Nehemiah 2 Part 2–Assessing Our Mission

Nehemiah was on task and ready to begin the mission of returning Jerusalem to its former glory.  He was committed to the Lord and committed to the mission.  As he approached Jerusalem, the devestation and disrepair was obvious.  But, Nehemiah was not simply interested in dwelling upon the mess that Israel was, He wanted to gain perspective on what must be done, and what Jerusalem could be again. In that aim, he took his time assessing the city from all perspectives and not taking the advice and criticism of others. Instead he sought the truth 1st hand and  from all angles. As he did this, his detracters wasted no time ridiculing him and calling him a traitor.  They were most interested in the status quo that gave them power and control.  But, again, Nehemiah was not concerned about the criticsm of those that did nothing.
 
In our lives, when God puts us on mission, we have to stay focused onthe mission He assigns. We need not get in a hurry to solve the problem; instead we need to seek him pray and carefully assess the issue.  We also need not fall prey to the outbursts of our detracters. We need to remember our enemy will do any and everything to nuetralize our impact and discredit our Lord.  We are the ones that must be dilligent, remain vigilent and proceed humbly and steadily along the path he sets out.  It is never easy and it is often through chaos and conflict.  But as Solomon so clearly stated in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding! Acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will make your path straight!”
 
God Bless You

11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.

13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”
20 I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”

Ruth 1 Part 2–How We Define Ourselves

One of the most difficult disciplines in life is the discipline of definition.  Each day, when one awakens, he/she is given the opportunity to define himself/herself.  Some define themselves by their appearance, others by what they have accumulated. Many, however, define their lives by the circumstances that they face.  Naomi was a woman that loved God.  Yet, life had dealt her a very difficult hand.  She lived in a foreign land, she lost her husband and her two sons.  She had two daughters-in-law that she cared for, but needed to send away–simply because she could not care for them.  Ruth, one daughter-in-law refused to part; and so, the two returned to Bethlehem. When they arrived, the women of the town asked is this Naomi (Pleasant)? Naomi replied, DO NOT call me Naomi (pleasant)…call me Mara (bitter).  Naomi had grown bitter under the weight of the circumstances.
 
In truth, it is very difficult to live a life that rises above one’s circumstances.  Day-to-day events and interactions often fill our thoughts and determine the paths that we take.  Once we are in a relationship with God, however, the Holy Spirit allows us to rise above our circumstances and become defined by who we are, and whose we are in Christ Jesus.  The apostle Paul told the Philippians, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance that I am in. Well-fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:12-13. The Father knows the plans He has for us. Jer 29:11. He is never surprised by trials or tribulations. He provides the grace, strength, and direction to face what lies ahead. If we will trust Him, lean into Him and follow He will navigate us through life’s difficulties. Then, when we arrive on the other side, we can look back and see His fingerprints on each step along the way.
 
God Bless You

 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

19 So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,[b]” she told them. “Call me Mara,[c] because the Almighty[d] has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted[e] me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning

I John 4 Part 1–Loving the Church

John reminds the church that if it truly knows God, it will not be fooled by false teachers and lying spirits.  When one starts a relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit comes in and dwells.  The Spirit guides and directs God’s people to know Him and to know the enemy.  
 
Further, the Spirit teaches us to love others as Christ loves His own.  One major factor that sets the Church apart is its love for one another.  Jesus said it Himself, “This is how all men will know you are my disciples, that you love each other!” John 13:35. Love is what the Church is supposed to lead with.  That love will manifest in the way the Church reaches out to the community and how it protects and supports its own.
 
If we, as the Church, treat our own with contempt, how can we then expect to treat the lost any better? We have to first there for the family of believers, and then allow that same love and devotion to reach out to the world. If we are not loving the church, then the world would not want anything to do with us. Further, if we are not loving our own; we are failing the primary mission–to love one another.   This new year should charge us to practice our faith by listening to the spirit, Loving the Church and seeking and saving the lost.
 
God Bless You

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this, we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

God Is Love

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this, the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

I John 3 Part 2–Love–Love for Us and Our Love for Others.

God truly demonstrated His love for us.  He loved us when we were unlovable.  He accepted us when we were unacceptable.  He calls us to love others the same way.  John reiterated his original message from his gospel, For God So loved the world that he gave his only son. He tells the church –this is how we know what love is…Jesus laid his life down for us. He tells the church its response should be similar…the church should lay their lives down for others.  Selfishness gets parked at the curb and believer’s lives are no longer their own.  It is not a mopey life of dower expression and mundane existence. Instead, it is a life full of meaning and purpose where the needs of others supersede the needs of self.  Amazingly, history reminds us that humans are at their best when they set their personal agendas aside.
 
In our lives, we have to choose each day to live for Christ and not for ourselves.  It is a difficult task. Even on Jesus’s birthday, we can lose the focus and become consumed with the consumerism of the holiday and the consumables we feast upon. If we are not careful, our entire life becomes filled with a desire to promote ourselves and obtain all we feel we deserve.  John’s reminder is stark and plain–live a life like Christ. Lay your lives and agendas on the alter and allow Christ dominion over them. When we live like that, we find ourselves full of life and purpose and we enjoy a glimpse of peace and joy like none other. 
 
God Bless You

 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters,[b] if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

I John 3 Part 1–Becoming a Child of God

It is a simple fact that being in a relationship with God changes you.  John took the time to remind the Church that one cannot be a child of God and remain unaffected by His Spirit.  In his gospel, John set it out at the beginning, “To as many as received Him, who believed in His name;  to them, He gave the right to become children of God!” John 1:12.
 
Becoming His children affects us. We begin to take on God’s traits. Selflessness, unconditional love, grace, mercy, purpose, and an eternal perspective all become part of us.  The world thinks we are weird, crazy, gullible and stupid–sadly, they think that because they do not know God. They miss the amazing nature and purpose of a Godly life.  they cannot grasp the joy of following God and living a life that is bigger than themselves.  They think the smile on the face of a philanthropist is an act.  They think people that see answered prayer and are humbly grateful are making too much out of coincidence. 
 
The truth is, once you accept Christ, the Spirit indwells you.  You begin to see the fingerprints of the Father on all parts of your life. You begin to understand how much He loves you and then cannot help but desire to show that love to others.  
 
You realize that you are not the center of the universe and that the more you give of yourself, the more you are living the life you were always intended to have–full of joy, free of fear, and driven with eternal purpose and perspective that helps to moderate the worries of the day.  There is no comparison! A life of faith is deeper, richer and more amazing than the best this world can offer.   
 
That is what makes this week–this Christmas holiday the most amazing. God emptied Himself of His Godly nature and was born in a stable, in a small town, in a small country.  Then, from that humble beginning, He showed the world that the Father truly loved them and only wanted for them to have life–an abundant and eternal life with Him. 
 
God Bless You

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears[a] we shall be like Him because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him, there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s[b] seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

I Peter 4 Part 1–Spiritual Discipline and Christ-like Love

Peter reminds his readers that they are facing the end times.  As such, they need to live with a focus on the eternal and not the temporal. He reminds them that they can no longer chase the passions of the world, but must live in a manner that is worthy of God.  Peter stressed that they had to quit chasing the things that give instant gratification–sexual sin, materialism, selfishness, and lawlessness. He calls them to be self-controlled, sober-minded and prayerful.  He also reminds them to love earnestly and act hospitably to others. 
 
Nothing has really changed, people are still chasing little gods like lust, greed, sensuality and instant gratification. they now worship their phones, i-pads, computer screens, and TV.   We fall into the trap of living in the “Grand Illusion” as sung about by an 80’s rock band Styx. The illusion makes us think that what we see on the screen is a reality, when in fact we live lives that are not nearly so glamorous but so much more substantial. Still, we need to be self-controlled, sober-minded, loving and hospitable.  Peter reminds us that earnestly loving folks covers a multitude of sins. We need to live as ones who are headed for an eternity with the Lord, not just living in the here and now.  If we will, we will experience more life than we can imagine.  Additionally, we will leave a mark of love and compassion that will last well beyond our time here on earth. 
 
God Bless You

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh,[a] arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

James 4 Part 2–Don’t Lie, Judge or Think You Have It All Together

James gets to the heart of Life. Christians need not lie about each other, judge each other or take life for granted. All those traits represent personal pridefulness. If one starts gossiping and telling lies about another,  to somehow improve their own image; they are simply replacing God and His view with a prideful and selfish view of their own. The same is true when people start judging each other. It is so fun and gratifying to look at another in their personal circumstances and cast judgment on who they are or what they have or should have done.   Truth is, no one has a right to judge another. God controls circumstance and allows things to occur in the lives of folks without explanation or reason.  Look at Joseph, Moses, David or Job and see that there is no way for those men to understand their life path from where they were.  We can see it thousands of years later–but, while they were in the midst of it–for them it was inexplicable.  Job’s friends judged him and told him everything he did wrong–and it almost cost them their lives.  We are not called to judge, we are called to love and minister to folks right where they are.
 
Finally, we need not be proud of our own path or destiny. Many have fallen from great distances in life never understanding why or how to recover. So, when one smugly says to himself that he has a plan and intends to execute it to the letter–It is simply a form of pride. God tells us to trust and follow Him. If we will He will give us a purposeful and meaningful life. No promise of riches, no promise of ease. He simply promises to love us and walk through whatever trial with us. That is itself the greatest gift. We must not presuppose we have life figured out. We are one Dr. Appt, one job loss, one wayward child away from our lives being turned upside down. God encourages us to trust Him and follow Him.  He has a plan for us and it is a plan to sanctify us and make us eternally focused and spirit-filled. Help me Lord to simply trust and follow you.
 
God Bless You

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister[d] or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

Boasting About Tomorrow

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.