Tag Archives: church of Christ

Through the Bible, June 26

Reading: Malachi 1:1-2:16

Summary: Malachi is not only the last book of the Old Testament (in the arrangement of books in our English Bibles), he is the last of the prophets of the Old Testament era.  His is the final voice from God before the time between the Old and New Testaments, roughly 400 years.

Malachi, like other prophets, is calling God’s people to faithfulness to God, His word, and His people.

Devotional Thought:

Arguing with God

I’m not a very good arguer.  Whenever I get into a discussion infused with some intensity and higher than normal emotion my mind tends to shut down.  My goal becomes getting out of the conflict at virtually any cost rather than sensible resolution.  That personality trait does not serve me well.  I’m trying to learn better.

Sometimes, though, we argue without realizing it.  I suppose in its simplest form it is to counter one statement with another.  The form of that counter may be verbal, it may be written, it may be by action.  What we say or do is in disagreement.

That being said, we often argue with God.  That’s what Malachi said.  Several times, he employs the formula “…says the Lord.  But you say…” (1:2, 6, 7; 2:14, 17; 3:7, 8 , 13).  God’s own people were saying and doing things in disagreement with what God said.  They were arguing with Him.

Take the first instance; “’I have loved you,’ says the Lord.  But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’” (Mal. 1:2).  That still happens doesn’t it?  God’s says “I love you”—primarily through Jesus (John 3:16; 1 John 3:16).  Then we hit some rough spots in life and think God should fix them or even prevent them, and when He doesn’t we think, “If God loved me He would…”  God says; we say.

God says…

our top priority should be His kingdom and righteousness (Matt. 6:33)

we should put others’ concerns and interests ahead of our own (Php. 2:3)

life is not found in the abundance of one’s possessions (Luke 12:15).

blessedness is found in poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, peacemaking, etc. (Matt. 5:3-12).

and so on.

But what do we say/do?

By the way, in case you did not know or had forgotten, arguing with God is a losing proposition.

Through the Bible, June 25

Reading: Nehemiah 8, 9, 13

Summary: Nehemiah and Ezra join forces to help the people to learn and understand God’s Law.  They obeyed certain portions of the Law that had been neglected for many generations.   Also, the people learned of violations of God’s Law that needed to be corrected.

Devotional Thought:

Understand and Rejoice

The goal of communication is understanding, isn’t it?  We speak and we wish to be understood.  We read and we want to understand.

Though communication can fail in so many ways—understanding is not achieved—in many instances, it carries an expectation for understanding. When I read a road sign that says “45” I need to know if that’s a speed limit, highway number, a mile marker, or an exit number.  If the sign says “Stop” or “Yield” I need to understand what that means and be sure my corresponding actions are appropriate.  Not only do I need to understand, I’m expected to.

The Bible also carries an expectation for understanding. Remember the Ethiopian nobleman who had a question about the Scripture he was reading.  “Do you understand what you are reading?” the preacher asked.  “How can I unless someone guides me?” was his reply (Acts 8:30-31).  Philip did guide him and he did understand.

So also in the days following captivity and the restoration of Israel.  Ezra stood before the assembled people and read God’s word.  But not only was His word read, Levites were present to help the people understand what they heard.  Initially, the people responded with grief and tears (v. 9). This wasn’t right.  The Levites calmed the people, who finally “went their way…rejoicing because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (v. 12).

Back to that Ethiopian in Acts 8. He understood what Philip taught him, obeyed the word of God and “went on his way rejoicing” (v. 39).

Understanding begets rejoicing, especially when we understand God.

Through the Bible, June 24

Reading: Nehemiah 4-6

Summary: Rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls, as great a task as it was, was only the beginning of Nehemiah’s good work.  He also set out to right the wrongs of the powerful and wealthy taking advantage of the poor.  For his efforts he was moved from an “unofficial” position of leadership to an official one, serving as the governor of Judah.  From there he acted generously and justly.

