Nehemiah 4-6; Psalm 98; Revelation 6

Scoffing and mocking were just symptoms of an underlying hatred. That hatred would continue to grow into schemes to lure and lie and harm.

Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?”

Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!” Nehemiah 4:1-3, NLT

So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono.

But I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?” Nehemiah 6:2-3, NLT

13 They were hoping to intimidate me and make me sin. Then they would be able to accuse and discredit me. Nehemiah 6:13, NLT

19 They kept telling me about Tobiah’s good deeds, and then they told him everything I said. And Tobiah kept sending threatening letters to intimidate me. Nehemiah 6:19, NLT

An enemy’s agenda is always destruction.

How the Jews responded is a testimony of their faith. They worked enthusiastically. They resolved conflict between each other. When one portion was building, the other portion stood guard and protected them.

23 During this time, none of us—not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me—ever took off our clothes. We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water. Nehemiah 4:23, NLT

They were just trying to intimidate us, imagining that they could discourage us and stop the work. So I continued the work with even greater determination. Nehemiah 6:9, NLT

Lord, these scriptures from Nehemiah, Psalms and Revelation speak of your sovereignty, might and power. An enemy is hard at work to discourage and destroy.

Sing a new song to the Lord,
    for he has done wonderful deeds.
His right hand has won a mighty victory;
    his holy arm has shown his saving power!
The Lord has announced his victory
    and has revealed his righteousness to every nation!
He has remembered his promise to love and be faithful to Israel.
    The ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. Psalm 98:1-3, NLT

15 Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?” Revelation 6:15-17, NLT

May I always remember the victory is yours.

Courtney (66books365)

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Nehemiah 1-3; Revelation 5

In late autumn, in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign,[a] I was at the fortress of Susa. Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem.

They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”

When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. (NLT)

Nehemiah was one of the exiled Israelites who lived in Susa. He was the cup bearer to the King which meant he tasted everything the King drank to make sure it had not been poisoned.  He probably had never seen his homeland of Israel or, if he had, it had been a very long time. We are not sure why he did not return to Israel after the decree from Cyrus allowing the exiles to go back, but he had not yet gone.  Yet his heart was deeply touched at the news of the state of his home. So much so he sat down and wept.  He mourned and fasted and prayed at the thought of his beloved City of David being in ruins!

2 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”

I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” (NIV)

The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Nehemiah’s heart was broken! He mourned, and prayed, and fasted for four months.  He called out to the Lord continuously over the brokenness of Israel.  He wanted to do something about it and was relentless in his appeal to God.  Have you ever cried out to God in distress and it became such a focus that was all you could think about?  So much so that it affected your appearance and others started to notice?  Here he was serving the king as he did every day and one day the king noticed his countenance and asked him about what was going on in his life.  I don’t really picture a king taking notice of a servant unless God has been working on that king’s heart.  As Nehemiah continued to fast and pray, not seeing any answer to his prayer, God was at work.

I love Nehemiah’s response to the king. Even though he was afraid, he answered the king but before he made his request he “prayed to the God of heaven”.  He had been praying to be the one to rebuild the city.  He needed the king’s favor.  He needed passes to get to the city, he needed materials, and he had been working out a plan in his head of how he would undertake this God-sized task.  God sent Nehemiah to rebuild the city and had the king help finance it.

Prayer is such an important part of our walk with God. It is how we communicate with Him. It is how we develop intimacy with Him. As we pray and devote time to Him, He reveals Himself to us!   Historically, prayer and fasting seem to be how our country sought answers to direction for our country.  Have you ever seen some of the older films of the founding fathers with their powdered wigs sitting in church fasting and praying?  Or, recently, I was watching “It’s a Beautiful Life” where George Bailey prayed and fasted when the country was at war.  There is a blending of mind, body, and spirit when we fast and pray—an intentionality of true focus on God with the realization that only He can resolve something. Prayer and fasting generally has a specific focus as it did for Nehemiah.

And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.

Revelation gives us a picture of what happens to our prayers. It is such a beautiful thought to picture my prayers being presented to God as incense in a golden bowl.  They aren’t lost in the cosmos somewhere, they are presented to God!  Nehemiah’s prayer was heard and answered.  To God be the glory!

