Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Story: Ezra - God Rebuilds a People in Love

Focus Passage: Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi

Have you ever felt lost in life? You have a job. You have a house and a family, but you feel like you are just treading water? A lot of us have had that feeling. We have moved in the direction that we think we are supposed to be, but we just feel empty and feel like nothing good is really happening. It must have felt like that for the Jews who returned from Babylon. Our story today is about eighty years after their return to Palestine. The nation is dirt poor and is under the Persian Empire whose kingdom is far away. The people feel lost. God’s answer is to send three people to help rebuild his people. Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi all have a part to play in the rebuilding of the nation. Their work will end the Old Testament record 400 years before Jesus is born. They are our last stop in the Old Testament as we see a loving Father care for His people.

A. Rebuilding Worship Ezra 7:17 60 years after the temple had been rebuilt, God opened the heart of a man named Ezra to bring spiritual renewal to the people of Judah. Now Ezra was a direct descendant of the line of Aaron and the high priests who had devoted himself to the study of the Law of the Lord. He gathered priests and Levite descendants to help him bring the worship of God to the people who were largely just going through the motions of worship. God wanted His people to know Him.

B. Rebuilding Righteousness Mal 2:11 Having taken on the ways of the pagans around them, the people are helped by both Ezra and Malachi to live like children of God. The times were tough in those sixty years and the people slowly adopted the practices of the people around them. God would reinstruct them in righteous life. He would show them how to have a better life by having values and character. He would help them to see that they should respond to his love by honoring him with their gifts.

C. Rebuilding their home Neh 6:15-16 God realized that if His people were going to keep their values and character, they needed a safe place to live as His people. For that reason, God put it on the heart of a man named Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem so that the people could worship God in peace. He went before the Persian emperor and asked for time and the resources to rebuild the walls. God moved the emperor’s heart to grant all that Nehemiah asked. God’s people had a home.

D. Rebuilding Faith Neh. 8:3 Four or five days after the wall was built, there was one more thing to do. God’s people had to understand God’s ways so that the people would live Godly lives in this new found city. For one whole morning, Ezra read the books of Moses to the people. Then a group of priests fanned out and explained the words of God to the people. It was God reclaiming the hearts of his people. God wanted them to understand His path for their lives.

The pieces are in place, but now the real challenge of rebuilding is whether the people will actually rebuild their lives. Some argued with Malachi, Ezra and Nehemiah about what it meant to return. Malachi offers a simple test. Are you giving of your time and resources to the Lord? People still struggle with giving God control of their lives. God offers a simple test. Give yourself to me and see if I don’t provide for you and take care of you. God is ready to commit to those who commit to Him. He is ready to bless those who open their lives to Him so that they feel His love and have their needs met. Those who only half build their lives will have only some of the blessings. God wants us to have the full joy and He is ready to do anything that it takes for those who trust Him to have that joy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Faith's Challenges: Fighting Worry

Focus passage: Matt 6:25-32

We build our society on things that are not guaranteed. We want health, wealth, and happiness. From our early days, we often chase them only to find that we built a life of straw that can easily be blown away in a strong wind of change. Commercials promise that their pill or their financial knowledge can guarantee the life that we want. Yet we know that it may not work and so we get trapped in a cycle of worry. I admit to fighting worry all the time, but I also know that it helps to look to the things that the Lord guarantees in scripture. There are treasures that the Lord will bring to my life if I just keep my eye on Him. I am not free from worry, but it does help. Here are my four reasons to seek God instead of worrying so that you and I might have real happiness.

God can be trusted v. 25 The crowd stretched out on the hillside before Jesus was large and they lived in hard times. They hardly made what we would call a living wage today, but rather spent all they made on food, clothing, housing and taxes. Yet, Jesus’ message was to trust in the Lord. Keep close to the Lord and ask Him to provide what we need because God can take care of what we cannot manage. The world is uncertain, but God’s love is sure.