Devotional Thought:

Distracted

I don’t know of anyone who gets as much done as they would like.   There’s always more that could and/or should be done.

Why? Why are we so lousy at getting things done?  That’s a loaded question and the answers are many, very many.  Lazy, disorganized, unmotivated, busy-ness, overload, forgetfulness, etc., etc.

The list is potentially unending.  Efficiency and productivity experts say that one of the biggest culprits is distractions.  Our attention, and therefore our energies, are diverted from the task at hand. It will now take longer to accomplish whatever we’d been previously focused on and consequently robs the time that could have been given to the next important task.

Satan may be the father of lies, but he’s also the master of distraction.  His success does not require our rejecting God’s work and righteous deeds, only that we be distracted.

Nehemiah’s sterling leadership is shown when his opponents invited him to a meeting in the plain of Ono.  He said, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down” (Neh. 6:3).  He refused to be distracted.

Failing God does not require our doing wrong; distraction from doing right will suffice.

Through the Bible, June 23

Reading: Nehemiah 1-3

Summary: Nehemiah has to be regarded as one of the great examples of leadership in all of Scripture.  He moved boldly to answer a dire need even though he was not in any “official” position to do so.  He moved decisively and influenced many others to action despite opposition.

Devotional Thought:

You’re No Leader, So Lead

Nehemiah’s position as cupbearer for the king seems rather inane and trivial. It was a position of some prominence in that he was in direct contact with the king.  No, he was not a policy maker or hold a cabinet-type position.  He served the king his wine.

Remember, Nehemiah was a cupbearer; no great shakes in the scheme of things.

What Nehemiah ended up doing, though, was quite remarkable.  He led the third group of Jews back to Jerusalem from the land of their former captivity.  He set out to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem that still lay in ruins—hence the city was still not a viable entity with hope of a future.

Nehemiah knew well the spiritual implications of Jerusalem’s condition (see 1:6-9) and took it upon himself to pray to God about it.  He was so bold as to ask the king for permission to lead his countrymen back to his homeland and rebuild the city walls.  Eventually, he did precisely that, first motivating, then leading the people—despite cunning opposition—to complete this noble and notable task.

Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the king; Nehemiah, the great leader of God’s people.

The former did not qualify him for the latter; but neither did it disqualify him.

How many of us have disqualified ourselves from leading because we’re not in the right position?  Position does not make you or break you as a leader.  Whether cupbearer, student, homemaker, ditch digger, assembly line worker, teacher, church member, fry cook—it doesn’t matter.  Nehemiah fervently petitioned God regarding the great need He saw.  He took the steps he could from where he was to begin to address it.  No doubt God blessed his initiative and look what happened!

Nehemiah the cupbearer and me the…

Through the Bible, June 22

Reading: Ezra 7; 9:1-10:17

Summary: Ezra was a teacher, specifically of God’s Law.  His contribution to the “restoration of the Jews” following Babylonian captivity was to guide them in knowing and practicing God’s word.  That could, at times, be very challenging when the people had long neglected God’s word.  And it was that very fact that hand landed them in captivity in the first place.

Old habits die hard, but Ezra was a leader strong enough to not allow these returned Jews to fall into those old ways.

Devotional Thought:

Hating God’s Word

How do you feel when you read God’s word?  Encouraged? Built up? Motivated?  Happy?   Comforted?  Hopeful?

Of course, many circumstances go into our emotional response to the Bible.  But surely, one of the reasons we love the Bible is because it can make us feel so good.  It can give us comfort for our grief, hope for our despair, joy for our sorrow, strength for our weakness, and so on.  How marvelous are the “words of eternal life.”

Just as for every day there is a night and for every laughter there is a tear, so also there is another side to what God’s word can, and should, do for us.  Think about the response of Ezra and the people.  They trembled and Ezra tore his clothes, pulled hair from his head and beard and sat appalled (Ezra 9:3).  This was all because the people heard the word of God and Ezra heard of the faithlessness of the people.

Sometimes the Bible makes us feel so good, but it might also make us feel so bad.  Remember Jehoiakim reacted violently (literally cutting up the scroll of Jeremiah with a knife and burning it in the fire) and Felix became alarmed (Jer. 36:23; Acts 24:25).

The real test of our love for God and His word doesn’t come when we’re made to feel better by it, but worse.  It’s not when I love what it says, but when I hate it.  What comes next tells everything about us.

June Week 4 Bible Reading Introduction

Week 4: The Old Testament Story Concludes

June 22-28

         Ezra, for whom the book is named, leads another group of Jews from the land of their exile back to the land of their heritage.  While Zerubbabel’s focus in the first return had been on rebuilding the temple, Ezra sought to reestablish a viable religious life among those returned Jews.

Still another group is led by Nehemiah whose intent is to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. With that task accomplished he pairs with Ezra to further religious reforms.

The last prophet of the Old Testament and appropriately the last book in the order of our English Bibles is Malachi.  Four hundred years will pass before another voice, directed from heaven, will be heard.  Not coincidentally, John the Baptist will be the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of the return of Elijah.

Through the Bible, June 21

Reading: No scheduled reading

Thoughts and Reflection: This is the scheduled day to catch up on your Bible reading for the third week of June in case you may have fallen behind.  Though no Bible reading is planned for today, you may wish to consider the following thoughts drawn from this week’s reading.

  1. It’s hard to imagine, considering the prominence and central role of the temple in Jerusalem for the Jewish people as we read in the New Testament, that it took such great effort to get it rebuilt during the days of Zerubbabel. Many opposing forces and influences had to be overcome.  This serves as a fitting reminder that any worthwhile task will likely require persistence to overcome obstacles and opposition.  Don’t quit!
  2. The book of Esther is the only book of the Bible in which God is not explicitly called by name. Yet, in no other book of the Bible is God’s work on behalf of His people any more evident.
  3. The Bible reminds us that it is in the power of God to exalt man or to bring him low. The case of Haman stands in contrast to that of Joseph.  In a single day,  Joseph went from a prisoner to the third most powerful man in Egypt, while Haman, also in a single day, went from an exceedingly high and powerful position to being executed on his own gallows.  We simply do not know what a day may bring or what God might accomplish.

Devotional Thought:

Wherever You Are, Begin

When Jesus came to earth, the New Testament says it was at “the right time” (Gal. 5:6).

From the vantage point of the return to Jerusalem following captivity and the struggle to rebuild the temple, that must have appeared to be an impossibility.  Things looked so bleak.  The people were so weak.  They were such a small and struggling people with so little to offer.  Kind of like how we feel about ourselves sometimes.

Jerusalem and the Jews were not then what they would become.  Not that they ever became perfect.  The “right time” most certainly involves some other factors than the condition of God’s people and the city of Jerusalem.   Even so, they had to start from where they were.  They had to rebuild the temple, reestablish right practice of their faith and construct the city walls again.  It was a place to start.  Eventually, things would be right.

We may not be right now in our own lives where we want to be, what we want to be or who we want to be.  Things may not be “right” with us.  But they can be.  To get there, we have to begin where we are, right now.

So what needs to happen next?  It may still be a long way from what will ultimately need to be true, but it’s a place to start.  For anyone to reach the destination for which they desire and dream, they must begin where they now are.

And that’s the key, begin.

Through the Bible, June 20

Reading: Esther 7-10

Summary: Though Haman is dead, the decree authorized by the king for the mass slaughter of the Jews is still in place.  Mordecai and Esther move quickly by the king’s authority to authorize their people to defend themselves against their enemies on the fated day set by Haman.  Exactly the opposite result that Haman planned unfolds as the Jewish people successfully defend themselves.

Devotional Thought:

The Transforming Power of Hope

Dread and fear debilitate, hope and opportunity invigorate.