Oh Father, thank you for hearing our prayers. They can range anywhere from asking for help to find a parking spot to healing a loved one.  They can be praises to You for the beauty of Your nature to asking for the favor of a king to send us to rebuild a city.  We bring You the desires of our hearts and the joys and sorrows of our lives.  I am so thankful to live in this time, after the veil was torn, so we have access to you through Jesus.  He sits at your right hand and intercedes for us.  Our prayers are incense in golden bowls presented to you.  Hear our prayers, oh Lord!  Amen

Cindy (gardnlady)

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Ezra 7-10; Psalm 97; Revelation 4

Yes, you are right; we must do as you say!” Ezra 10:12

Recently, I’ve been challenged to answer the question “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” The question came from a brother, a member of our military, who participated in multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan and witnessed human atrocities no individual should have witnessed in 10 lifetimes, let alone one. Being presented with such a question would likely generate a myriad of responses… all of which would address this young man’s circumstances in various ways, but at the core of his question was deep pain… the kind of pain that transcends expression in words… and yet, the heart seeks answers.

My engineer brain wanted to devise a plan to prove God’s love, to convince this young man that God is good… that these and so many other horrific acts are not of God. But that wasn’t what this young man needed… to be true to my faith and to be as transparent about my imperfections and inadequacies at explaining such things, I responded simply, “I don’t know…”

I don’t stand in God’s shoes to give a complete answer to the question posed. I don’t have God’s mind… nor do I see with God’s eyes. First Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

So when we’re asked about specific events and why such events occur, what is likely the case is that we won’t get the full answer in this world. Someday, perhaps, we’ll see with clarity, but for now, things remain unclear, resulting in questions posed by my brother. We can’t understand everything from our finite perspective. And frankly, the people suffering from and through worldwide tragedies don’t need a big theological explanations; any intellectual response is going to seem trite and inadequate. What is needed is the very real and comforting presence of Jesus Christ in their lives… an approach that has more to do with speaking to the heart than to the head.

In John 5:6, Jesus approaches a paralytic man at the pool of Bethesda who was suffering for almost 40 years and asks the question of the man “Do you want to be made whole?” What kind of a question is that? Of course he does! But I believe that Jesus’ question to the man at the pool was much deeper than what it appears to be on the surface… Jesus wanted to deal with the man (and us!) completely… He doesn’t want to fix a messed-up outside… the physical and our circumstances, and leave a messed up inside, centered on a problematic heart. We need to do the work needed to address the heart before Jesus will hear and respond to our prayers more fully.

In a practical sense, we can point out the errors of someone’s ways, but we can’t change a heart. It would probably be a lot easier to force a horse to drink than to change the human heart. Our hearts are stubborn creatures, bent on doing our own thing whether it’s good for us or anyone else.

Some initial work has to be done before our hearts can change. We first need to hear that we’ve done wrong, and then we need to accept it. Finally, we need to commit to do things differently before we actually begin to move in the right direction. Those are some significant changes to make before visible change really takes place… towards Jesus! Seeing and accepting our failures are perhaps the two toughest steps in the process because a rebel heart often wants to remain rebellious.

For all their sins of intermarrying with pagan nations, the Israelites did well to turn their hearts back to God when they, along with the prophet Ezra, understood the depth of their wrongs. With eyes opened, they grieved for how they’d messed up their lives. Then they took action to rid themselves of sin. As a result, they made changes that pleased God and moved them back to Him.

No matter how much we love God, we’re in the same boat of humanness as everyone else since the first sin in the Garden of Eden. Those who have accepted Christ as Savior still sin and need forgiveness and change in their lives. Every now and then, we all need our eyes opened to ways God wants to heal, grow, and purify our hearts. When He opens ours, we must keep ourselves tuned to His voice, and thank Him for not letting us continue on a path that doesn’t lead straight to Him.

God, sometimes I’m blinded to areas that I need to work on. Please open my eyes wider so I can see myself as You do, and open my heart to welcome Your changing influence, as You are the only true path to peace. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

P.S. Please pray that my brother turns his heart to Jesus to find the peace he needs!

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Esther 7-10; Revelation 3

It may be a stretch to individualize the prophetic letters to the churches mentioned in Revelation, but all Scripture speaks to me as if I’m sitting across from Jesus Christ listening. So even in the different declarations to each of the seven churches of Revelation, I hear His voice speaking correction, affirmation, and motivation to the current state of my soul.

I am comforted by Revelation 3:1-6 “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Yet, you have a few names…” (those who have not soiled their garments) “who through righteous acts will walk with Christ in white, for they are worthy.” This admonition reminds me that creeping pride of going to a great church, reminiscing about the good works I was happy to do, or taking even the smallest joy at being noticed for those works can escalate into self-righteousness and self-absorption.  How do I discern righteous acts from dead works?

Remember how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.

Revelation 3:7-13 reminds me of my soul’s timid nature. “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” I cannot deny the great name of Christ; yet I confess that I am helped by His Spirit to declare His words when my voice is but a whisper. I keep walking through these doors – changes in locations, jobs, relationships, purpose. Sometimes the change was not what I expected and definitely not what I would choose for myself. So how can I step over the next threshold?

Hold fast what you have.

Sometimes it seems easier to play it safe. Fly under the radar. I regulate my emotions so that my thoughts and behaviors do not ruffle feathers; I agree and nod in approval to keep the peace, believing I am modeling a gentle spirit. But that is not what God has called me to do. He says in Revelation 3:14-22, “I know your works that you are neither cold nor hot…you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked…” It isn’t hard to determine the cause of inertia, but what is one to do?

Be zealous and repent; when you hear My voice, open the door.

Funny, but Christ’s admonitions do not create fear or discouragement. Even when we think that we have lost what He has given, we are reminded that God will bring us victory The messages to these churches are for those who have known Him. This is cause for celebration, and turning destruction into shouts of joy is also found in God’s word.

Esther 9:20 The Feast of Purim – remembrance of God’s deliverance from a day of destruction. “the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor.”

Dear Father God, and our Lord Jesus Christ,                                                                                                         In whatever state you find my soul, forgive me for failing you in any way. Restore the truth, comfort, and revelation of Your unstoppable will and purpose for my life, and I will turn the joy of my salvation back into worship and praise. Your presence alone can bring grace and mercy. I pray that this season of celebration is filled with preparations on holding fast to what we have heard and throwing wide open any door that separates us from hearing Your voice. Welcome, come in!

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Esther 4-6; Revelation 2

We are known deep down to the core of who we are. There is no escaping the presence of God. All attempts to crouch, cower and hide from his gaze and understanding are futile. Yesterday’s reading  of Psalm 139 confirms this. We may fool others and ourselves, but God’s love is not content to leave us stuck in our delusion. C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain says:

“You asked for a loving God; you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect’ is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way…but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds…” 

In Revelation, the early church’s sin is exposed by the Holy Spirit. I know that I am no different than those early believers. Is my sin revealed so that I might have a crisis of self esteem or bathe in a tub of self hatred? No, it is so that I might repent, leave sin behind and lean forward to take hold of God’s precious gifts. Sin doesn’t leave room for what is good and satisfying. After the initial buzz, it leaves me depleted and demanding more of that which never fills.

Like beautifully wrapped packages under the Christmas tree,  God’s gifts await those who push past the pain and discomfort: “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna.” God in his fierce love, longs for the emptiness within to be filled by Him. “I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” Revelation 2:17 God has something precious, something secret for each one of us to receive— our new name. There is a specificity and tenderness about this gift surprises me. But there it waits for me once I have given him the clutter and junk of my soul.

Lord show me the sin that gets in the way of loving you. Thank you that you don’t reject, but lead me to beautiful repentance. Thank you for the forgiveness and restoration provided by Jesus. What you long to give me is better than anything I can imagine. Open my eyes to what is true and protect me from distraction and wandering from you.  Amen

Kathy (klueh)

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Esther 1-3; Psalm 139; Revelation 1

10 Esther had not made known her people or kindred, for Mordecai had commanded her not to make it known. 11 And every day Mordecai walked in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and what was happening to her.

