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Let Us Start to Rebuild

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Scripture:  I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. – Nehemiah 2:18

Observation:  The name Nehemiah means ‘Yah(weh) [the Lord] has compassion.’  He was the post-exilic governor of Judah, and the main character in the book of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah himself rose to high standing during the reign of the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes I (464–424 bc). He was designated the ‘cupbearer to the king’ (Neh. 1:11). This honorable position involved tasting wine for the king to ensure it was not poisoned.  This meant he was a trusted advisor and had the ear of the King.

Nehemiah’s work in Jerusalem began when his brother Hanani visited him in Susa. Nehemiah asked about the condition of the returnees and learned that the people of Jerusalem were troubled and the walls of the city were broken down. This broke his heart for his people.  Nehemiah, like many exiles, had made Persia/Babylon his home following the exile.  But now he felt strong ties to his roots.

After prayer and fasting, he approached Artaxerxes and asked permission to rebuild the city. Permission was granted and Nehemiah left with royal edicts to authorize his effects (Neh. 1:1–2:10).

Even with the king’s permission and blessing, Nehemiah faced all kinds of opposition… from surrounding provinces, and even from the Jewish people.  Why?  They were threatened by the rebuilding and afraid.  Nevertheless it was real for Nehemiah.  It mean that he and his workers were mocked verbally, and even with force.  Bottom line is that Nehemiah had every reason to quit.  But he was so devoted to the calling of the Lord to rebuild, that he was not disuaded and continued on.

It’s important to note that Nehemiah did not just rebuild the physical city of Jerusalem, but he also devoted himself to restoring the religion and faith of Judah.  He revived their faith in and faithfulness to God.

Application:  Don’t those two have to go together?  What good is it to have a physically strong body, but have a spiritually empty soul?  Likewise Nehemiah didn’t just want to put up new walls on the city, but re-establish the spiritual health of the people of Judah beginning with Jerusalem.

These days in our country, there is so much brokenness – if not because of the physical destruction caused by hurricanes and floods, because of the spiritual destruction caused by battling opposing ideologies and the hectic pace of life.

It’s time to rebuild.    Most obviously we need to rebuild broken roads and electrical grids.  But we must also rebuild relationships.  We need to see our neighbor not as our enemy … but to see the brokenness as our enemy.    And we must rebuild our spiritual health – by returning to the Lord.

I love what we read earlier in Nehemiah “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.” (Neh. 1:10)  To me that means that God is always rescuing His lost people – and He will rescue, restore and rebuild us even now.

Prayer:  Help me turn my heart to you God, and begin the rebuilding today – starting with me.  Restore my spirit and renew my strength.  And allow me to be a part of rebuilding your people.  In Your Name.  Amen.

To learn more about the #LifeJournal reading plan I am using, see this post: Rev Augie’s Blog – Daily Bible Reading.

Confidence on Judgment Day!

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JesusReturns

Scripture:  “so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” – Hebrews 9:28

Observation (Background): The Book of Hebrews is in many ways a discourse on how Jesus is the fulfillment of all things Jewish. (In fact, Hebrew is not only the language spoken by the Jews, but is another way to refer to the people themselves.)  In Chapter 1, the writer shows that Jesus is superior to the angels – He is the very Son of God.  Yet, in Chapter 2, He is also human, like His “brothers.”  In Chapter 3, He’s portrayed to be greater than even the great patriarch Moses – who in his prophet & priestly role was really just a type & foreshadow of the Christ who would come.  in Chapter 4 & 5, Jesus is compared to the great high priest who was chief among Israel’s priests – even greater than Melchizedek, the first high priest who predated the Hebrew people themselves! In Chapter 6, Jesus is shown to be the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (the father & first of the entire Jewish nation) – through whom the world would be blessed.  In Chapter 7, by comparison again to Melchizedek, Jesus is shown to be even greater than the Jewish “Law” and the bearer of a new and “better covenant.” (7:22). Through Him, the old covenant now made obsolete (Chapter 8:13).  Now here in Chapter 9, Jesus is shown not only to be the high priest, but the sacrifice Himself – able to enter the Most Holy Place by his own blood, and in fact we, His people, are able to enter eternal life forgiven of all our sins by that one and the same blood!

Application:  I love how this verse (Hebrews 9:28) connects with the sermon I preached just this last Sunday “Who Will Escape Judgment.”  It states so clearly – and even more comfortingly – that while indeed Christ is going to appear a second time to judge the world, He is really returning to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him!  In other words, yes – Jesus is going to judge and remove all evil (see today’s Life Journal readings from Isaiah 13 to 15 – the judgment upon Babylon, Assyria, Philistine and Moab is but a “type” and foreshadow of the judgment that will come at the Last Day!)  And yes, the unrighteous will “face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  But perhaps most importantly, God’s holy people will receive the reward of their faith – salvation!  We will not only be saved from our sins … but saved from a life of sin in this broken and hurting world!  For me, this is just confirmation that those who are in the faith, need not fear Jesus’ return, but rejoice at the promised fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation through Him.

