Nehemiah 1 Part 1–It is about the Community

he Book of Nehemiah is a tribute to both God’s faithfulness and the power of faith.  Nehemiah was a part of the descendants of the Israelites that were taken captive in Jerusalem. He was cupbearer to the King of Persia and lived approximately 150 years after the exile began.  After roughly 70 years, the exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem and only 2% did so. Those that returned tried to get reestablished and rebuild the temple of God and the city of Jerusalem. 
 
Some 80 years later, Nehemiah inquires as to the condition of Jerusalem and Israel–God’s promised land.  He is greatly saddened to find that the walls of Jerusalem are still not restored and the city was still in shambles.  He is also saddened to hear that the people were a mess and living in shame.  This broke Nehemiah’s heart and he fasted and prayed to the Lord about how he could help. What happened next would be amazing.  
 
In our lives, we are faced not only with personal struggles, but also struggles within the community of believers and the church. If we are not careful, we become so entrenched in our own lives, that we forget we are part of the community.  The result is shameful. We literally forget about the needs of others and only focus on our own needs. 
The great news is that God never loses sight of the needs of his chosen and when the time is right, the Lord will raise those who are willing to be the leaders of restoration.  We simply need to, as did Nehemiah, pray and seek God’s leadership in how to give back.  It may be financially, it may be with our talents and labor. It may be we are to pray and seek assistance from others.  Whatever it is, like Nehemiah, we must have a tender heart for the church and all those who are a part of it! If we will do that, God will accomplish great things.
 
God Bless You

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.

Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

Nehemiah’s Prayer

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Now I was cupbearer to the king.

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 5–In Closing…

In the end, there have always been two great commands from God; Love the true God, and love others as you love yourself.  All other commands and direction fall within those parameters.  John closes his letter to the church by laying that out very clearly.  We are God’s chosen adopted children if we believe that Christ is the Savior and Lord. The evidence of our belief is our love for God and his people.  Further evidence is following Him and doing what He has called us to do.
 
We see the truth through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We also testify to that truth by our words and our daily lives. We are not expected to be perfect, but, we are called to be different. That difference is a lifetime process of transformation that always centers on the gift of salvation. As we journey, we see God’s hand on our lives and become more like him with the passage of each day. In the end, however, it still comes down to this: “He who has the Son Has Life; and He who rejects that gift does not have eternal life.”
As we end the decade, we need to be reminded that our Journey is swift and our destination is eternity. We, therefore, are called to live for that end and not for the temporary promises of this world.  Happy New Year.
 
God Bless You

 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the[a] Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

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: