks very plainly and directly to the soul’s need.  He doesn’t soften the message for anyone.  He speaks of repentance and holy living for everyone.  His standards for life are high and are applicable for everyone.  He strips us of all of our self-sufficiency and righteousness.  When we bring out the Word of God we know what we are getting.  God never has and never will cater to the likes and dislikes of man.

If you can’t handle the truth, don’t get out your Bible.  If you want to know the truth, the Bible is the only place you will find it. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

The focus of all worship should be to hear from God through His Word.


Neh.. 8:1  Now in mid-autumn, when the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled together as one person at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had given Israel to obey.

The Lord blesses my heart as I read this verse.  Think about it.  The people had come together, on their own, and as one, they asked Ezra to bring out the Word of God to read to them.  I really like the fact that people had gathered voluntarily to come and hear from God.  Worship should never be out of duty.  It should never be self-centered.  It should also not be divided.  Here were a people who were as one before the Lord. 

It is never good for the people of God to have different agendas.  It is not good for them to insist on having things done their way.  It is not good for worship to be anything but Christ-centered.  Our differences must always be set aside so that we can focus on what God is saying.

It is never good for the people of God to be at odds with each other in worship.  Personal issues should be set aside when worshipping the Lord.  If you are hindered in worship because of someone in your midst, you should first go and be reconciled with him/her before you try to tune into God.  You will never know the peace of God in worship while you are not at peace with your brother or sister in Christ.  Sometimes peace with others just is not going to happen, but don’t let it be without doing at least all you can do to be reconciled.  Regardless of the response of others, you can forgive them in your heart.

The focus of all worship should be to hear from God through His Word.  There is no room ever in worship for any teaching from anywhere except the Word of God.  It alone is our authority for living.  It is good to have the Word in your hands and opened up to meditate upon it when it is being proclaimed.  Hearing is done as much with our eyes as our ears in worship.

Let the longing of your heart always be to hear from God in His Word.  Daily keep His Word open, meditate upon it, and God will speak.