Tag Archive: prayer


One-on-One With God

2 Chron. 15.2

I love working in a church environment. There are obvious perks – I don’t have to be concerned with rules about keeping work and faith separate. I can take a few minutes in the Sanctuary when it’s empty. And a Bible on my desk doesn’t look out-of-place.

But, there is also a hazard—thinking I’ve spent time with God, when I haven’t. Let me explain.

There are days of sermon theme planning, which involves spending time in God’s word, future vision planning for the sake of the Kingdom, and meetings about spiritual growth in the congregation. At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve been immersed in God’s work.

And then I realize I haven’t actually spent any time with Him. I’ve been in Scripture, but it wasn’t personal. I spent my day working for Him, but didn’t include Him.

And it makes a difference—in my attitude, my emotions, and even how fatigued I feel.

I didn’t spend time with God personally. One-on-one. Just me and Him. And I miss it.

So, I have to make a conscious effort to make sure I’m talking to Him, starting my day with Him, asking for guidance, and at times, just resting with Him.

I have to experience Him in my everyday. If I get caught up in busyness and work (even at church), I can’t hear when He whispers to my heart.

I also remember my days of working in the corporate world—meetings, working late, and no time for God. And days of being a stay-at-home mom—tantrums, laundry, talking to a toddler, and not knowing how to fit in quiet time with Him.

So, for me, wherever I am in life, I have to be intentional about making sure God doesn’t get the last little bits of my time, or worse yet, none at all.

I have to listen for Him. Sometimes, He’s loud and clear, and sometimes it’s a quiet reminder that He’s with me.

I have to be in Scripture, reading, pondering, and relating His word to my life.

I have to remember to start my day with Him and talk to Him throughout the day, not in formal prayer, but in conversation.

And I have to look for Him—His work in my life, the beauty He creates around me, and the way He answers prayer.

When I forget or don’t make time, I miss out. And it makes a difference. A big difference.

How about you – can you tell a difference when you’ve spent time with God and when you haven’t? Is it time to get intentional about listening and looking for Him?
 
In Christ,
Laura
Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith

 

Photo credit: Stock photo: Empty Bench

 

Waiting on God

Jer 33.14-15

Have you ever noticed that waiting on someone else is so much more annoying than when someone is waiting on you?

When someone is waiting on me, I have control. I know I’ll deliver on what I said I would do. But when I’m waiting on someone else, I can’t be sure of the outcome. Best case scenario, I wait and the other person comes through, even if it’s a little late. Worst case scenario, the other person doesn’t follow though and I’m left waiting with something left undone.

When I’m waiting on God, it feels like I have no control.

I can’t control when He’ll fix a situation or a person.

I can’t control when God’s right time will be.

I can’t control when or where I’ll hear from Him or how He’ll call me.

And it’s annoying because from what I can see if I’m asking, then it must be the right time!

But when I’m not in the midst of turmoil and can take a step back, I see differently. My time is based on my emotions—emotions that feel out of control to me, but are just a minor storm to God.

I see only what’s around me, but God sees the big picture. He sees the storms raging and His people crying out. God sees it all, including our hearts, our needs, and our deepest desires.

My time of frustration and despair may not be the right time in God’s plan, but that doesn’t mean He’s not there.

God promised to never leave us and God always keeps His promises.

We can’t control God’s timing, but we can control what we do while we wait.

While we wait on God…we keep praying.

We keep walking close to Him.

And we keep trusting Him.

Because no matter how much of the picture we can see, God sees it all.

And His time is always the right time.

 

In Christ,
Laura
Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith
 

Rebuilding the Walls (Bible Study)

A-New-Day-Is-Coming-Screen-One

Chapter 21 Recap-

It’s no surprise that the Hebrew people were homesick after 70 years of foreign captivity. At this point, it had been 80 years since King Cyrus first gave the green light for the exiles to return to their beloved Jerusalem.  Zerubbabel was among the first to go.  Fifty thousand former slaves packed their bags and joined him on the trek back to the holy city in 537 B.C.  But many remained beyond the borders of God’s promise.

Ezra had earned the favor of Persia’s King Artaxerxes during his time in Babylon.  The king authorized Ezra to take a second contingent of Israelites back home.  Ezra was a faithful scribe and teacher, and he was given permission not only to teach God’s law but also a mandate to appoint judges and a bottomless expense account to finance his journey.

Nehemiah remained in the palace of Susa as the favored cupbearer of the Persian king. He was dismayed to hear that the walls of Jerusalem remained in disrepair, for without walls, no city would be secure. The king gave Nehemiah a leave-of-absence so he could lead 42,000 exiles back to Jerusalem.  His first order of business was to assess the condition of the walls and the people.  He quickly rallied the city leaders to rebuild.