Prayer: Lord, help me not to fear Christ’s return, but to look forward to it with hope knowing that my salvation is secure through faith in Jesus and my baptism into His Body.  Dear Jesus, come quickly.  Amen.

Brexit, Presidential Elections & Righteousness

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“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord….” – Jonah 1:1-3a

The decision of British voters to leave the European Union has been described as “seismic.”  Just like an earthquake, there will be several aftershocks, and time will tell the extent of the destruction – whether there will be economic collapse  or just rumbling & rattling.  Either way, Britain has decided to go its own way. This is not unlike Jonah, who decided to go to Tarshish rather than Ninevah where the Lord was sending him.

It makes me wonder – how often do you and I try to go our own way?  Where does this leave us?  How do we know which way to go?  Taking a “vote” is one way to decide.  But as we have been seeing more and more at the polls, direction is being decided by such a slim margin: 52-48, in the case of Brexit.  We see it in our Supreme Court votes, so often something like: 5-4, 4-3.  We see it in the polls for the upcoming U.S. Presidential Election in November: Hillary is out ahead, then Trump.  There has got to be a better way to decide where to turn.

Let me suggest Paul’s words to the young pastor, Timothy: “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:22)  What if you and I, the British, and the next President were to make our decisions about which way to go based, not on “the evil desires of youth” (which could be anything from outright lust and covetousness – to innocent & naieve ignorance) but instead on righteousness, faith, love and peace?  What if we were to choose which way to go by first seeking the Lord and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33)?  What if we were willing to put our own selves, with our ambitions and desires, aside and seek the greater good and the Lord’s purposes?  We might just find that we would go to Ninevah first!  … Rather than make the Lord drag us there.

Pray:  God, we ask your hand upon the people of the United Kingdom and the European Union.  May you make good out of this transition.  We ask your hand on American voters & politicians.  May we decrease the rhetoric, and increase our pursuit of love and peace.  And for each of us.  May we seek first your Kingdom and your righteousness, and in so doing, may You increase our faith in You.  Amen.

You Know Me

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Psalm 139 Known by God
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. – Psalm 139:1
Observation: The entire Psalm 139 is one of devotion. It calls the human heart to recognize that God is over all, and in all things. Everything within the extent of the universe: up to the heavens or down into the depths, is within the realm of the Lord. Our bodies have been made by Him. Even light and dark are subject to him. And perhaps the most mind-boggling of all is that even our thoughts are known to the Lord. Everything about us is known and apparent to God.
Application: Does the magnitude of God’s presence –  His glory, His righteousness , and His full awareness of me cause me great fear or great joy? Certainly when I realize that nothing I do escapes the Lord’s knowledge I could be filled with fear. But rather, when we read this Psalm, we can see the omnipresence of God as a comfort. The Lord of the universe is with us when we lie down when we wake up. He hems us in and protects us. He’s there in the good times and in the dark depths. In the good times, He’s filling us with hope and joy and love. And in the dark times, He is bringing His light. Even when he created us in our mother’s womb, He does so with the loving and gentle knitting of his hands. God is so involved in His creation and He’s intimately involved in my life and yours.   This is such a comforting reminder to me … that I can trust that even though God knows my every thought and my anxious ways, He is there right with me, leading me, guiding me, protecting me and drawing me closer to Him
Prayer: Lord God you know me. Forgive my worry, fear, anxiety and all my sin. Be with me in all things, and lead me in your ways, for the glory of your Holy Name, Amen!
Joy in Jesus,

Pastor Augie

note: This post follows a devotional method I encourage, and is from the Life Journal  reading plan for April 29th

A Call for Integrity

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I was reading these verses from Deuteronomy chapter 25, and it occurred to me how this is a call for integrity.

Scripture: 13 Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. 14 Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. (Deuteronomy 25:13-14)

Observation: what this is related to is a practice in earlier days of making a little extra money by weighing out grains or goods using a lighter weight on the balance. This means that instead of selling a pound of cheese for a certain sum of sum of money, you would be selling them .9 pounds and thus making a little more profit.

Application: The life of the believer is to be one without duplicity. Notice that it doesn’t say simply not to cheat or defraud anyone, but not even keep the means of doing so in your possession.   It’s like the alcoholic, who must not just avoid drinking, but must move remove any trace of alcohol from their house – – remove even the temptation.

So for the believer, there must not even be the hint of deception, regardless of whether you conduct the act or not.  If someone were to open your bags and find differing weights, they would know that you would consider cheating them. The point here is that you and I should not even consider deceiving others.

