Tag Archives: New Testament

Ezekiel 41-43

Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple was God’s language of love to the Jews who had been exiled from Israel and whose glorious temple had been destroyed. The first thirty-eight chapters of the Book of Ezekiel were filled with visions condemning Israel for their faithlessness. Ezekiel’s latter prophecies were intended to bring hope to the Israelites still in exile – hope in God’s promise that He will return in all His glory to His people, His temple, and His land. Ezekiel’s earlier visions brought meaning to the suffering, but God was not done with Israel. Hope blazed anew with God’s measuring out the beautiful restoration of His dwelling place among Israel. Yet the temple painstakingly described by Ezekiel was never built.

I read an article by Dr. Solomon B. Freehof who pointed out that the Book of Ezekiel initiated acceptance of national and individual responsibility (social ethics) with ritual ceremony (Temple worship). He said, “Because it was Ezekiel who pioneered the principle that ritual and righteousness need not compete for the soul of the true worshiper of God, and that priest and prophet can teach together, one may well say that he, more than any other [Old Testament prophets], was responsible for the fact that at every Jewish public worship service, on every Sabbath and holiday, a reading from the prophets always follows the reading from the Torah.” Dr. Solomon B. Freehof, Author at My Jewish Learning(opens in a new tab)myjewishlearning.com/author/dr-solomon-b-freehof/

Not being Jewish, I cannot speak to the impact the Book of Ezekiel has on modern Jews of faith. However, I get the tension between addressing the suffering with social responsibility and giving all one’s devotion to spiritual matters. Some say that Christianity is a private matter that needs not be discussed outside of the Sunday church service. Others proclaim social responsibility and denounce the ‘pie in the sky’ focus. The great leveler, however, is when tribulation and adversity rains down, and they will – on all of us.

Then we look to the heavens and ask, “Why, God?! Why me? Why now?” If no answer comes, we may lose our faith, lose our hope, and neglect to worship God. Our focus is on fairness (is this not what we expect in being socially responsible) and frustration when we do not get our fair share. Disappointment thwarts our worship and spiritual devotion. At those times, we may need an Ezekiel to remind us that God is good and that His hand that stretches out to correct is also the hand that pulls us back to Him and the hope of His blessings. And not because of who we are or what we have done.

Romans 5:1-5 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Dear Lord Jesus Christ, we are always in Your hands. Our hope is in looking to You for rescue, restoration, and forgiveness. Through worship we understand Your faithfulness and Your mercy. For You alone are with us and for us. All for love. So, we sing Hallelujah.

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Jeremiah 51:11-52:34

Salvation is a term that has many layers of meaning. For instance, salvation means rescue or help when in danger or the danger of defeat. Other examples include being released from prison, saved from mistreatment, protected from threats, or even deserved suffering. The Greek verb sozo used in the New Testament, elevates the meaning of salvation to the spiritual realm, as well. The term refers to God’s power to deliver us from the bondage of sin, the future deliverance from the presence of sin (Romans 13:11), and the deliverance of Israel at the second advent of Christ (Luke 1:71). God does not forsake His chosen. Jeremiah 51:5 says, “For Israel is not forsaken, nor Judah, by his God, the Lord of Hosts, though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel.” And we who have become the children of God because Jesus Christ freely gave Himself on the Cross are also His chosen.

“Help me, Lord!” is probably my most spoken prayer. I seem to need saving on a regular basis. Maybe that is just my natural inclination toward chaos and crisis or perhaps my need is because of hypersensitivity to sin. I see potential danger around every corner – whether in my life, my family, co-workers, government, etcetera, etcetera. I want to call out like Jeremiah 51:9, 10 “Forsake [Babylon], and let us go everyone to his own country; for her judgment reaches to heaven and is lifted up to the skies. The Lord has revealed our righteousness. Come and let us declare in Zion the work of the Lord our God.” Can we run away and hide together until God’s judgment destroys His enemies? Better yet, I want being saved to mean smooth sailing; no more drama; no worries; nothing to fear. In these moments, I recognize the child inside who wishes for the lazy days of summer, sitting on the porch swing, delicious smells of homemade bread baking and a whistling pressure cooker tenderizing a roast and vegetables, the soft humming of Jesus Loves Me on my aunt’s lips as she gently rocks the swing. Such a simple, peaceful time. I can also relate to the nod of restoration in Jeremiah 51:32-34. After Nebuchadnezzar died, his son Evil-Merodach became king and ruled two years. In his first year, he pardoned Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. “He spoke kindly to him and gave him a more prominent seat than those of the kings who were with him in Babylon… [Jehoiachin] ate bread regularly before the king all the days of his life.”

Yet I am reminded of another’s prayer. Refusing to be saved from impending death, Jesus Christ as Savior declared this: “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (John 12:27) We who are saved and being saved have reaped the benefit of Christ’s obedience to death. In all the chaos and suffering we are allowed to experience; we might look for the unseen benefit. Even the dark fall of Babylon had a silver lining; that is, a remnant of God’s chosen people survived Babylon’s destruction. We see later that Jehoiachin’s restoration was symbolic of the future restoration of Israel and Judah to their homeland.

Trials and difficulties force us to depend even more on the One and only God who can prevent, intervene, and/or restore what the enemy is intent on taking from us. Praying with faith storms the heavens and brings down salvation. And Christ Jesus promised saving grace that insures we will never be separated from Him. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

So, yes Lord. Conform us to Your image as we walk out our salvation. Intervene on our behalf. Grant us courage and determination to stand and testify to Your faithfulness. You are a present help. I will always cry out to You!

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Jeremiah 2:26-5:19

Jeremiah 3:1d “Yet return to Me,” says the Lord.

Jeremiah 3:7 “And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’

Jeremiah 3:14,15 “Return, O backsliding children,” says the Lord, “for I am married to you…I will give you shepherds who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”

Repentance is not just Old Testament. Sometimes I forget this. And yes, I sin. As Paul said in Romans 3:23, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Consider the cost. Christ suffered and died on a cross and was resurrected to set me free from the penalty of my sins. And consider the need. Romans 8:21, “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God…O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Still, the consequences of sinful behaviors do not go unnoticed by God. Jeremiah 5:18 illustrates that God will address the sins of His people. “Nevertheless, in those days,” says the Lord, “I will not make a complete end of you. And it will be when you say, ‘Why does the Lord our God do all these things to us?’ then you shall answer them…'” The Apostle Paul, too, wrote his response after chastising his flock in Corinth, “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner…For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted…What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication!” II Corinthians 7:9

God has not changed His mind about me or man or sin in general. He always calls His bride to repentance. He offers mercy and grace to those who are called by His name. Will the Law require my death? Yes, but I don’t live under the Law. Thanks to Jesus Christ our Lord, I live under grace!Yet, as I walk out my salvation, I am convicted by the Holy Spirit (and reading Paul’s letters in the New Testament!) of my sins and am made sorrowful. I am driven to my knees in repentance knowing that “returning to the Lord” is sweet relief, blessed forgiveness, and deepening love for this merciful God. He is the One who calls me back, talks me down from the ledge, soothes my frayed nerves, and bursts forth His righteousness where mine failed. All because He loves me.

So, no going to God with fear of rejection or punishment, my soul. Remorse, yes. And mostly regret for forgetting that my Father in heaven is the One who loves my soul, speaks healing to my heart, and lifts up my face to see His infinite mercy. My soul is undone every time.

Lord Jesus, You alone make repentance an act of worship and solid hope. Hope knowing that I will be changed, freed, filled with knowledge and understanding. Worship in awe of how a Holy God would want to be in relationship with me. Let me, Your daughter in faith, always stand in Your presence and delight in Your love. Amen.

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Nehemiah 2-5

How do I resolve difficulties in my life? The American spirit I grew to believe in is one of rugged independence, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, charge over the ground where angels fear to tread and so on. I read way too many “Superman” comic books! So, it has taken me 30 years working for various supervisors whose leadership style ranged from uninvolved, permissive to micromanaging everyone into helplessness, before godly fear taught me to trust in submission. Nehemiah’s approach to his dilemmas is foundational to my understanding of godly submission and leadership, as illustrated with these words, “After fasting, confessing, and praying for mercy, Nehemiah was prepared to speak to the king who had authority to grant him an enormous favor.”

Likewise, whether I am approaching bosses, family, or friends for help, preparation begins on my knees. Next choosing when and how to approach is crucial. Nehemiah took advantage of his customary meeting with his king who then noticed Nehemiah’s sad face. Have you felt that society has become overly sensitive to emotional appeals for change? Frustration and even angry words may be tolerated, but sadness? Tears are viewed as manipulative, and you are likely to be told to take a leave of absence and seek therapy. (I am a counselor, so my working environment is especially sensitive to mood!) Nehemiah, too, was “dreadfully afraid’ that his king noticed his sadness but was undaunted by the enormity of his request to bring aid to his fellow Jews. Fortunately, Nehemiah’s trust in God and trustworthy reputation brought him favor. The king granted him all that he asked concerning supplies, safe passage, and authority, “according to the good hand of my God upon me,” said Nehemiah. (Nehemiah 2:8) Lesson to be learned: Show yourself as trustworthy.

Yet, am I as good a steward of what others have entrusted to me? How often have I set out to accomplish a goal without determining the time, energy, resources, and support I would expend? Benjamin Franklin is credited for saying, “The person who fails to plan, plans to fail.” I see that Nehemiah, the wise planner, also knew the value of preparation. Without telling anyone, he went out at night and surveyed the burnt walls and gates, planning and calculating the cost of rebuilding Jerusalem. After gathering his facts, Nehemiah was then ready to present his plan to the Jewish people, the stakeholders who had the most to gain from rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

But one of the hardest lessons I am still learning is that any plan will be put through a “crucible” before completion. Why is it so hard to accept that my idea might not be the best [tongue in cheek!] or even desired by the very ones I want on board? Plans often experience opposition within and without. Nehemiah also had to address opposition from his enemies and uncertainty from his people. To them he declared this defense: “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore, we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.”

And the enemy just melted away…NOT! When the opposition saw that mocking and devaluing the workers did not stop the Jews from building, these same enemies conspired with others to physically attack. I have witnessed similar responses from family and friends of my clients. Unfortunately, the very ones who could be supportive sometimes become jealous or fearful of losing control when their loved one shows progress in recovery from addiction. The client’s motivation wanes and the fight against giving up becomes the focus. So, how can we get victory over physical, mental, and moral testing? How can we stay motivated to be on guard and prepared for defense? A good leader keeps reaching up in prayer, reaching out for support, and digging in to stay the course. Nehemiah’s people learned to remain vigil. “Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. (Nehemiah 4:17,18)

So many times, we let our guard down and allow the enemy to come in and steal our dreams and challenge our goals, or disrupt progress, thereby shutting down our resolve. Having a righteous leader like Nehemiah who never gives up and never gives in is a blessing. Yet, God who dwells within us through His Holy Spirit has made available to all His people a storehouse of encouragement, wisdom, supplies, and support for rebuilding our lives. I love God’s answer to my wobbly resolve: ‘put on the whole armor of God, child.’

“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance…” (Ephesians 6:14-18).

I do not need to stand alone like some DC Comics superhero; I am beloved and have the awesome Holy Spirit of my God each day, a host of saints, and a multitude of angels surrounding me. Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” And Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Jesus our Lord, let us plan and work together, and rejoice in Your victory over the challenges and dilemmas that we and those You love face. For if You are with us, who can stand against us?! There is no one like our God!

Janet

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2 Kings 4:29-8:15

One of my challenges to understanding the Old Testament is reading about war, yet there are many stories of interest in God’s narrative other than just who wins or loses the battles. The first several short stories in this Scripture focus describe God confirming His prophet, Elisha through signs and miracles. I especially was struck by an incident when Elisha prayed that God would feed a hundred men where there were only 20 loaves of barley bread in one man’s knapsack. His servant broke bread until all were fed and some food was left over (reminds me of the miracles through the Lord Jesus yet to come). Elisha also instructed an enemy captain, Naaman, what to do to receive healing from leprosy (doing good to his enemy, again is messianic). We also learn that Elisha, who spoke not of his own will, but what he heard from God, was completely confident in what he was to say. Even when he knew the outcome would not be favorable, he did not hold back speaking the word of God. It is one such story that drew me in for a closer look.

When Elisha met with the king of Aram’s messenger regarding Aram’s failing health, Elisha said this to the man, “Go and say to him, ‘You will certainly recover.’ Nevertheless, the Lord has revealed to me that he will in fact die.” But Elisha could not stop staring at the messenger, Hazael, who became embarrassed under Elisha’s gaze. In this eerie moment, Elisha was given a horrifying vision of what was to come at the hand of Hazael. He wept as he prophesied to Hazael what he would do to the Israelites, saying, “You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women.” Elisha knew he was helpless to do anything about this but weep; yet he was tasked with knowing and prophesying the tragedy.

I do not seek that kind of relationship with God, our Father. Still, there have been times when I feared for a person’s future without really knowing why. And when some disaster shortly befell that person, I went to my knees in fear and in prayer for mercy. On another occasion, when this foreboding overtook me concerning what a person said, I prayed for God to forgive her. I still pray that His mercy was shown to her in her last moments of life. I am no prophet, and frankly I do not want to be the harbinger of destruction. It weighs down my soul.

Yet, there are many even today who are called prophets, and who are sounding the alarm about the times we are living in. How can I discern when God is speaking through them? When I hear of destruction, is my fear of what is to come causing me to tremble? Or am I fearful for the words of those who pray for this destruction, not just to destroy the enemy armies but to cut off their descendants? Are we to pray for our enemies and ask God to destroy them at the same time? This, too, weighs down my soul.

My writer friends and I have been discussing the ‘divided heart.’ Loving two things at the same time. I thought about Jesus’ commandment, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” (Matthew 5:43-48). If we are to obey Christ, therefore, we must love our enemies even knowing their intent to do us or others harm. How do we do that?

Look up to heaven. Look into the face of Jesus Christ. Let His words, His Spirit, and His will be alive in our prayers. For the only way a soul is lifted up is to give God glory. He alone knows the end of all life; I am not the one who has understanding. And that is okay. My prayer is that God be with us all, protecting our hearts from becoming embittered, unforgiving, or vindictive. What we may see in a vision or otherwise, we must submit to a good God who is Lord over all the earth. Let us start by dropping to our knees in prayer for mercy. Then pray that God will increase our faith in the sovereignty of His will.

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