Sanballat and Tobiah were none too pleased. As leaders of nearby nations, they were threatened by the prospect of Jerusalem’s comeback. They retaliated with intimidation and made repeated attempts to out-maneuver Nehemiah and his rebuilding project, but Nehemiah was undeterred.  He encouraged his leaders and armed his people.  Some worked while others stood guard.  Some carried supplies with one hand and a weapon in the other, but the threats continued.  Even when Israel’s enemies enlisted an Israelite as a false prophet to undermine the progress, Nehemiah was not shaken.  He refused to entertain empty lies, and the wall was rebuilt in record time—only 52 days!

As Nehemiah rebuilt the walls, Ezra set out to rebuild God’s people.  He began by teaching them the Scriptures for the next 13 years. The people gathered to hear Ezra read, and other priests joined in to teach as well.  At last, they got it! They grasped the reality of God’s great story and celebrated the Feasts of Booths as Moses had written of so long before.  The people and the priests hungered to worship God, and God’s people were restored in the Land of Promise.

Yet old habits die-hard, and the people’s fervor soon dwindled. The priests and the people became apathetic, so God commissioned the prophet, Malachi, to speak His words of divine warning.  The priests had begun to dishonor God with sacrifices that were less than the best.  They treated their wives poorly and wondered why God was not pleased with their worship. They withheld their offerings, and the whole community began to again turn away from God.

Malachi prophesied the return of the prophet Elijah as sign of things to come.  God had restored His people and protected His faithful remnant.  He had protected Judah’s royal line in keeping with his promise to David.  He spoke His final words of warning and promise through Malachi, and then God was silent. God’s people would not hear from Him again until the promised Elijah would step forth as God’s new messenger. God’s redemptive story, for now, was quietly marching toward history’s climactic event.

What’s the most extensive remodeling or construction project you have been involved in? How would it match up to the rebuilding of the city walls?

Leadership Discoveries from Nehemiah

I want to first challenge you to read through the book of Nehemiah and generate a list of leadership lessons you see from observing Nehemiah. Once compiled, what strengths are used and what can be learned for lessons today. Are there any weaknesses you see? What can be learned from that?

I will now outline a few of the lessons I learned to see if they match up.

Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah

During the French Revolution, a man was seen running down the street chasing a mob, moving quickly toward the danger.  Somebody yelled at him, “Stop! Stop!  Don’t’ follow that mob!”  Without missing a step, he called back, “I have to follow them!  I’m their leader!”

Nehemiah was not afraid of danger, but he was a much wiser leader than this man.  The world, our country, and our local communities could use more leaders like Nehemiah.  Like the situation he faced, every place that is broken down, needs rebuilding and suffers from hopelessness or apathy is an opportunity for a Christian leader today.  God’s work has never been easy, and has met resistance from His enemies since the Garden.  But the same God who parted the Red Sea, who gave Solomon wisdom and who gave Nehemiah favor in the eyes of King Artaxerxes is the same God who will enable us to accomplish the work He calls us to do.

Nehemiah stands out as one of the best and most effective leaders in the Bible.  He should surely be grouped with Moses, Joshua and David.  But because his story is deep within the Old Testament historical books that are lesser known, the practical life lessons that he provides can go largely neglected.  Therefore, we will dig deeper into the life of Nehemiah to discover L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. principles that are just as relevant today as they were 1565 (or so) years ago.

I.    Leave:  Move!  Change!  Step out!  You cannot lead from a position of inertia.

A. Nehemiah was the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes.  This prestigious job reveals that Nehemiah was among the king’s most trusted servants.  He enjoyed an influential post and comfortable lifestyle.  Four months had passed since Nehemiah had received that bad news from his brother.  During that time, he spent a considerable amount of time in prayer, waiting patiently until the LORD presented him with a good opportunity to request permission from the king to leave his post to pursue the LORD’s work.  Nehemiah had every earthly excuse to stay right where he was—important job, good pay, too inconvenient to leave, too far to go, etc. Yet he could not accomplish the mission of rebuilding the walls from a distance city.  But instead, with permission from the king, he chose to leave Susa and journey to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls and restore the people’s identity as God’s covenant remnant.

B. An inert situation requires a fresh leader to progress.  The walls needed rebuilt and God could have easily chosen a man already in Jerusalem to lead the charge.  But he instead called Nehemiah who brought with him fresh ideas for change.

C. A good leader has to leave his comfort zone, take a risk and get involved for a cause bigger than himself/herself.

II.     Evaluation:  Although he rightly believed that he was in the will of God to rebuild the walls, Nehemiah evaluated each situation carefully.

A. First, he knew he needed the king’s approval and documentation to verify his travel and mission (Neh. 2:5-8).  He did not rush to secure these things.  He patiently waited four months until he knew the timing was right.

B. Just three days after arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah secretly surveyed the damage to the walls under the cloak of darkness (p. 243).  It was crucial that he have an accurate, firsthand assessment of the mission that lay ahead.  By concealing himself at night, Israel’s enemies could not stir up the people to revolt against his leadership.  By concealing his intentions, Nehemiah had adequate time to evaluate the task and formulate a plan before the Jews could garner arguments why they should or could not rebuild the walls. (After all, they had failed to rebuild the walls up until now, so their excuses were many.) Praying and trusting God does not mean that proper research and planning are unnecessary.

C. A good leader gets a realistic evaluation of the situation before acting.

III.    Action:  Nehemiah had to turn his vision for rebuilding the walls into a reality.

A. He challenged the local leaders to recognize the need to act.  “You see the trouble we are in:  Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned with fire,” (p. 243).

B. He presented his well-researched vision and plan to the people.  “Come, let us rebuild together the walls of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace,” (p. 244).

C. He motivated the leaders by identifying himself with them.  He used “we” and “us.” Finally, he understood that it was God working through him that would give the Jews the ability to do what had to be done.  His personal testimony encouraged them to trust the LORD’s plan rather than their own weaknesses.

D. Almost immediately they began the work.  This leader did not waste precious time tying up people and resources in endless committee meetings.

E. When rumors of an impending attack circulated, Nehemiah took action.  He staged armed guards around the workers to who stood ready to defend their families and their city (p. 245).  He took action, and like him, good leaders do not stall because of “paralysis by analysis.”

F. Good leaders act.

IV.    Discernment:  Nehemiah faced both external and internal threats to the work of rebuilding.

A. His wisdom and discernment alerted him to the very real threat of an enemy attack.  He discerned that what had initially begun as mocking and ridicule had escalated into a unified plot to strike them.

B. External threats can create more problems from within, and Nehemiah knew it.  While their enemies seemingly gained strength, the workers seemed to lose it.  Nehemiah discerned that their physical exhaustion compounded their discouragement.  They said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall,” (p. 244).  So he prayed and prepared a defense against would-be attackers.

C. After the walls were finished, Nehemiah discerned the ill intentions of Sanballat’s and Tobiah’s scheming letters (p. 245-246).  Since their other attempts to halt the work had failed, they turned to more subtle methods to undermine the final phase of the gates.  By asking him to meet them “on the plain of Ono,” which was a day’s travel from Jerusalem, he discerned that they intended to do him personal harm (p. 245).  He tested his theory by sending a message that he was too busy to meet (p. 246).

D. Finally, Nehemiah’s keen discernment alerted him to the false “insider” Jewish prophet Shemaiah who suggested he hide inside the temple to protect himself from death threats.  He discerned two problems with Shemaiah’s so-called prophecy.  First, God would not ask him to run and hide when to do so would demonstrate a lack of trust in God and would undermine the confidence of the people in his leadership.  Second, no true prophet would deliberately influence someone to violate God’s Law that only allowed priests in the sanctuary (Num. 18:7).  If Nehemiah had complied, he would have disobeyed God, desecrated the temple, and discredited himself as God’s appointed leader.  Nehemiah discerned this prophet-for-hire was a fraud.

E. Good leaders develop discernment. 

V.    Encourager:  Nehemiah was an encourager.

A. Nehemiah used his personal testimony to encourage the local leaders to rebuilding the walls.  “I also told them about the gracious hand of God on me and what the king had said to me,” (p. 244).  By assuring these city leaders that both their heavenly King and their earthly king were supportive of the vision, they gained enough courage to buy into it.  Only the encouraged are able to “work with all their heart,” (p. 244).

B. Nehemiah encouraged the workers when they were physically exhausted and emotionally weary.  “When the strength of the laborers” was giving out, he discerned that the threat of attack had worn them too thin.  He was not a harsh taskmaster, and he knew full well that he alone could not accomplish the mission.  Instead, he encouraged them with a new plan to continue the process of rebuilding with some building and others standing guard (p. 245).  It is easier to be negative under difficult circumstances than to be both realistic and encouraging.  But Nehemiah’s encouragement was rooted in knowing his God.  “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there.  Our God will fight for us!” (p. 245, Neh. 4:20)  That they did not give up and finished in a swift 52 days (p. 246) testifies to his fresh encouragement.

C. Good leaders encourage their team. 

VI.    Respect:  Nehemiah respected God, authorities and his subordinates.

A. Nehemiah never failed to give God full credit and glory in the process of rebuilding the walls.  From the very beginning, he prayed and acknowledged that the “hand of God” was upon him (Neh. 2:8, 18) and that it was “what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem,” (p. 243).  When they feared an attack, he reminded them of their God.  “Don’t be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your people, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes,” (p. 245, Neh. 4:14).  Nehemiah showed the ultimate respect for God when he defied the false prophet’s suggestion that he hide in the temple to protect himself (p. 246).  He refused to consider defiling the temple to save his skin!

B. Nehemiah respected the rightful king’s authority.  Although he always knew that the mission was from God, he respected the authority of the king by requesting a leave of absence and garnered the king’s documented support.   A godly leader will respect his or her earthly authorities (Rom. 13:1-2).  He also respected the authority of the local Jerusalem priests and nobles.  He presented his plan to rebuild to the local leaders who then enlisted the support of the people.  He called upon Ezra to lead the worship (p. 246-247) after the walls were rebuilt.

