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Archive for May, 2009

Scripture: (Jer 13:19 NKJV)  The cities of the South shall be shut up, And no one shall open them; Judah shall be carried away captive, all of it; It shall be wholly carried away captive.

Observation: The walls, the city, and the temple had been rebuilt, and the Law of Moses (the Torah) had been read and explained to the people who had made a new dedication of themselves to the worship of God.  Now Nehemiah faced a new challenge as venders were coming to Jerusalem to sell their wares on Sabbath.  Even though he had warned them before, they had continued to do so, so this time he ordered that the gates of the city be shut during the hours of the Sabbath and threaten to have them beaten if they continued to come to tempt the people by trying to sell their stuff.

Application: We have heard of “guarding the edges of the Sabbath.”  Some of the most quoted words from the pen of Ellen White are: “We should jealously guard the edges of the Sabbath. Remember that every moment is consecrated, holy time.” (The Faith I live By, pg. 34) By the edges of the Sabbath we mean the beginning and the end of this special day, sundown on Friday evening  to sundown on Saturday afternoon.  I would not suggest we threaten our family, or anyone else, with bodily harm if they come to our house to sell something on the Sabbath or if our children are doing something that is not conducive to good Sabbath rest and fellowship.  However, as parents we do have the responsibility to  do all in our power to ensure that the sacred hours of the Sabbath remain untainted by outside influences.
As our girls were growing up, we switched to “Sabbath toys,” and “Sabbath music,” and “Sabbath  activities,” and we enjoyed a good time of worship to “welcome the Sabbath.”  We incorporated a few traditions like the lighting of the Sabbath candles (a Jewish tradition), had Mexican tostadas, and for dessert we had donuts (you know, the commandment says to keep the Sabbath “wholey”).  In the more conservative Jewish households the observance of Sabbath begins about an hour before sundown as they try to protect themselves for entering carelessly into those sacred hours.
The other edge of the Sabbath, the sundown that marks its end, should also be marked with worship,  and with a good time of family fellowship and prayer.  There’s no need to rush “out” of the Sabbath.  Again, Jewish tradition teaches that the Sabbath is finally over when at least three stars are visible in the sky.  What that means is that there should be no rush to end this day but rather linger in its blessings as long as possible.  In fact, there’s a certain sense of sadness to see the Sabbath come to an end as the new week begins.
The point is not to make of the Sabbath a day of rules, regulations, and prohibitions which turns it into the longest, most boring, 24 hours of the week.  Maybe we could think of the gates not as something to keep negative influences out of your life but as something that helps keep the blessings in and when we keep them open the blessings of this day flow out, away from us, even as we need them so desperately after a week of battling the world and its influences.  Guarding the edges of the Sabbath is like closing doors and windows in the winter months in order to keep the warmth of the home inside and the bitter cold of winter outside.  I love the feeling, during the cold winter months (specially here in Minnesota), of coming home and walking in from the cold garage into the warmth of the foyer.  The warmth of my house greets me as I open the door and embraces me until the next time I have to go out.  And that’s how I picture the Sabbath, its warmth embracing me and protecting me from the bitter cold of the rest of the week.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the warmth and the rest of the Sabbath.

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They Made It Clear

Scripture: (Neh 8:8 NKJV)  So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.

Observation: As the building of the city of Jerusalem and of the temple were finished, Nehemiah and the leaders recognized the need for a consecration of the people to God.  Ezra, the scribe, stood before everyone gathered and read to them the words of the Book of the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Bible, or the Torah.  As the people heard the stories and the regulations found in those books, they were moved in their hearts.  But it wasn’t enough to just read the Law, the Levites helped the people to understand it by explaining its content and meaning.

Application: I encourage daily, regular reading of the Bible personally and at home.  Personally, I encourage everyone to read through their Bibles every year.  I have followed that practice for many years and have read through the entire Bible, in many different versions and translations, in two languages, every day of the year (with just a few exceptions), and doing so has enriched my life and opened windows of information, knowledge, and faith I might not otherwise have.
Beyond a reading of the Bible, though, there must be thoughtful study of selected passages, stories, sections of the Scriptures for deeper understanding.  Also, for daily family worship, at least a portion of the Scriptures should be read and discussed.  It doesn’t have to be a long theological dissertation and exegetical study of a passage, but at least a simple conversation of its meaning.  Dennis Raney, Christian counselor and writer says concerning our verse for today:

It occurred to me that when we read the Bible to our families, we need to do so in a way so that we understand what we have just read, and that our children also grasp the meaning.
It’s easy to stick to the text of the Scripture and read it word for word, flying by words like reproach and exhortation – lofty words that may (or may not) be clear to us, but which leave our kids with blank looks on their faces.
When we read the Bible to your children, take the time to stop and explain the words and ideas they may have difficulty grasping.  If needed, try paraphrasing the text to give them a down-home explanation of what it’s saying.  Give them the freedom o stop you and ask what something means if they feel confused or stuck.
Reading and studying the Bible as a family can be a source of great blessing.  But we need to make sure we aren’t just reading through it as quickly as possible, without helping everyone to understand what’s being read. (From the Family Life Marriage Bible).

Prayer: Father, help us to spend time daily with Your word, to understand it, to meditate upon it, and to spend the time teaching others what we have learned from it, and from You.

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Repentance to All

Scripture: (Neh 1:5-11 NKJV)  And I said: “I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, {6} “please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. {7} “We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. {8} “Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; {9} ‘but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ {10} “Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. {11} “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer.

Observation: Nehemiah was saddened to know the ruined condition of Jerusalem and Judah, and he recognized that it was the result of the people’s rebelliousness against God.  So he prays the prayer in our text for today.

Application:
Nehemiah could have prayed for deliverance for himself and his family, but instead, he recognized all of them needed to repent.  At the same time, he could have prayed for forgiveness only for the people, but he was humble enough to pray for the people but also for himself.
It is interesting how at times we pray for our loved ones, which we should do, and ask God to lead them closer to Him, and to bring them to repentance and to the place where they will be ready for His soon return.  But somehow we don’t always come humbly before the Lord in recognition of our own need for repentance, knowledge of God, and preparation for His return.  Nehemiah prayed for his people, but humbly also prayed and confessed his own sin.  And the wonderful thing is that God heard his plea and granted his prayer and Nehemiah was able to go back and lead in the rebuilding of the city and the reestablishment of the worship of God.  Maybe our prayers will be the catalyst for a complete revival in our lives and in our homes, maybe even beyond to our churches and to the area where we live. . . and it all begins with being humble enough to recognize our own need for repentance and forgiveness.

Prayer: Father, we too have sinned and have turned our backs to you.  Forgive our sin, cleanse us and make us new, and may the experience of conversion be ours and that of our loved ones.

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Faith Through Fear

Scripture: (Ezra 3:3 NKJV)  Though fear had come upon them because of the people of those countries, they set the altar on its bases; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening burnt offerings.

Observation: Ezra gets permission to go back to Jerusalem and start the process of rebuilding the city.  He and the people encounter opposition, but they move forward and begin the restoration of the temple as they realize the importance of religion in the life of the people and of the nation.

Application: This verse jumped at me this morning.  There are times when just living in this world, and all that’s available for our children to see and do, fills us with fear for them and their future.  But we cannot be paralyzed with fear and do nothing.  Like Ezra and the people of the time, we need to continue to move forward in the reestablishment or continuation of the worship of the Lord, both morning and evening.

Prayer: Father, nothing is a surprise to You.  So knowing everything, please bless our protect our children, and make them faithful to You all the days of their lives.

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Pride Consumes

Scripture: (2 Chr 32:24-26 NKJV)  In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death, and he prayed to the LORD; and He spoke to him and gave him a sign. {25} But Hezekiah did not repay according to the favor shown him, for his heart was lifted up; therefore wrath was looming over him and over Judah and Jerusalem. {26} Then Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the LORD did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah.

Observation: Hezekiah did many good things in reestablishing the worship of God and His law, but he was by no means perfect in what he did.  When he was sick, he asked for healing and his prayer was answered, but as a result his heart became proud, which caused him to make mistakes that cost him and Jerusalem a great deal.  Fortunately, the last we hear about Hezekiah was that he humbled himself again before God.

