Respect for the Word


So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.

Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. – Nehemiah 8:2-6 (NIV)

The church I currently attend (Risen King) does something that I really appreciate: we stand during the reading of the Word. It shows a respect for Scripture and reminds me of the proper relationship I have with God’s Word.  The scene described above reflected a return to a right relationship between the people ofIsrael and the Word of God.  It had been common practice to stand during the reading of the Law in the past, but obviously Ezra and Nehemiah were working to restore more than a temple and a wall; they were restoring faith and fellowship.

Teaching our children respect for the word and their relationship to it is no easy task, but vitally important.  There are so many things in this world pushing our children toward a disrespectful and egocentric attitude.  TV, movies, books and computer games celebrate individual rights and relativistic morality.  Sports icons and pop idols live irresponsible lives without any serious consequences.  Too many politicians, regardless of party persuasions, find no problem with moral ambiguity and changing their positions to suit popularity polls.  It is so hard to respect anything.

In so many ways our culture teaches children to question everything and that can seep into them in ways they don’t even realize.  If we don’t help them approach Scripture with respect, they may question it more than they allow it to question them and challenge them.

Lord, help me to have a humble and respectful relationship with scripture.  Help me to teach my children this respect and allow themselves to be shaped by the Word. May we all hide it in our hearts so that we may not sin against You. Amen.

Following Through


So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. – Nehemiah 6:15 (NIV)

It is good advice in baseball, football and basketball.  It is key in a golf swing and sought after in valued employees.  Follow through; the discipline of finishing what is started.  Nehemiah had follow through.  Not once did he see any challenge as an excuse to end his run at completing the task God had set before him.  In fact, it seems Nehemiah saw them as opportunities for God to reveal Himself to His people and those who would stand in their way.

We seem to have lost our sense of follow through in our post-modern sentiments.  Shows are cancelled part way through their season, people quit jobs because they don’t “like” their boss and we change our opinions more often than our clothes.  We hop churches, jump fences and switch allegiances.  Our steady drift toward the importance of the individual has eroded the emotional strength and mental maturity required to make sacrifices and hard choices.  We don’t follow through.  I don’t follow through.

I want my children to finish what they start and I want them to finish well, so it is incumbent on me to stick with those things I have committed to with tenacity and toughness.  I need to develop the disciplines and determination Nehemiah brought to bear on his work.  I need to know what it is I am about and be about it without hesitation.  Prayer, time in the Word and time in community will need to be where I live each day with eyes and ears ready to see and hear what the Lord has set before me.  I will need to develop a heart and mind intent on following through.

What is it the stops us from see the finish line?  Why do we find ourselves making excuses instead of making plans?  I will start with the mirror and say that it is easier to stay where I am comfortable.  Thank God that He does not leave us alone in our comfort.  He chastises us to pursue something more – the abundant life – by speaking conviction and encouragement into our hearts.  He brings others into our lives to spur us on.  He points us to the story of Nehemiah and shows us the value of follow through.  God brings everything we need each day to finish well, but He has left it to us to make choices that get us there or not.  I want to get to the finish line at the end of each day.

Lord, help me to follow through in life.  Help follow through in work, in play, in relationships and in pursuing You every day.  May I finish well in everything I do each day.  Give me the discipline and desire to pursue the finish line with passion, integrity and hope. Amen.

Close To the Vest


I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do forJerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. – Nehemiah 2:11-12

There is something very comforting in the privacy we have with God.  There is someone who knows us completely, but will never break that trust.  Whatever we share with Him is sacred and safe.  Nehemiah uses that safety to give him confidence in his mission and to plan his steps.  The truth Nehemiah shared with God and God alone was the restoration of Israel’s security.  By inspecting the wall with that truth between him and God, Nehemiah didn’t open the door to argument or anxiety from those he was with.

This is a great lesson for us to keep in mind as parents.  As we are leading our children in their life with God, we don’t always have to let them know when we are parenting and discipling.  Sometimes we need to keep the truths that God has given us close to the vest so we don’t incite argument or anxiety.  Our children don’t always need to know what God has put in our hearts.  Nehemiah shows great wisdom in his restraint.

This is the kind of wisdom I want God to grow in me.  I want to know when to keep those works and words He gives me to do and say to myself until the time is ripe.  I want to know how to lead my children without them always knowing they are being led.

Lord, help me to have the wisdom of privacy with You.  Help me to know when the work you are doing in me or through me is for my eyes only.  Build in me the inner boldness to act on Your will in my life without fear. Amen.

Cup-bearer to the King


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

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

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

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

Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah?  And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.  So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me. – Nehemiah 2:1-9

Our God is the God of perfect timing.  He places where we need to be, when we need to be, around the people we need to be around.  He doesn’t miss anything or make mistakes in this regard.  However, we can and do miss these opportunities.  Our focus is on something else, or we move the other direction out of fear, but we miss the appointment He has set for us.  Nehemiah made his appointment.