Worry hampers your valuable work today v. 26 Worry damages us as it takes away the time we have to help others or help ourselves. Worry can control us. It can dominate our feelings and rob us of the time that we need to do fruitful things. The wise man will do his work and trust the Lord for the things that he cannot control. He plans his day and tries to do the things that will make a difference, but doesn’t worry about the things that he can’t control. Such work gives us joy as we help others.

God cares for those who depend on Him v. 30 Sitting on a grassy hillside, Jesus may have gestured to the wild plants around them that are dependent on God for their future. Our focus should be on the Lord as well.  Those who build a relationship with the Lord and depend on Him will have an abundance that others will miss. Christians have an ace in the hole that no non Christian can match. We have a Lord with bountiful resources and the power to change anything.

Worry keeps you from realizing your future v. 33 Simply put, worry wastes time. God has a future for each of us and He promises to take care of earthly needs like food and clothes so that we can live with joy and do ministry for others. God says “seek first” his stuff and let him take care of the rest. You will make a difference in others lives by the power of God instead of getting trapped in the stuff you have no control over. You will make your world better instead of always worrying about what happens next.

The cure for worry is to look upward. Jesus calls us to store up treasures in heaven as we trust our Lord. There are no guarantees here on earth. You can’t guarantee your health or your finances. All you can do is worry when things start to fall apart. You can only seek the Lord and the spiritual things that are guaranteed. Trust in the Lord and ask Him to care for the things in life that you cannot care for. Place yourself in His hands in the battle against worry. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Story: Esther - It Is My Problem

Focus Passage: Esther

Bombarded with the problems of the world each night on the news and problems of people we know, we can easily feel overwhelmed. There is an earthquake or snowstorm burying a city. A family is hurt in a car accident. A friend has just come down with cancer. Our expectation is that others will take care of it. Let the government send them food. Let the family take care of the accident victim or the cancer patient. We just can’t deal with all the pain. But someone needs to help. We would want help if it was our family member with cancer or our home hit by a flood. We may not be able to help everyone, but we need to help someone.

A. Opportunity – Esther becomes queen Esther 2:17 Having deposed his wife and lost an important battle, the lusty king Xerxes starts looking for women for his harem. Esther was taken in this sweep of the countryside, but something happened. The king was attracted to her and so he made her queen and not just another one night stand. God watched out for her and turned disaster into opportunity. She was now in a position to help others. She just didn’t know what God would call her to do.

B. Need – The Jews need someone to speak up Esther 4:8 It doesn’t take long for trouble to arise. An evil man named Haman convinces the king to sign a decree that will begin a slaughter of the Jews not seen again until the days of Hitler. Esther is encouraged to speak to the king to protect her people, but she knows that she will be putting her life on the line. To speak to the king when you are not spoken to can mean death and so she asks everyone to pray so the Lord will protect her and help her.

C. Courage – I am a Jew Esther 7:3 Esther needed a favor from the king. He was the only one who could save her people. What was hard was that she needed to ask the favor in front of the man who wanted all the Jews to die. It took courage to stand up and tell the king that she was a Jew. It required that she trust the Lord to make things work. She put herself on the line for her people. If she was found out, she was going to die anyway.

D. Answer – Protection for the Jews Esther 8:11 Oddly God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, but you can see God’s hand throughout the book. Evil Haman is disgraced and hanged. Esther is rewarded for her courage as the King is moved to help the Jews. Mordecai is even made Prime minister in Haman’s place. In the end, the Jews turn on their enemies at the moment that the enemies were supposed to destroy them. Ready for battle, they are able to protect themselves and keep the slaughter from happening.