Application: The Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote that “Pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig.”  To which Dennis Raney added, “Pride is one of the few things that can grow in the human heart without any outside sustenance.  The human race is prone to be proud.”
I’ve often wondered about this thing we call pride, and it seems to me that there is a certain amount of joy we as parents have for our children which can be considered “healthy” pride, but there is a point at which this healthy pride becomes unhealthy and it brings about painful consequences.  When our children do well in school and when they are kind and polite, something good moves in our hearts.  When someone makes a nice comment about our children, something good stirs inside us and gives us a warm feeling.  Would that be “healthy” pride?  Could we honestly say we are “proud of our children?”  But when we become obsessed with our children’s accomplishments, when we want to display bumper stickers every time our children win an award or get good grades or their name appears on the dean’s list, has it or can it become unhealthy pride?  Are we using our children as pawns to tell the whole world how good we are as parents and to indirectly put down every other parent and their children?
When we display pride for our children only when the accomplish something big or because of their accomplishments, we may be sending them the signal that their worth is tied to those accomplishments.  Some parents live their dreams through their children and thus are very happy when their children succeed and very disappointed in them when they don’t do as they would wish them to do.
So, let’s rejoice with our children in their accomplishments, but don’t make them the goal or end of their lives.  And let us not use our children to fulfill our dreams or as pawns against others so we can be exalted in our own eyes.  It’s best to be humble than to be humbled.

Prayer: Father, teach us to be humble, even when our hearts burst with “healthy” pride.

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Scripture: (2 Chr 31:20-21 NKJV)  Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and true before the LORD his God. {21} And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, in the law and in the commandment, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart. So he prospered.

Observation: From the time Hezekiah became king of Judah he began a reform of a spiritual nature throughout the nation but also a physical restoration of the temple and its services.  Not only did he order the repair of the temple, with everyone’s contribution, but he also destroyed the worship of other gods and moved the people to rededicate themselves and their children to the worship of the true God.

Application: So you hear or read how critically important it is to lead by example in the worship of the Lord, particularly in the life of our children.  And you may think that since you have not been doing it – you have not been praying with and for your children, or you have not been having daily worship with them, or you have not been spending time every day studying God’s will, seeking His will or following His commands – so you may feel guilty and maybe tempted to give up and simply continue the same pattern for your and their lives.
The story of Hezekiah’s reforms can teach us that it is never too late to begin again, it is never too late to make changes in our personal devotional life or in the family worship of our God.  So why not begin today.  You can talk to your family, confess that you have not been faithful to His commands in that you have not been leading them by example in the worship of God, and share with them that you intend to begin again, and to invite them to join you.  Explain that you are making a new commitment to pray with and for them every day, and that you will be studying a portion of the Scriptures, and that you would  like to gather with them each day to have family worship time.   The honest confession on your part will show them that you’re transparent with them and are willing to show them your human nature, that you’re not perfect but also that you want to do your best under God’s guidance.  Don’t let the devil defeat you and continue in the same pattern of disregard for God and His worship.  Think of yourself as the Hezekiah of your home, making personal and family reforms in order to bring a revival of the faith to your family.  While you may encounter some resistance, if you do it kindly and lovingly, and persevere, the results will be better than continuing to neglect your personal and your family devotional life and daily commitment to God.

Prayer: Father, forgive us for neglecting our time and communion with You and for not leading our family in a daily experience of prayer and worship with You.  Help us to begin again, to make things right with You, and to bring about this reform and revival in our lives and that of our children.

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God’s Battle

Scripture: (2 Chr 20:15 NKJV)  And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the LORD to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

Observation: The Ammonites and Moabites joined forces with other groups and came up to battle against Jesoshaphat, king of Judah.  The people of Judah gathered for the battle, but before they did they sough the Lord and in the midst of that assembly Jahaziel spoke for God to encourage Jehoshaphat and the people – some of his words are the words of our text for today.  Jehoshaphat, in turn, supported the words of Jahaziel by saying: “Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (vs.20).

Application: As a father, sometimes it seems as if the battles we fight for our children is a losing battle.  The media, friends, music, everything seems like the enemy’s forces arrayed in battle against them and we are powerless to fight them for no matter how much we do to protect them from any and all of their influence, we would have to live in a deserted island or in some cave for those influences to not reach them.
Today’s words always encourage me because I know this is not a losing battle after all.  I have to commit myself and my family to the Lord, and trust that He will fight this battle for me and for them. As scary and discouraging as it may seem at times, we must leave the results to Him.

Prayer: Father, today we commit ourselves and our family to You.  Fight the battle for our salvation for us and give the final victory for your Honor and glory.  We long to spend eternity with You.

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