C. Nehemiah respected the needs of his subordinates.  When they were weary, he met their need for protection.  Moreover, he worked right alongside all the other laborers, perhaps working even longer hours toward the mission.  “Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water,” (p. 245).  The king endowed him with the authority of a governor but he refused to use the governor’s food allowance because he did not want to burden the people with the taxes (Neh. 5:14-18).

D. Good leaders respect God, government and those they lead.

VII.    Selfless servant:  Nehemiah was a selfless servant who put the just needs of the people first.

A. Nehemiah was outraged by the immoral and unethical, not to mention unlawful, behavior of some of the wealthy Jews.  Evidently there was a food shortage and the people needed grain.  Some people had to mortgages their fields and homes to purchase food (Neh. 5:1-3).  Some people had to borrow money just to pay their taxes and their Jewish brethren were charging high interest rates.  This act was worsened when some people had to sell their children as slaves to their creditors (Neh. 5:5).  Nehemiah was rightfully outraged and rebuked the community nobles and rulers who were oppressing their poor brethren (Neh. 5:6-7).  This behavior was absolutely unacceptable by the community leaders because it gave God a bad name.  “And I said to them, ‘You are exacting usury, each from his brother!…The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?’” (Neh. 5:7b, 9)

B. In stark contrast to the other community leaders, Governor Nehemiah gave up his right to enjoy the governor’s benefits.  For twelve years he did not use the governor’s food allowance because of the tax burden it put upon the people (Neh. 5:14).  Former governors had not only taxed the people, but had also taken their food allowance of bread and wine from them.  The former governors’ servants had oppressed the people to demand the payments (Neh. 5:14-15).  Nehemiah still provided for 150 Jews and officials, as well as foreign dignitaries, on a regular basis, but he did it out of his own pocket because he was a selfless servant to the people he governed (Neh. 5:17-18).  His selflessness for the welfare of the community is a great example for any leader.  It demonstrates the heart of God for the welfare of His people.

C. Good leaders show compassion for those they lead by setting an example of selfless servant-hood.

VIII.    Hard-working:  Nehemiah was a hard-worker, and inspired others to work hard also.

A. When faced with opposition, Nehemiah and the builders worked from early morning till nighttime.  “So we continued the work with half of them holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out,” (p. 245, Neh. 4:21).  Those living outside of Jerusalem did not return to their homes at night, but some stood guard each night to protect their city and the people.  Nehemiah set the example for the whole community.  He stayed on the job and was on guard at all times (Neh. 4:23, p. 245).  He also made sure his own servants were doing the work of rebuilding rather than serving him personally (Neh. 5:16).

B. He did not permit himself to be distracted.  He stayed focused on his mission and fully devoted himself to the work.

C. Good leaders set the example of hard work.

IX.    Integrity:  Nehemiah was a trustworthy man who boldly confronted injustice.

A. His integrity is apparent from his position as cupbearer to the king.  The office of cupbearer in the Persian court was a position second only to the king.  He would have been the chief treasurer and the keeper of the king’s signet ring.  This gave him great authority and influence.  The king would have had great trust in this man who tasted the king’s food to ensure that it was not poisoned.  He had the complete confidence of the king.

B. As noted before, Nehemiah was careful not to personally profit from his leadership position.  He did not exercise the privilege of the food allowance, but used his own resources (Neh. 5:14, 18).  Good leaders go above and beyond those they lead.

C. A man of integrity, Nehemiah was not afraid to confront those who were wrong.  He confronted the leaders who were charging interest and oppressing their fellow Jews (Neh. 5:7-11).  He reprimanded those who had not handled the money for the temple correctly (Neh. 13:10-13).  He reprimanded those who profaned the Sabbath (Neh. 13:17) and who married foreigners because they violated the Law (Neh. 13:23-28).

D. With integrity comes a clear conscience.  Those who lack integrity lead a double life that gets them into trouble.  A man of integrity has nothing to hide because he only serves one Master.

E. Good leaders show personal integrity and refuse to tolerate the injustices of others.

X.    Prayer:  Nehemiah undergirded everything with prayer.

A. According to Robert D. Bell’s, “The Theology of Nehemiah,” in Biblical Viewpoint (Nov. 1986), of the 406 verses in the book, prayers fill 46 verses (or 11%).

B. He prayed at every crucial time and depended upon God’s help.  He prayed as a first response rather than a last resort.  He often sent up quick “flare prayers” and sandwiched them within the stories of his book.  A man of prayer humbly acknowledges his own insufficiency and trusts God to accomplish more than he ever could in his own strength.

C. Prayer was a way of life for Nehemiah.  He paired long periods of prayer with fasting.  “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.  For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven,” (Neh. 1:4, p. 242).  He had a disciplined prayer life that was borne out of deep reverence for the LORD.

D. Prayer is a way of life for a godly leader.

XI.    Applications and Implications

A. Nehemiah was one of the godliest leaders in the Bible.  He served the LORD with his willingness to be lead in a strategic government position, both in the Persian King’s court and as governor of Judah.  Most of us will never enter vocational ministry.  And that is good!  Christian leadership should be evident well beyond the walls of the church.  What better way to make an impact in the dark places of the world than by encouraging and supporting Christians toward key posts in the secular world.  Nehemiah gives us a blueprint for godly leadership beyond the priesthood.

B. All work can and should be for the glory of God.

C. I do not have to be in vocational ministry to still be doing Christian service.

D. God puts people in strategic places to represent Him.

E. Believers should strive to use that position of authority to make an impact.

F. Prayer and action should combine to accomplish goals, defend one’s self, and/or discern one’s enemies.

G. I can integrate any of these leadership traits to become more effective right now.

The Deserted Wife

We will take some time to talk about a Prophet that is not well represented in “The Story;” Malachi. The people have a hard time remaining faithful to God.

As we come to the close of the Old Testament story of God’s love, we see that “love” is still a problem for the Jews—a misplaced love.  They have seen God rescue them miraculously and restore them to their land.  With God’s help they rebuilt their temple and the walls of Jerusalem. Throughout the story, their unholy self-love brought about destruction in two areas:  in their own hearts, and in their families.  Once again God raised up a prophet, Malachi, to call them out, because after all this they continued to love themselves more than they loved God.

I.  The root of the problem: The Priests no longer taught God’s Will.  Malachi 2:1-9

1.  Why does God say he will send a curse instead of blessing upon the people? (v.2)

2.  What was it about Levi, the priests’ ancestor, that God said was lacking in the priests of Malachi’s time? (v. 5-6)

3. God told Malachi two important things honorable priests should do. Note them. (v. 7)

II.  God calls it Detestable: Breaking covenant breaks God’s followers.  Malachi 2:10-14

The headings and verse notations in some versions interrupt the flow of thought in this passage.  The logical transition in Malachi chapter two, when not interrupted, shows the reader that the problem of unfaithful priests has resulted in unfaithful people.  The first nine verses of Malachi seem to be leading up to what God really hates. God has some strong language for those who break covenant.

1.  What specifically profaned the covenant God had made with the Israelites? (v.10)

2.  What does God call detestable? (v. 11-12)

3.  God pointed out that he knew they were disillusioned with their worship and offerings.  Instead of blessing they mourned.  They felt the distance from God and they felt that He did not see them. However the astonishing fact is that they were so blind to their own wickedness.

Why had God rejected their worship? (v. 14)

III. The nature of the marriage covenant: two become one.  Malachi 2:15-16

This short passage is the clear and consistent demand from God for faithfulness to the marriage covenant because it is based on God’s nature, and upon their covenant with Him. While thousands of books have been written about the subject, the bottom line is found in these two verses.

1.  God had already alluded to His right to instruct man because He is the creator.  Re-read the creation of man and God’s instruction to Adam and Eve regarding their union in Genesis 2:23-24.

Then fill in the following blanks from Malachi chapter two:

“Have we not all _____________ Father?  Did not ___________ God create us?”  Malachi 2:10

“ Has not the Lord made them ______________.  In  _______________ and _____________ they are

his.  And why ______________?  Because he was seeking ________________  ______________.”

Malachi 2:15

Why does the marriage covenant reflect the nature of God?

2.  What was Malachi’s advice to the Jews on how to protect themselves in the spirit (the relationship with God)? (v. 15b)

3.  What does God hate? (v. 16)

4.  It seems that God is equating divorce with violence in verse 16.  How can divorce and violence be the same thing? (Consider the meaning of the word “one”.)

5.  Once again God gives a reminder about how to have spiritual health.  What is it? (v. 16b)

6.  What was God’s original complaint against Judah?  (v. 11)

Once again a break is made in the train of thought by the verse notations and headings in some versions.  Read Malachi 2:15-17 together.  God seems to be saying this discussion was tiring. Adultery was one of the abiding sins of his people.  The consequences of divorce cause a ‘domino effect’ of misery that simply could not be denied.  God simply says “Can there be any good in a sin?  No!  I am a just God.”  In God’s eyes the marriage union can’t be broken any more than He can be divided against Himself.

From Genesis to Malachi, we have seen a story of true love.  God remained faithful to His covenant with His people, in spite of their rebellion and rejection.  God loved them first, and he always loved them.

IV.  The Message for Today

  • The marriage covenant provides for and protects men and women.

1.  According to Malachi 2:14, what are the two benefits of marriage?  Are these benefits applicable to men and women?  (Remember to whom Malachi is speaking.)

2.  What things does Paul write in Ephesians 5: 25-33 that mirror Malachi’s message? (Compare Matthew 19;1-8; and Mark 10:1-12.)

  • Godly people, men and women, have the leadership responsibility in the home and in the church to teach God’s plan for marriage.