15 When the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her.

20 Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him.  Esther 2:10-11;15; 20 ESV

Lord, let me follow after you with such trusting integrity.  Lord, Esther was beautiful in form and in quiet obedience. In all her ways, she was pleasing. May my obedience present me as beautiful, as pleasing unto You, the true King! May my trust be as single-eyed as hers. You are in control!

Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it. Psalm 139:4-6 ESV

Psalm 139 blankets me like a gracious coverlet, and I nestle under its encompassing warmth. Curling up, as a small child, in resting trust.  Known inside and out, before, behind, what is yet to be.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you. Psalm 139:11-12 ESV

Darkness is as light to you, O Lord! You are light. There is nothing hidden from you. My safety in You knows no bounds.  There is no fear of dark with You.  Wrap me in Your love, O Lord.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail[b] on account of him.

Even so. Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:5-8 ESV

Lord, I walk in freedom in You! I walk in Your love. Help me to realize the full depth of that freedom and love! In Esther, I see You “who was”, in Psalm 139, I am immersed in You, “who is” and in Revelation 1, I glory in my God “who is to come!” You are coming with the clouds and everyone shall see You! Help me to fully bow before You now and to walk continually in trusting integrity before You all of my days.

Rebecca

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Ezra 5-6; Psalm 95; 3 John

13So, Tattenai, the governor west of the Euphrates, Shethar-Bozenai and the others obeyed. They carried out King Darius’ order quickly and carefully. 14So the Jewish elders continued to build. And they were successful because of the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished building the Temple as the God of Israel had said. It was also done to obey the kings Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes of Persia. 15The Temple was finished on the third day of the month Adar. It was the sixth year that Darius was king. Ezra 6:13-15 (ICB)

Many years had gone by since King Cyrus had given a special order for the Temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. At the urging of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, Zerubbabel and Jeshua picked up the work again to complete the project so that God’s people could worship Him in the Temple once again.

But the governors of the land were not pleased. They approached the men demanding to know who had authorized their project; and sent a letter to King Darius to confirm that the men were telling the truth.

They were (of course) and King Darius not only enforced King Cyrus’ ruling, but raised the stakes, issuing a decree saying that anyone who hindered the progress of the temple construction would be severely punished. The temple was completed in record time with the help and finances of the king.

So many years before God set the rebuilding of the temple in motion, even before the Israelite returned to Jerusalem, and put protection in place so that no one would be persecuted for following God’s instructions.

This story makes me wonder about how many different ways God sets up and provides for my own journey and the successes I find well before I am even near those moments.

I am reminded of an instance a few short month after I was married. I found that I needed to leave India unexpectedly due to a change in visa laws. When looking at my pre-purchased plane ticket, I realized that the departure date was three days later than when I needed to be out of the country.

In a whirlwind, I was forced to cancel my ticket and book a flight on the only airline that had seat available in that short notice. I was frustrated because the flight would take me through the middle east and that made me nervous.

Throughout the trip God provided “angels” in the form of flight attendants and seat mates who made the journey much easier than it could have been.

The following day after I arrived stateside, I learned that all of the flights from my original airline had been grounded because of the volcanic ash plume in the atmosphere coming from Iceland. Because the middle eastern flight took a much lower flight pattern, my plane was not delayed at all, and therefore I was still able to honor the visa stipulations.

1Come, let’s sing for joy to the Lord.
Let’s shout praises to the Rock who saves us.
2Let’s come to him with thanksgiving.
Let’s sing songs to him.
3The Lord is the great God.
He is the great King over all gods.
4The deepest places on earth are his.
And the highest mountains belong to him.
5The sea is his because he made it.
He created the land with his own hands.
6Come, let’s bow down and worship him.
Let’s kneel before the Lord who made us.
7He is our God.
And we are the people he takes care of
and the sheep that he tends. Psalm 95:1-7a (ICB)
Often times, this kind of provision and protection is recognized only in hindsight.In the remembering, I’m able to give God His due praise and my faith is strengthened in the difficult times, understanding that He is there for me and will never leave me nor forsake me.
Yesappa, Thank You for having a plan for my life. Thank You for looking toward the future with provision and protection in mind. Thank You for caring for me as your own sheep. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Blessings, Julie
(juliet2912)

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