If there is anything that we can learn from Esther, it is that when we see a neighbor who is struggling that it is our problem. It may be a need in our church or school. It can be a problem with a close friend or family member. We need to help and we need to find others who can help us help this person. The important thing is to know that we are not alone. God will work through us. He put us in a place where we have the opportunity to help and He will provide the resources that we need to do the task because God cares and God wants that person helped. We need to have courage, not because we are a fool, but because we know and believe that God is standing at our side helping in ways that we cannot even see. We go forward trusting that God will help us to help other people. We may not be able to help everyone, but we need to help someone.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Faith's Challenges: Fighting Discouragement

Focus passage: Nehemiah 4:1-15

 Discouragement is a constant battle for many of us. The world conspires seems to conspire against us and we lose heart. Every ounce of strength seems to be taken from our veins and we collapse in self pity. Sadly, Discouragement often comes when we are on the right track. Just because things are hard doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want you to be successful at your task. The workers rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls in the days of Nehemiah were definitely discouraged. Sanballat, the governor of Syria who desired to also be governor of Judah was terrified that the Jews were thinking of building the walls. He set out on a campaign of ridicule to discourage the workers and stop progress. You can see three signs of discouragement among the workers.

Fatigue overcame them v. 10a It would take the people 52 days to finish the wall around Jerusalem. The project was halfway done and some were so tired that they were ready to give up. They were priests, trades people and farmers; not masons. The work was going too slow for them. They wanted to be done one way or another. Sanballat had mocked them causing them to lose sight of the purpose of protection and safety that the wall would give.

Frustration caused burnout v.10b The Jews had to clean out piles of rubble from the wall before they could rebuild the wall in that space. It was a lot of unstacking and restacking stones. Years before the walls had been torched making many of the stones useless. In addition they were frustrated that their enemies would not let them build in peace. They had swords strapped to their waist and lived on a heightened sense of alert. Why were things so tough?

 Fear slowed them down v. 11 The rumor mongers were pronouncing doom and gloom on the Jerusalem Jews. The enemy is preparing a surprise attack. The wall you are completing will not stand. It was a message of criticism and not of encouragement. It slowed down the work because the fear of attack was real. Half the people worked and half stood guard against attack. Each man worked with a sword or spear in hand ready to fight. What good was a wall if you were killed before it could protect you?

So what did Nehemiah do when events discouraged the people? First, he prayed. He looked up to the Lord for hope and help. He knew that the people could not do the work alone. He asked that the Lord might judge the people keeping God’s city from being rebuilt. Nehemiah’s prayer encouraged him so that he could encourage others. In our times of trouble, we need to cry out to the Lord before we get discouraged. Let your prayer be the first thing you do and not the last. Ask the Lord for help. Don’t be afraid to ask the Lord to deal with people who are acting in evil ways. Ask the Lord to let His purpose not be defeated so that all those around you might benefit. You will impact the people around you and give them courage and strength as well. You will make a difference because you believe in the Lord and remember all the things that He has done.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Podcast: Christ's Passion - Passion Expressed

Welcome to this first 32days devotion podcast for Lent. We will be looking at seven of the devotions from my book 32days with Christ’s passion today and for the next six Fridays through the season of lent.

The summary of today’s devotion is below the podcast. If you want the whole devotion, all 32 of the devotions which include all seven we will be studying over the next weeks are available on Amazon Kindle for your kindle, tablet or computer. Click on the link and it will take you directly to the book on Amazon.

To access the podcast, click here:   Passion 1 Podcast

01 Passion expressed
Matthew 16:21-23
Passion is what it takes to win at the Olympics. The Olympic Games were only a week away. It was what John had prepared for all his life. It was what would define him. Everything in the coming week would be done with an eye to standing on the podium at the swimming competitions next Friday. He would practice till his arms and legs gave out. Swimming had been his life’s passion and nothing would be allowed to thwart his success.
Our Lord Jesus Christ had but one passion. He had come into this world to save mankind from their sins. Healing the sick was noble, but the cure was temporary. It was the cross that was central for the salvation of mankind. It was at the heart of everything that Jesus did.
This passion was nothing new. It had been with Jesus from the beginning. He announced that passion to the disciples as He prepared them for the transfiguration and the trip to Jerusalem. He knew what was coming and had a passion to fulfill the plan of redemption through the cross.
Yet, the passion of Jesus was not received well. Peter can’t understand how the Messiah could die. Peter has a vision of triumph and not sacrifice. Peter did not understand the real price of sin and the triumph that would come in the resurrection.
If we are to be useful to the Lord and to appreciate what Jesus did, we need to “have in mind the things of God, (not) the things of men." (v.23) The passion of Jesus is to be our passion. Follow Jesus and catch His passion for saving mankind. Let His passion encourage you to share the message of the cross with others so that they can be saved as well. 