3.  From Malachi 2:1-9, what are the important principles about marriage that any leader should teach and live?

4.  We know that part of the reason God detested the unfaithfulness of the Israelite men toward the wives of their youth was because of his plan to send the Savior through the lineage of Judah.  But in Malachi 2:16 He simply states that He wanted them to raise godly children. What does faithfulness in marriage teach the children?

5.  Titus 2:1-5 gives a responsibility to women.  How does that responsibility compare to the ministry of the priests in the Old Testament?

6.  What does God hate and detest—sinful actions or sinful people?

Charles A. Kollar, in Solution-Focused Pastoral Counseling, writes: “ What we believe we become.  (The Bible) is given to teach us to be tenacious about the things of God and to develop a mature hope in his intention (Romans 15:4).”  We simply cannot separate God from his word.

  • Godly men and women who experience desertion and divorce must trust in God’s faithfulness.

That some men haven’t changed since Malachi’s time is proven by the fact that the term “trophy wife” is common and well-understood in our society. In Formerly A Wife, Welby Obrien says this about divorce: “Each of us is hurting over…the death of a relationship.  We know first-hand why God hates divorce—not with a head knowledge of theological assent, but with the pain of personal experience.  God knows what divorce does to its victims” (8-9).

9.  Who testified on behalf of the deserted wife? Malachi 2:14

10.  David was God’s chosen king but he spent years running for his life alone, rejected, and sometimes bitter.  David’s Psalms are a message that God placed in his heart to share with His followers.  From Psalm 73:21-28, what comfort is available to the spouse who must endure desertion?

When we love God, life is doable.  When we love ourselves more than we love God, the first result is to turn away from The Word. However, when we love ourselves more than we love God, we destroy ourselves, and nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the marriage relationship.

Key question:  How do you try to separate God from His Word?  What will you do to change that?

Daniel in Exile (4 Perspectives)

Dark-Days-screen-one

Perspective 1- Barb Miles

When King Nebuchadnezzar told his chief to pick four Israelites from Judah to be trained for service to him, little did Nebuchadnezzar know that Daniel and the other three would not change their faith in God.  Daniel immediately spoke up and asked the chief for permission not to eat the royal food and drink the royal wine.  Daniel continued praying to his God three times a day, looking out the window toward Jerusalem.

Daniel and his three friends Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego stood firm in their belief in God.  They did not give in and worship false gods as so many kings of Israel had done.  Nebuchadnezzar could see the four were exceptional in their knowledge and wisdom, measuring them against his own people in service to him.

When Daniel knew he would be asked to interpret the king’s first dream, he immediately prayed to God and praised Him.  After Daniel had shown his ability to interpret the king’s dreams, the king gave him a high position.  He was not forced to worship idols at that time.

When it was brought to Nebuchadnezzar’s attention that the three: Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego were not praying to the idols as he had commanded, they were thrown into a furnace that had been raised to an unthinkable number of degrees.  They spoke out about their faith in their God to Nebuchadnezzar and sure enough God spared them from the heat of the furnace.  Why were they protected?

After King Darius started his rule, again an edict was proclaimed to punish anyone who worshipped another god.  Daniel was found guilty.  After it was reported to the king of Daniel’s prayer habits with his god, Daniel was thrown into the den and remained untouched by the lion’s mouth.  Why was he protected?

Daniel was committed to the one true God.  Prayer is the answer to all things.

Perspective 2- Dan Petrak

Perspective 3- Diane Schmidt

In Chapter 18 of “The Story” we see parts of the lives of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, exiles of Judah who now call Babylon their home. So God works some amazing miracles, the ones we grew up with and the ones we hear as children. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego escape the fiery furnace and Daniel is rescued from the mouths of lions. Cool! But what I noticed this time as I read through the chapter is how God did more than this. I kept seeing him working in the lives of these men to reach the king and the people of Babylon. This God of the Israelites is showing himself and witnessing directly to the kings of Babylon and the people, through these four men. Every time an edict is issued by the king and the guys get into trouble, God shows himself and the king turns toward God and declares him “the God of gods and Lord of kings.” Or like King Darius who declares to all of his kingdom that they must “fear and reverence the God of Daniel.” I see in these verses the upper story, God really showing that he is the God of all people, not just the God of the Israelites. He is reaching out, through the guys, to the people of Babylon and those exiles Israelites. A reminder to the exiles that he’s still around, still powerful and still watching out for them.

On a separate note there is another thing that I never got before with Daniel and the lions is how much King Darius did not want to do this thing. He did not want to throw Daniel in the den. He worried, fasted and was awake all night. He went early to the den to see if Daniel was okay. He was hoping that Daniel’s God would protect him. I always thought the king was mean and horrible for throwing him in the den but he actually cared for Daniel and had hope that God would rescue him.

Perspective 4- Pastor Phil

I think it is amazing the words foreign people speak of a God that they know very little of. It is great to see and hear that no matter what they believe in their heart their words are faithful and true. Throughout Scripture we see and hear people speak things that convey a great confession even though the person may not have understood the implications.

For example, Peter and his great confession concerning Jesus. He said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” This statement was completely true, but did Peter really understand what that meant? I don’t think so, as we witness later by his betrayal of Jesus.