You’ve experienced it haven’t you?  The threat of harm or oppression causes a dark cloud to shroud your thoughts and feelings. You are beaten down and defeated long before anything actually happens.  Suddenly a ray of hope appears.  There is a chance; an opportunity to overcome and emerge victorious.  Again, before anything actually, happens your disposition has been changed completely.  The dark cloud is gone.  Hope and possibility replace dread and woe.

Under Haman’s threat, the Jews were “fasting, weeping, and lamenting” (Esth. 4:3).  Given the opportunity to defend themselves they had “light and gladness and joy and honor” (Esth. 8:16).  Again, nothing had actually yet happened, but hope and opportunity changed everything.

Is this not precisely what God provides; hope and opportunity?  That changes everything, even before God has done anything.

Through the Bible, June 19

Reading: Esther 4-6

Summary: The drama further unfolds and Mordecai convinces Esther to take action on her people’s behalf.  Haman’s fool proof plan unravels in a matter of hours as he looses not only his powerful position but also his life.

Devotional Thought:

Silence Is Not Golden

Sure, there are times when silence is not only appropriate but very beneficial; a golden blessing.  But not always.

Mordecai urged Esther to not remain silent, but speak on behalf of her people (Esth. 4:14).  Her silence would have been a disgrace and tragic.  Our silence could be same.

Silence is tragic when…

  • the strong do not open their mouths on behalf of the weak (Prov. 31:9)
  • one’s given responsibility to watch do not warn of impending danger (Ezek. 33:7)
  • one generation fails to tell the next of the goodness of God (Psalm 78:3-4)
  • words of comfort and encouragement are kept from the discouraged and downcast (1 Thess. 4:18)
  • the gospel is not preached (Mark 16:15).

Mordecai further suggested that Esther was where she was for this very purpose.

It is true.  No matter where or with whom we are, something needs to be said.  Don’t be silent.

Through the Bible, June 18

Reading: Esther 1-3

Summary: After the first group of Jews returns to Jerusalem (as led by Zerubbabel, Ezra 1-6), but before the second group (as led by Ezra, Ezra 7-10), an incredible drama unfolds back in Persia and is recorded as the book of Esther.

No greater example of God’s providential care is found anywhere in Scripture than in the story of Esther.

Today’s reading sets all the pieces in place.  Esther is chosen to the position of queen as Haman also attains to a position of high prominence, but also plans his villainous plot to exterminate Mordecai and his people, the Jews.

Devotional Thought:

God is Nowhere and Everywhere

The book of Esther is odd.  Not one time is God explicitly mentioned in this entire book.  Not once.  But neither is the presence of God any more evident than in the events unfolded in its pages.

“God” is nowhere in Esther and God is everywhere in Esther.

A memorable cartoon pictures two figures sitting at the bar of a saloon.  One of them is impeccably dressed; broad-brimmed large cowboy hat, rhinestone studded and colorful western-cut shirt with pressed jeans held up by a belt sporting a very sizable, shiny buckle and tucked into highly-polished pointy-toed boots.  The other wore a crumpled hat, wrinkled shirt, sagging jeans, over dusty, mud (or something else) caked boots—a generally disheveled look.  The latter says wryly to the former, “I see by the way you are dressed that you are a cowboy.”

Externals are sometimes—not always—superficial.  Externals get noticed.  Externals can be seen by others.  Externals can also be deceptive. The appearance they give can belie the reality within.

A cowboy is evidenced more by what he does, not what he wears.  The presence of God in Esther is not measured by the number of times He’s called by name in that book.  Our place as a follower of Christ is not established by the jewelry we wear, the t-shirt logos we sport, or even the assemblies we attend or how loudly we praise Him.  It’s His presence in our lives. It’s His love reflected to others.  It’s His compassion for people in need. It’s His commitment to fulfill the Father’s will.

“God” isn’t in Esther but He is, just as Christ must be in us.