Thank you for listening to the podcast. I hope that you have found it enjoyable. Feel free to make comments about the podcast to me at

Join me next Friday for our podcast entitled “Satan Plots, But Jesus Is In Control” based on Luke 22:1-13

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Story: Return Home - Just Do It!

Focus passages: Ezra 1-6, Haggai, and Zechariah

We start, but don’t finish. How many half-finished projects do you have around the house? Maybe there is a sewing project that was supposed to be done for last Christmas. Maybe there is a yard project that is hoping to be done next spring or summer. We all have them. We started something and just didn’t finish it. Why is that churches have the same problem? We say that the parking lot needs to be fixed, but just never get around to it. We say that someone needs to organize Sunday servants, but no one ever does. Churches today are not the only ones that have half-finished projects. As the people of God came back from Babylon, the temple needed to be rebuilt and the project got bogged down for fifteen years.

537 BC They started, but then they stopped Ezra 4:24 The exiles return from Babylon to Judea and after a short time, they begin to rebuild the altar and the foundations of the temple. Yet, the people around them did not want God or a rebuilt Jerusalem in their midst. They wanted the Jewish people to go back to wherever they came from. Rather than fighting for what they thought was important, the people just gave up. They had a letter from King Cyrus that they could build a temple, but they found it too hard and started doing other things.

520 BC You forgot God as you cared for your own needs Haggai 1:4 Fast forward about fifteen years. God sends two prophets named Haggai and Zechariah to the people to lecture them and give them hope. God is tired of waiting and knows that the people will never become a Jewish nation if they don’t start putting God first. The people have paneled homes, that is finished homes that are warm and snug. God’s house is still a pile of rubble. It is past time to get busy.

520 BC Putting God second has given you less Haggai 1: 6 What the people have failed to notice is that putting God second or twenty second in their life has had a negative impact on their lives. They work hard to harvest or pay the bills and they never have enough. They are never warm in their fancy clothes or paneled homes. The prophet reminds them that their priorities are wrong and that they have taken away the great advantage that they should have compared to their neighbors.

520 BC God fulfills His promises Ezra 5:5 The messages of the prophets spurred on the people and the work began again. Immediately the workers again faced opposition from the nations around them. Yet they did not stop working, but continued to build the temple. After four years, the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem and the people celebrated the dedication of the temple. God was now at the center of the kingdom because the people trusted the Lord to remove the obstacles.

Do we see the value in ministry? The people let the building of the temple slide because it just didn’t seem important. It was more important for them to have warm homes and fields full of grain. From the earth’s perspective that would make sense. From God’s big picture, we see that it is short sighted. I see that the stress people feel and many of the problems they face come directly because God gets put last. They expect him to fix their lives and make things easy while they pursue happiness and prosperity outside of God. It doesn’t work. God won’t fix lives we don’t give Him. Even more important is whether we include God in our plans. How many ministries have not been undertaken or have stopped because we didn’t think that we had the money or the people to do them? If the church would spend as much time asking God for help and for direction as we do in making excuses or in wringing our hands, the church could do the impossible.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Faith's Challenges: Fighting Fear

Focus Passage: Deut. 1:19-36

Camped on the east side of the Jordan River, the Promised Land was so close that they could smell and taste it. The children of Israel had waited 37 years for this moment, but they were not ready to cross. Their parents had failed at the edge of the Promised Land because of fear. Moses wants them to succeed where their parents failed. It all comes down to faith. There is a high cost for fear and their parents had paid dearly for their fear. People fail all the time because of a lack of faith. They are overwhelmed by the problems and they forget God. They wonder what they are going to do. Some even walk away from God thinking He can’t or won’t help them. This was a time for faith because people lose everything because they have fear not faith.