Chapter 18 has two great confessions. The first from King Nebuchadnezzar.

“Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”

King Darius

“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth.”

Could a greater confession come from the lips of an Israelite? I don’t think so. May our confession of God be as great and powerful as these two kings, through the good and bad in our life.

Dark-Days-screen-one

Perspective 1- Laura Rath

The Book of Isaiah is one of my favorites, so I was kind of excited to see him appear in this chapter. Isaiah is a faithful man living in the dark days and God chooses him to be a prophet. And not just in a “Hey, Isaiah, are you busy?” kind of way. No, God comes to him in a vision…and He brings along His seraphim, praising Him all the while.

Isaiah knows he’s unworthy and immediately calls out to the Lord.

Do you know the saying, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called?” He certainly qualified Isaiah! A live coal to Isaiah’s mouth and the words, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Not only did God cleanse Isaiah of his sin, but He captured Isaiah’s heart.

Just a few lines before, Isaiah cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined!” But when God asks, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah’s answer is completely different…

“Here am I. Send me!”

Perspective 2- Dan Petrak

Perspective 3- Barb Miles

When Hezekiah became king, he led the people by destroying their idols and the Asherah poles.  But because he was leading by following God, he wasn’t popular with the king of Assyria, who was leading the abandoned Israelites. The king of Assyria tried to persuade the people of Judah not to trust Hezekiah, by saying that Hezekiah could not deliver what he was promising.

In our Lower Story how many times have we been heckled or enticed to not trust God  and not follow His commandments?  Have I given in to sin?  Of course I have.  I remember going back into the workforce when I needed to support my family financially.  At first I was so shy, then as I was given different assignments though the different departments of a bank, I wondered why I was the one given the opportunities over others.  Other coworkers felt they were being passed over and didn’t understand why I was being given these opportunities.  Work relationships became strained, I didn’t pray to God for guidance.  So out of my own insecurity and lack of trust in God I became just like them.  I told a false story about a coworker.  This particular experience taught me so much about leaning on God for guidance.  His strength and my relationship with Him through prayer is all I need. Imagine how strong Hezekiah had to be to stand up against the king of Assyria and his false accusations!

Perspective 4- Pastor Ron

There is more to Isaiah than Christmas and Lent!  Whenever I think of the prophet Isaiah I think of the prophesy that foretold of Mary’s conception of Jesus –“…The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Is. 7:14)  I also think of the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53.  Isaiah 7 is Christmas and Isaiah 53 is Lent.  Yet, there is so much more!  This chapter was a good reminder of the richness of the prophet and a reminder that he did have the opportunity to interact with a good king who heeded his advice.  Hezekiah would have never had the courage to stand up to the Assyrian king on his own.  With Isaiah assuring him of God’s protection he did not flinch when Sennacherib tried to intimidate him.

Isaiah did have the unfortunate job of informing Judah that they, like their northern counter parts, would be carried off to captivity.  At the same time, some of the greatest Gospel promises are contained in the pages in this part of the story!

Isaiah is much, much more than Christmas and Lent!

From Shepherd to King (4 Perspectives)

Perspective 1- Barb Miles

David constantly reached out to God in prayer when he was fearful and needed direction and help.  And David also thanked God for being his deliverer, always giving thanks to God for hearing his prayers.  This is a good lesson for me.  My take away for this chapter is to always pray for direction and to always give thanks.

Perspective 2- Pastor Ron

Sometimes the egos of the characters in the Bible are as fragile as that of the stars in Hollywood! Saul is the king anointed by God to lead his people. God has blessed him during his reign. He even provides him with David. Yes, David will be the next king, but he has intense loyalty to Saul. One would think, what a wonderful blessing to have this naturally gifted warrior by my side! David did so well that the people sang about him:

“Saul has slain his thousands,and David his tens of thousands.”

This can be taken one of two ways. Either, Saul has done a great job mentoring the boy and can celebrate his success, or he can see him as a threat…Saul chose the latter. How sad. Can you imagine what a powerhouse the two of them would have been? Saul on his way out, but David being chosen by God and groomed by Saul. But Saul’s ego would have none of that. David was a threat and the fact that Saul’s son was David’s best friend was just salt in this open wound. What a missed opportunity. What pain and agony was put upon so many…in part, at least, because of an ego.

We all have an ego and it is necessary to have a positive self-image. We can get into all kinds of trouble if we have too negative of a self-image of ourselves. Like all things though, if left unchecked it can get us into a lot trouble. How many times have you failed to celebrate with another person’s success because somehow you saw that as a poor reflection on you? How much more productive would your place of business be if egos were removed and everyone celebrated everyone else’s success?  What if sibling rivalry was removed from your home? What would happen if we put our egos aside?

It reminds me of this passage in Philippians 2:5-8

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!

