How to Listen to God’s Word

Nehemiah 8:1-9

In our culture, Bibles are so plentiful that we often take them for granted. This was not the case in Ezra’s day. After being exiled from Israel for many years, the Jews had finally returned to their land, and today’s passage describes their reaction to hearing the Scriptures. We may have easy access to Bibles today, but we’d do well to learn to approach God’s Word in the same manner as these Israelites did.

With eager attentiveness. The people listened attentively as Ezra read Scripture “from daybreak till noon” (Neh. 8:3 NIV). How eager are you each day to open God’s Word and devote time to reading and study?

With reverence and worship. When Ezra opened the scroll, all the people stood up in reverence and then bowed down to worship the Lord (Neh. 8:5-6). Scripture reveals who God is and increases our awe of Him and respect for His Word.

With understanding. There were people who helped others understand what they heard, similar to the way pastors and teachers do today (Neh. 8:7-8). Do you skim over passages you don’t understand, or do you rely on the many sound teaching resources available?

With repentance. After hearing God’s Law, they were convicted of sin and repented with mourning and weeping (Neh. 8:9). God’s Word is sanctifying, revealing sin and guiding us into righteousness.

It’s easy to take for granted what is commonly available, but we should never lose sight of the most valuable possession God has given us—His inspired, inerrant Word.



Christ Alone

“But whatever gain I had I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”  Philippians 3:7-8

It’s easy to say we believe that Christ is the most important person in our lives…but if we truly believe that He is the only worthy pursuit, why do we chase after other things?  This is a question I am pondering in my own life.  The only answer I can come up with is that our eyes haven’t been opened to see His greatness.  Why is that?

The sad truth is that the Jesus that is preached today is often so uncaptivating, that countless believers are enthralled with other things.  Once our eyes are opened to see the incredible richness and beauty of Jesus, either our other pursuits will take a backseat, or we will rediscover them in the light of His glory.  Paul was a man who met Jesus on the road to Damascus and through physical blindness; his spiritual eyes were opened to the rich glory of Christ.  His words in Philippians 3:7-8 illustrate this truth.

Paul’s goal in his letter to the Colossians was to strip away every distraction that was being held before their eyes & leave them with nothing but Jesus.  At that time they were facing some false teachings, especially about the supremacy of Christ.  Paul believed if they could just get a glimpse of the glories of Christ, He would be enough.  The same is true today.  I believe that God wants His Church to exalt Christ.  If we do, God will show us, or remind us, of the all-encompassing beauty of His Son Jesus.

Look at what God said to the Church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for My name, and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”  Revelation 2:2-4

God is affirming the church for their perseverance and suffering.  He commends them for not allowing false doctrine.  But then He rebukes them.  In their zeal for correct theology and their hard work for God, they lost their “first love”, Jesus Christ, and the supremacy of loving Him and Him alone.

So I ask…in your striving to be faithful, to persevere, to make a difference, to serve God…have you lost the love you first had for Jesus and the supremacy of loving Him above all else?  You may obey Christ, but do you also adore Christ?  Do you live for His sake and nothing else?  My prayer is that we will all be able to say that our hearts are fixed on Jesus and Jesus alone.

Father, Thank You for Your Son, Jesus.  Thank You for sending Him as a sacrifice for my sins, and as an example of how to follow You and serve others.  Please strip away every distraction in my life so that my heart is fixed on Him alone.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.  



Christ Is All

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or rulers or powers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him.”  Colossians 1:15-16

According to my calculations, there are approximately 78 references to Jesus Christ by Paul in his letter to the church at Colossae.  With just 4 chapters, and a total of 95 verses (25 of which were the greeting and the closing), that computes to Christ being mentioned an average of every 1.21 verses.

A survey was done at the beginning of the 21st Century of the Christian Book Association’s Top 100 books.  The survey showed that of these 100 top sellers, only 4 were about Christ…and only 6 were about the Bible.  The majority was about relationships, parenting, and self-help.

Do you see the contrast?  The message to the early Church was saturated with Jesus Christ.  He was the focus.  And now, well…just walk into any bookstore, even a Christian one, and you will see shelves full of books that focus on “the Christian life” with little if any focus on Christ.  These books claim to be “Christian,” yet most reference Christ merely as a means to an end, with the end being joy, or peace, or happiness, or a great marriage, or godly children, or social justice, or your best life now.  Somehow, we have managed to make Christianity about us.