Failure comes when the enemy is too big v.27 Moses begins by recalling an. Many in the crowd were not even born, but that event 38 years ago affected their whole lives up till now. Scouts were sent into the Promised Land to determine where they should enter. Instead they came back with stories of giants and destruction. They cowered in fear in the barren desert instead of marching into the fertile lands God had prepared for them.

Failure comes when God is too small v. 32 Ten plagues had overwhelmed the Egyptians so that they begged the Jews to leave. Waves of water had washed aside the greatest army in their world. Food had fallen out of the sky so hundreds of thousands could eat each day. It was a miracle that the people were here in this place. Yet, they forgot what God had done. They forgot how God had defeated a great army and miraculously brought them to this place.

Victory and honor belong to those who believe v. 36 The model of such faith was Caleb. He was easy to pick out because Joshua and Caleb were the only men older than 60 years old in the whole camp. Caleb and Joshua had believed when no one else would. They had known that God could do great things for them and wasn’t afraid of the giants. Old as Caleb was, he and his sons would take the choice lands in southern Palestine that he had once looked 38 years ago.

Israel was at a crossroads. Would they repeat their parent’s failure or would they have faith. As God called them to cross into the Promised Land, obedience was important. Faith was essential. They need to trust the Lord so much that they would follow Him because they believed that He would not fail. It is a model for every person who finds themselves at a crossroads of life. Instead of panicking, you pray. Instead of worrying, you worship. Instead of stewing, you study. You bring the problems to the Lord on a daily basis and asking what He can do with the problems that you face instead of what you can do. You look into the word of God to find out how you live so that you avoid problems and do the kinds of things that will build life. Listen so you learn and live. Those who let the Lord be their teacher and guide will thrive in life.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Story: Daniel - The Blessings of Obedience

Focus passage: Book of Daniel

It had started as a simple Boy Scout camping trip, but things had gone all wrong. The weather turned violent with high winds and blowing snow. The scouts and their leaders panicked and things looked hopeless. Yet, Tom kept his head. He relied on his scout training and built a shelter with a campfire near to the van. Others started calming down and the smoke showed the rescuers where they were. One scout made the difference between life and death. So it was with Daniel. He was taken in the first wave of captives and never gave up his faith in God. He didn’t picket or hold protests, He just stood firm in his faith in God. This man of faith had a big impact on the people of God and on the nation of Babylon. We think that it takes an army to change a world when all it takes is one Godly person.

605 BC – A Young man with a conscience Dan. 1:8 He was just a teenager taken hundreds of miles from home as his home nation became a vassal to the Babylonians. He would learn their language and culture, but he would not break God’s food laws. This shows the first reason that he was great. He would not compromise the ways of the Lord. He stepped forth and his friends were willing to step out with him and all benefited.

604 BC – Faith turns disaster into opportunity Dan. 2:24 The king has a dream and doesn’t trust his advisors. He wants them to interpret the dream without telling them what it was or he will kill them all. Daniel is facing death so he turns to prayer. God answers the prayer giving Daniel the dream and the meaning. What had been a disaster became an opportunity to witness to the power and majesty of God. The whole kingdom sees the power of God.

538 BC – An exemplary life promotes jealousy Daniel 6:5 At the age of 80, Daniel’s reputation of being trustworthy and extremely loyal to His God is known by all. Those jealous of him can find no fault in him. They set a trap that will put him in a lion’s den for worshiping the true God. Daniel sees the trap and worships God openly. God is more important than life. His values and faith have a great impact on Jew and Gentile alike and glorify the Lord because of Daniel.