Perspective 3- Diane Schmidt

I just love the example of David as he demonstrated his faith in the living God; how he loved and trusted him in all things. Right from the beginning of this chapter David demonstrates his faith in God. He questions the army when they allow Goliath to “defy the living God.” (pg. 148) He convinces Saul that he can slay this enemy because “the Lord…will rescue me from this Philistine.” (p 148-149) He gives credit to God and shows great trust when he says, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (p 149) As Saul pursues David, he once again turns to God for deliverance. At the encounter in the cave, David could have slain Saul but he didn’t. Why? I think it’s because he knew it would not be pleasing to God. David was taught God’s laws and knew that God’s story was bigger than his own. David knew that God had a plan for him and even if he couldn’t see the magnitude of the Upper Story he still trusted God. Throughout this chapter we see David’s trusting faith and God’s blessings, and the strength and courage he gave David. David gives us some great images of who God is: my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my refuge, my shield, my horn of salvation, my stronghold, my savior! What great words and images that we can hold on to when we are surrounded by a world of doubt, struggle, fear, unbelievers, death and destruction. To be comforted and strengthened by a God who is so personal that he cares about my daily life and yet so big he can fight and defeat my biggest enemies, just like he did for David.

Perspective 4- Dan Petrak

Standing Tall, Falling Hard (4 Persepctives)

Perspective 1- Barb Miles

Samuel, who was already a gift from God to Hannah was taken to Shiloh after he was weaned to be a prophet of the Lord.  Samuel is one of the few leaders of the Lord that consistently led the people by God’s word, not being influenced by others or leading for his own needs.

The first example of this came soon after Samuel had been taken to the temple.  Eli’s eyes had become weak but Eli heard the Lord call Samuel.  Three times Samuel went to Eli thinking Eli was calling him.  After the third time, Eli realized the Lord was calling for Samuel.  After the Lord spoke to Samuel he learned that Eli’s family would be judged according to the sins they had committed.  When Eli woke and asked Samuel to tell him what the Lord spoke about, Samuel did not withhold anything from his conversation with God.  Wouldn’t that be hard, to share a condemning message from God?

Again, when the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines, the Israelites decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant of God back.  Through another attack the Philistines captured the ark and set it beside their false gods.  Because God did not want to be mocked, He caused the false God to crumble.  Through this Samuel insisted the Israelites return to the one true God.

When the Israelites told Samuel his sons were not following his ways, they asked for a king.  Samuel told God of this request and God told them to give them a King, Him.  Samuel followed His word and sent everyone back to their homes.  In the meantime, a man named Saul was looking with a servant for his fathers donkeys.  After no success he wanted to return home, but his servant suggested they go see a man of God.  The Lord had already revealed to Samuel that a man would be coming that would be anointed ruler of the people of Israel.

Next, Saul attacked the Philistines, and after not surviving the attack his army started to scatter.  When Samuel arrived and saw Saul and his army were in fear, Samuel admonished Saul.  Samuel commanded Saul to attack the Amalekites by putting all their people to death, including all animals. Saul saved some of the strongest animals and destroyed the weakest. Saul did not follow God’s command.  Time and again, Samuel carried out God’s messages, but the Israelites always failed to follow God.

Samuel always followed Gods commands.  Samuel was clear each time God told him what to do or what would be happening.   If God’s message is so clear, why do we question it?  Samuel didn’t.

Perspective 2- Pastor Ron

I guess cruel people have been around since the fall into sin or at least since the time of Hannah.  Much is going on in chapter 10 of “The Story,” but on the first page, the second paragraph we have incredible cruelty. “Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her.  This went on year after year.  Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.”  Are you kidding me?  Here is a woman who desperately wants to have children and is unable to.  The personal anguish, the disappointment month after month, and now to have someone rubbing your nose in it!!  Let’s not forget this is not a one-time event, but year after year.  I cannot think of anything more cruel.  What kind person was this Peninnah?

I suppose Peninnah is like so many people today that for one reason or another prey upon other people’s vulnerable spots. The more I thought about the recording of the cruelty, which could easily be missed, the more impressed I was with Hannah.  Year after year she puts up with not having a child and the cruel words of Peninnah and yet she keeps coming back to the Lord.  It seems the more she suffers, the more pain she is in, the more Peninnah provokes her, the more fervently she prays.  This is a woman of incredible faith…and honor.  She makes a vow to God that if he gives her a son she will dedicate his life in service to God…Then she follows through with her promise.  She could have easily kept the boy for herself and not told anyone about the promise.  But, she is a woman of faith and integrity.

In a sense, God used Peninnah’s cruelty to highlight Hannah’s faithfulness.  I wonder how often something similar to that happens today and we miss it.

Perspective 3- Dan Petrak

Perspective 4- Kelsey Rath

While reading chapter 10 in the story, the line that said God changed Saul’s heart really made me think. Some of you may have thought oh, well yeah, God changed his heart, whatever. But what if that was you, where you had God come into your life and change your heart. Or maybe you’re Saul right now. You are still waiting or hoping God will come and change your heart. So take a moment and think….. Has God changed your heart?

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