I want to challenge you with this question:  On what is your heart fixed?  What is your chief occupation in life?  Whatever your heart is fixed on will come out of your mouth.  Luke 6:45 says that, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”  So what topics fill your conversations?  For some, it may be fixed on something that isn’t spiritual at all.  But my guess is that most of us have our hearts fixed on good things, maybe even godly things.  Maybe your heart’s passion is evangelism, church activities or ministry, Bible Study, women’s or men’s ministry, small groups, memorizing Scripture, theology, social justice, missions, or praise and worship.  These are all good things…but that’s just it…they are “things.”  They are “its.”  And it is these things that fill our bookshelves, and many times, our calendars.  We have swung so far from the time that Paul wrote this epistle that much of our focus is an “it” instead of a “Him.”  The result of this imbalance is that we focus on “things” – even good and religious things – and the Lord Jesus is pushed off into a corner.

Father, You are the beginning, the end, and everything in between.  Your glory is the desire of my heart, and yet I allow myself to become weighed down by trivial things.  Please help me to keep my heart focused on You alone, so that my life is lived for Christ’s glory, and for the sake of His Gospel.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.  



Integrity

Scripture Reading — Nehemiah 7:1-3

Hananiah … was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do.
—Nehemiah 7:2 — 

The news media churn out stories on all kinds of people doing bad things. Politicians are accused of taking bribes and hiring prostitutes. Priests are suspected of abusing children. Are there any people of integrity any more? What does a person of integrity look like?

Nehemiah knew some people that he could trust to do the right thing. He had observed Hananiah, for example, in his work as commander of the citadel. Nehemiah had seen Hananiah’s spiritual life in action, giving evidence of godly, discerning leadership and a heart willing to serve the Lord. Hananiah “feared God more than most people do.”

In other words, his everyday life showed great respect for God as his King. He accepted that he was small and God was sover-eign over his life.

That’s what integrity looks like.

Jesus is our model of integrity. His life matched his character and being. Maybe that’s why people flocked to him; he was different from the teachers of the law and other religious leaders. Jesus was who he was, inside and out. Integrity, for Jesus, was to show what God was like—truth and grace wrapped into a human package.

Jesus wants us to be people of integrity. Does your inner life of patience, goodness, and self-control flow outward into deeds and words that bless others? Ask Jesus to fill your life with his holy character.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, give me a heart and mind that truly follow your will and way. In your name, Amen.



Giving and Receiving Exhortation

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15

Most of us are much more willing to receive instruction from our pastors than from fellow members of the congregation. Yet today’s passage gives us some surprising advice regarding how a church is to operate.

First of all, we are told to appreciate and esteem our leaders who have charge over us in the Lord. They are our shepherds, who feed us with the Word of God and care for our spiritual health and growth.

However, this passage also describes the responsibilities we have to admonish, encourage, and help one another in the church. We are not just spectators but are told to be actively involved in helping each other grow in the faith. Therefore, let’s consider some ways we can do this:

See God’s presence in difficulties. When we come alongside fellow believers, we can help them lift their focus from their circumstances and begin to view their trials as opportunities for spiritual pruning, growth, and discovery.

Become personally involved. Exhortation is best received through face-to-face meetings because the other person sees our care and concern. Furthermore, when we observe his or her response, the insight we gain helps us to understand the heart issues and perceive which biblical principles to apply.

Be teachable. In helping others grow toward spiritual maturity, we too must be willing to make changes in our own life, because we can’t pass wisdom on to others unless we’re pursuing it ourselves.

We’ve been entrusted with these responsibilities. Therefore, we must ground ourselves in scriptural truth so we can give wise guidance to others.



Our Weapons

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Every day that we live on this earth, there is an unseen war raging.  It is an epic battle of good versus evil, and the hearts of mankind are at stake.  Sometimes we can sense the fighting, and sometimes we cannot…but either way, it is real and ongoing.  Throughout the New Testament Christians are exhorted to be ready, to stand firm, to be strong, to never stop praying, to abide in Christ, and to have on the full armor of God.

This passage makes a comparison between the weapons used by God’s people, and the weapons of the world.  We do not fight in the same way, or for the same things.  How are the weapons different?  Ours are not carnal – they are not of the flesh.  We do not depend on what worldly people do to advance the cause of Christ.  Our dependence is not on eloquence, or talent, or education, or wealth, or beauty, or anything else external.  While these things are not bad, they should not be the weapons in our hands.

The weapons we use have no inherent value or power in themselves.  Their strength is from God alone.  While Paul does not name these weapons specifically in this passage, he had written of them earlier in this letter to Corinth (2 Corinthians 6:6-7).  Our weapons are true and pure.  They come from God and they lead to Him as He accompanies them with His power to the hearts of those who hear the gospel.