538 BC – A leader prays for his people Dan 9:2 In the year Daniel faced the lion’s den, Daniel is on his knees praying for his people. 70 years have passed and it is time for the people of God to return to the Promised Land as Jeremiah had foretold.  Daniel had on his heart, the needs of his people and the future of the Jews. He was too old to return, but he called upon God to show mercy to His people without delay. God listened to his prayer and within a short time, the Jews could go home to Israel.

In Daniel, we see the power of one Godly man. At the same time that the Kings of Judah were leading people from God, the teenage Daniel was standing up for the Lord before Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. He refused to deny his God and God used Daniel to bring glory to God’s name. Here in this pagan place filled with idols to the gods of Babylonia, Daniel worshiped God and was used by God to do miracles so that the pagan kings acknowledged the Hebrew God as the God of Gods. He was willing to die for his Lord and led others to the same level of faith. One person can be powerful if that one man or woman is willing to give the Lord their heart soul and mind. They can influence nations and rulers. They can defeat the demons and the false gods of the world because by prayer and obedience, they harness the power of the one true God. We think that it will take an army to change the world. Daniel shows us what one man or woman can do if they are willing to keep the values and worship of God central in their life.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ten Virgins - Waiting For Help Tests Our Faith

Focus passage: Matthew 25:1-13

Tom and Jerry were two brothers that owned a wildly successful dot com company. They were both members of the local Lutheran church and were serving as elders together. The only difference between the brothers was that Jerry was in Bible study and Tom was not. Then the bubble burst. The company that they owned was in danger of folding. Tom began to worry. Jerry began to pray. Tom’s marriage started falling apart. Jerry’s marriage seemed stronger than ever. What was the difference between the two brothers? It was all about faith. How would you respond if God took too long to help you in your crisis?

The foolish aren’t prepared when answers take too long v.8 The foolish virgins would have been ok if the bridegroom had come quickly. They had enough oil at first, but it started failing them as the bridegroom delayed. They were not prepared to wait. A crisis will show how strong your relationship with God really is. If you have weak faith, you may have a false idea of what God will do in your life. 

Foolish hearts grow dim and the flame goes out v.10a The waiting had let the flames grow dim and the oil run out. They tried to beg oil off the others, but you can’t borrow another’s oil. They tried to run for more oil, but time run out. When troubles come, shallow faith can’t endure the troubles. You ask others to pray for you, but you have not built your own relationship with God and so the crisis overcomes you and leaves you without hope.

The wise have prepared and are sustained by the Holy Spirit v.7 The wise virgins had brought extra oil with them. They had known that it sometimes takes longer than you want for the bridegroom to come. It was not a problem; they were ready. A wise Christian with a deep reservoir of faith knows that you can’t and don’t want to leave the Lord. You trust him to help you in the crisis. Faith tells you that God is near and that things will be OK.

The wise wait for the Lord and receive his blessings v. 10b The wise virgins relit their lamps and continued to wait. When the bridegroom came, they were ready to follow him and enjoy the celebration of his love. The wise build a close relationship with the Lord by bible study and prayer They will cling to the Lord and know that he alone can help them with all their needs and help them. through every problem. They will wait and trust for they know their Lord will not let them down.

It doesn’t take much faith when times are good All ten virgins are excited about the coming wedding. It is easy to love the Lord when everything seems good. Troubles can come at any time or any hour. If our faith is shallow when trials come, we will doubt God and grow angry with him and may lose our faith. If our faith is deep and our reservoir of Holy Spirit Oil is full, we will grow and thrive in tough times for the faith is part of the armor of God which we are to all have. The call is have a reservoir of faith to give us strength while we wait for the Lord’s answers. When you know the Lord and have the power of the cross and the oil of the Holy Spirit, even the worst crisis can not destroy you.