Prayer: dear Lord, help me to operate today at the highest level of integrity.

May the Lord Bless & Keep you,

Pastor Augie

The Upper Story, the Lower Story and Your Story!

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Finding Your Story in God’s Story … 

The Bible contains an Upper Story and a Lower Story. The Upper Story tells the big picture, the grand narrative of God seeking to be in relationship with mankind as it unfolds throughout history. The Lower Story contains the details of particular people, the episodes we’ve become familiar with: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the flood, etc. The Lower Story helps us better understand the Upper Story which becomes for us a framework around which we approach and apply the Bible to Our Story. It unifies God’s whole message to us and helps guide us through the hard times in life by doing two things:

  1. a) reminding us of God’s eternal, long-range plan and,
  2. b) putting our experiences into a divine context formed by a perfect Creator.

For example, without the “Upper Story,” a lost job could be seen as an event without hope. But put into the context of the larger chronicle of our lives, and God’s perfect design, that lost job can be seen in a very different light, perhaps as an opportunity for God to reveal something better.

So, by putting all we read into the larger picture, we can make modern-day application from the Bible that takes into account the grand, mysterious ways of God, and guards us from misapplications that can result from an isolated “what this verse says to me” approach. In other words, the Upper Story creates the context for the Lower Story.

At our church we want to use The Story to help everyone gain a better understanding of the big picture of the Bible and to better understand God’s redemptive plan for us today. As we journey together through The Story we will take note of both the temporal events and characters (Lower Story), as well as the eternal purpose of God: to restore and build a relationship with His creation (Upper Story).  Through this, we hope you’ll begin to see with amazing clarity what God wants to do in your life (Your Story).

To assist with finding Your Story in God’s Story, we are recommending that you ask yourself these seven questions continually throughout your reading and discussion of The Story.  You may want to consider writing the answers into your “Life Journal.”*

  • What did you learn about God, yourself or others in this chapter? God has revealed Himself to mankind in the pages of the Bible.  When you and I read the Bible, we begin to see with the eyes of faith, what is invisible to the naked/physical eye.
  • How do the events in this chapter relate to the overall Story of God’s pursuit and redemption? God has revealed His overall plan through the pages of the Bible – from the first chapters of Genesis to the last chapters of Revelation, God’s plan is unfolding. No longer do you have to feel tossed about by the waves of uncertainty.  Nothing in life is without purpose.
  • What do you struggle to understand or embrace from this reading? Some things that God reveals are difficult to understand or accept. That is ok.  We know that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).  As you and I wrestle with these challenging verses, God is creating in us a discontent for the things of this world, to ready our hearts for His Kingdom and eternity.
  • Write a one or two sentence summary of this chapter. By summarizing the chapter while it is fresh in your mind, not only do you create a brief synopsis, but you capture the main points that God is trying to convey to you in a larger section of Scripture.  This will help you turn loose and disconnected sections of Scripture into a larger narrative.
  • Write out a prayer to God of appreciation or petition. For me, this is where it “gets real.”  When you turn what you’ve learned or experienced into a prayer, you are asking – even begging! – God to use it to make a difference in your life. This is what turns Bible reading from information, to transformation!
  • How does this chapter point to Jesus, or challenge you to be more like Him? Jesus said that the Scriptures point to Him – even the Old Testament. He is in the whole of God’s Story – not just the New Testament.  Searching for Jesus in the Old Testament is very illuminating, and again shows that God is working His redemptive plan throughout the pages of the Bible.
  • Is there something you learned that needs to be shared with others? We learn and internalize information best by sharing it with another person.  A Growth Group is the best place to do this.  Even if you aren’t in a group studying The Story itself, you’ll have in any group an opportunity to share how God is teaching you and challenging you through your reading of The Story.

We hope that you’ll join us in this unique journey through Scripture!   “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12).  How does God want to inform, shape and transform you through His Word?

Journeying with you!

Pastor Augie.

* If you do not have a Life Journal, take the “Essentials 201” class.  They are provided, free of charge, for attendees of that class.

“I Have Done No Wrong … “

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Since we are in Holy Week, the Psalm reading in the Life Journal for April 17th, struck me to be applicable to Jesus’ Passion (i.e. His suffering and journey to the cross) …

I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me.
    Arise to help me; look on my plight!
  (Psalm 59:4)

Doesn’t this remind us of Our Lord, Jesus?  In His perfection, He was attacked and sent to the cross for our sins.

And the Psalmist’s crying out in anguish, “Arise to help me; look on my plight!” sounds much like Jesus’ plea in the Garden at Gethsemane, “if it be your will, Father, may this cup pass me by” (Luke 22:41-43) … and again from the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

May your “triduum” (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter) be filled with thoughts of reflection, penitence, and ultimately … joy!

Contemplating Christ’s sacrifice with you,

Pastor Augie.

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