How incredible, in this world that is literally deteriorating before our eyes and taking countless souls with it, that our ministry can be powerful and effective through the blessing of God and the influence of His grace and Spirit for the conversion of sinners, the building up of the Church, the defense of truth, and the enlargement of Christ’s kingdom, not to mention the destruction of Satan’s!

As a Christ follower, are you fighting faithfully for Christ’s glory?  If so, are you using the right weapons?  You don’t have to know all the answers and speak with eloquence and charm…you need only be willing and walking in God’s Spirit.

Gracious LORD, Thank You for equipping me for every good work.  Please help me to depend on You and fight using Your weapons and not anything of this world.  And above all, help me to love.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.



On Dark Days

When Harold and I were first married, we visited the coalmining region of England for the first time.  The weather was cold and gloomy as we entered a little town whose buildings were darkened by the coal smoke. The laundry hanging on the clotheslines looked gray and dirty even though it had just been washed.

Turning to our host, my husband remarked, “I’d think these folks would be depressed all the time.” To his surprise, the man replied, “No, these are some of the happiest people in all England. They have learned to live above their circumstances.” We’ve never forgotten those words.

Maybe you are going through one of those dark periods of time when everything looks gray and discouraging. You wonder if you’ll ever see the sunshine of happy days again.

Someone once said that “Praise is the only shortcut to victory.” And I think that is true. The apostle Paul wrote, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The hardest word for me in that verse is the word all.  I can give thanks in some circumstances and, in fact, in most circumstances.  But sometimes I hit a point where the pain is so bad that praise seems almost impossible.  That’s when I have to take up the shield of faith mentioned in Ephesians chapter six to extinguish all the devil’s flaming darts he throws at me.

Put in plain words, I have to tell my emotions where to get off and then tell God that I do believe He is going to cause the light of His sunshine to shine once more in my heart.

The only way we can live above dark circumstances is to praise God that He is greater than our circumstances and will eventually bring us through the problems we face.



A Season of Hope

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1:45 NASB

Advent is a season of waiting and expectation. It’s a season of remembering and reflecting. It’s a season of in-between. Living in-between is living after a promise has been spoken but before it has come to fruition. It is a season of divine tension. A season in which the soul must fight for faith in what is true before proof ever surfaces.

LIFE IN BETWEEN

Today I wonder if you’re in a season of in-between.

I wonder what your hopes and dreams are. I wonder if you’ve heard God whisper a promise(s) to your heart about your future.

I wonder if you’ve come so far, but have yet to see your dreams, your hopes, your promises fulfilled. I wonder if realizing them even seems impossible.

The truth is, seasons of in-between are all about our faith.

SEASON OF HOPE

So how do we practice faith when our eyes cannot yet see what our hearts are waiting for?

We reflect on the past. We remember what God has done since he made his promise(s).

Because as sure as his promise was, every instance of his subsequent faithfulness is a way he repeats his original promise. It’s as if he says…

  • I still mean it.
  • I haven’t forgotten it.
  • I haven’t forsaken it.
  • I will do it.
  • I still promise.
  • It’s coming.
  • Look up, child.
  • Trust me, love.
  • Have peace, friend.
  • You have nothing to fear, darling.
  • I will not disappoint you.
  • I will never betray you.
  • I will not forsake you.
  • I will always love you.
  • As a state of being, yes.
  • But also as a verb.
  • My promise still stands.

CONCLUSION

Today, would you pull out a piece of paper or create a new document on your device, and begin to make a list of God’s kindnesses toward you this past year? Your heart and mind may just be waiting for this.

And unexpected peace and joy may just be waiting for you.



Deep Roots

Matthew 13:18-23

“The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time.  When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.”  Matthew 13:20-21

Jesus is the greatest teacher in the history of the world.  It’s no wonder that crowds gathered to hear Him.  He boldly spoke the truth with a perfect balance of compassion and tough love.  He was a master at “weeding out” those who were not serious about following Him.  One of the greatest ways He taught was through parables.  These teaching tools help us to understand the deep mysteries of the Kingdom of God.

The Parable of the Sower is one of Jesus’ most well known illustrations.  In it He focuses on three types of ground (representative of the heart) that seed (representative of God’s Word) falls on: rocky ground, thorns, and good soil.  Today I want to focus on the rocky ground because I am convinced that is where many religious people are today.  In verse 21, Christ describes such people as having no root.  In other words, their faith is shallow and rooted in feelings and experiences rather than in Christ and His Word.

The person with a “rocky” heart will start out zealous.  On the outside he appears changed…on fire for the Lord.  But over time, when trouble comes, he falls away.  There is a false gospel that says, “Come to Christ and be blessed.  God wants you to be happy and successful.”  Both of these statements are true, but only if we biblically define blessed, happy and successful.  Many rocky-hearted people have mis-defined these words.  You see, the world’s definition of these words and God’s are not only different, they are opposite.  The Kingdom of God flips the world on its head.

In God’s kingdom, blessing includes suffering, persecution, and hardship.  In God’s kingdom, happiness is not based on circumstances and can be found from inside a prison cell or in the midst of a battle with cancer.  In God’s kingdom, success is being last, not first.  It is giving away and not storing up wealth.  Success requires selflessness and humility, not ambition and power.

Over and over Jesus encouraged the crowds following Him to count the cost of faith in Him.  He knew there were many with shallow, rocky soil in their hearts.  We must do the same today.  Examine your heart.  How deep is your faith?  Is it shallow and rocky, joyously saying “Yes!” until trouble comes?  Or is your faith deeply rooted in God and His truth?

Dear God, I admit that my sinfulness always longs for life to be easy and good.  But Your Spirit helps me to see life from Your perspective.  Please deepen my faith and help me to grow in Your truth.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.



The Potter Works Only with Soft Clay!

The prophet Jeremiah tells us that God is like a potter and His people are the clay He wants to form into a beautiful vessel. In order to accomplish this, God looks for soft and pliable hearts.

Man measures the quality and usefulness of a person by his education, ability and expertise. Yet God determines his true value by the condition of his heart: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

What Happens if the Clay Is Hard?

If the clay is hard, the potter will spend days pouring water on it and pounding it thoroughly until it becomes soft. It took God 20 long years of “pouring and pounding” until Jacob’s heart became soft enough. Moses needed 40 years of desert life to become the meekest man on earth (Numbers 12:3) who could lead Israel out of Egypt.

The Bible warns us not to harden our hearts: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15).

It is possible for us as believers to have a tender heart for a season, but then when God speaks to us about an issue, to choose not to humble ourselves but rather to harden our hearts. This is not a good place for us to be, because the Bible declares: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

The Lord will not just let us go. He will allow circumstances to pound us so our hearts will once again become soft and pliable. The people of Israel are the perfect example of this. Just think of how many times God allowed them to face famines, hardships, oppression, defeat and captivity in order to soften their hearts and help them return to Him!

What Causes Our Hearts to Become Hard?

Being poisoned by negative talk. One person in a church or ministry is dissatisfied, bitter, critical and unwilling to change. He starts to talk negatively and poisons others. Soon the atmosphere of love among the brothers and sisters is replaced by disunity, anger and hardness of heart toward each other and the Lord.

An elevated view of ourselves. We feel important because we do something significant for God’s Kingdom, and we don’t recognize that our heart is filled with pride, arrogance and an exalted view of ourselves. Often the symptoms don’t show up until years later when our heart is no longer soft in the Potter’s hand.

Rebellion. Any form of rebellion is like a tiny seed that, if not dealt with, will grow and eventually harden our heart and bring destruction. It begins with a tiny issue or a thought like this one: “Who does he think he is to tell me what to do? My life is none of his business!”—and it ultimately ends in death.

What Should We Do to Keep Our Hearts Soft?

Don’t take God’s grace for granted. Grace is given to those who are humble, not to those who are right or feel indispensable.

Watch over your heart (Proverbs 4:23). Don’t keep company with those who spread negative talk, sow disunity or have a rebellious spirit. Love them and pray for them, but have no part with them. Believe me, you and I are not strong enough to withstand the poison they spread. It’s in the atmosphere, and we breathe it in whether we intend to or not.

Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21). Don’t fight for your rights. Be willing to give up something. Learn to let it be.

Don’t think of yourself more highly than you should (Romans 12:3). Remember that all the gifts, talents and ministry you have are given to you by the Lord. Nothing is of yourself. It’s all God’s grace.

Be careful from whom you receive your counsel. That’s especially important when you are disappointed because your expectations are not met. Don’t go to a brother or sister who is not mature in the Lord and who sympathizes and agrees with your complaints and tears. Instead, go to someone who is mature and who can help you see the hand of God and His purpose behind the things you face.

Repent and run to the cross. If need be, do this a thousand times a day to maintain the tenderness of your heart. Whenever you seek the limelight, want to take credit, get hurt or when your expectations are not fulfilled and your plans don’t work out, don’t fight; go to the cross.

God always seeks to do one thing with us on the Potter’s wheel—not to make us more powerful and famous, but to make us more like His Son, the Lord Jesus.