Cupbearer to the king was a trusted position in the court.  He was responsible for protecting the king from poisoning and had unparalleled access to the king and his family.  Very often cupbearers were chosen for their attractive qualities, both physical and mental.  In other words, Nehemiah had a lot going for him.  His position and the manner in which he filled it gained him the concern of a very powerful king.  And yet, by Nehemiah’s own words was “very much afraid.”  It was Nehemiah’s willingness to overcome fear that allowed him to say the right thing at the right time to the right person.  God had moved things in such a way to place Nehemiah in that circumstance and Nehemiah completed the equation.

Parenting requires us to not only pay attention to the appointments God has for us, but the appointments He sets for our children.  We need to have open eyes and attentive ears to take in all that God is putting out there for us to see and hear.  We need to be in tune with Him so He can use us as instruments of His will and work in our children’s lives.  We will need to overcome our fears to keep our eyes on Jesus and not the potential risks of raising children.  And God will meet us every step of the way.

Lord, help me have the courage of Nehemiah to be in the right place at the right time with the right heart for my children.  Give me eyes to see and ears to hear when You are moving in the lives of my children.  Let me be an instrument in Your hands to draw them toward You. Amen.

A Good Confession


“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.  From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.” – Ezra 9: 6-7

Ezra is heartbroken in this passage.  His return to Jerusalem, the land of his forefathers, becomes a tragedy instead of a victory.  After all the time the people spent rebuilding the city God had delivered them to, they had fallen short in obeying His commands.  It is this tension between being God’s people and acting as God’s people that has Ezra tied up in knots.  He clearly sees that there are consequences to disobeying God, and is upset that his current generation is moving in that direction.  His confession speaks volumes about how we face sin in ourselves and in those around us.

First, Ezra includes himself in the confession even though he had not participated in the actual disobedience in question.  He sees himself as part of the problem, because it happened on his watch.  Parents have the same burden to carry with their children.  When we challenge our children over their behavior, part of our process needs to be a sense of ownership because we are responsible for them.  Ezra doesn’t look for ways to excuse the behavior or punish the behavior, he just recognizes it and owns his responsibility in the transgression.

Second, Ezra ties action to consequence.  Teaching our children that there are consequences for their actions has become more difficult because our culture is trying to remove fault and place it anywhere else but the individual.  It is the parent’s fault, or society’s or environment or TV, but it isn’t the individual’s fault.  Ezra blames no one, but those who broke the law.  Confession helps our children take responsibility for their actions and helps them face the consequences.  And confession is the doorway to repentance.  This is where Ezra is heading the people of Israel, but he begins with confession.

It is one thing to help your children deal with the sin in their lives, but it is an entirely different discipline to own the sins of our children.  We can blame the world and make excuses about the influences of society, but if the Son of God can take on our sin, it is not too much for us to take on the sins of our children.  We can’t pay for their sin, but we can pave the way through it to confession and repentance.  If we have a high priest who sympathizes with us, we can sympathize with our children even in their worst moments.

Lord, help me to take the burden of my children’s sin and walk them through confession and repentance.  Grow in me the compassion, mercy and humility I need to lead my children through the consequences of disobedience.  Make my heart more like Yours every day. Amen.

Opposing Forces


Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.  They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. – Ezra 4:4-5 (NIV)

It is hard to be a good neighbor when your neighbor hates you and wants to see you fail.  It is difficult to stay in hostile territory, especially when you have no other friendly place to go.  This has been the problem of God’s people throughout their history; firstIsraeland now the body of Christ.  We are unwanted by the world.  We stand opposed to the humanized view of our place in the cosmos and preach a gospel that rejects the relativism of the world’s morality.  Some have responded to this dilemma by becoming isolated communities, others have bought into a more militant approach, but either one gets us stuck without any ability to handle the other.

Israelwas isolated, but not because they chose to be.  They were isolated because the chose to follow God and the nations around them decided that wasn’t going to go well for them.  When isolation didn’t work, the nations became combative.  What is interesting is thatIsraelwas prepared for either situation as long as they were obeying God and doing the work He wanted them to be about.  WhenIsraelwas successful, it was because they were keeping in line with what God wanted for them.

This is a hard lesson to learn, but we cannot live our lives reacting to the world.  We have to live our lives in obedience to God and trust that He will take us where we need to go, whether that is into isolation or confrontation.  We don’t need to run away from a fight or run into it, we just need to follow the one who is worth fighting for and shelters those He calls His own.  Teaching our children to be peacemakers and warriors for God at the same time is challenging, but possible if we keep them focused on seeking the heart of God.

Lord, help me live a life that is balanced by Your will and not imbalanced by my emotions and passions.  Teach me to know when to fight for Your purposes and when to sow peace.  Grant my children the hearts and minds to pursue You above all else. Amen.

Pagan Kings and the Will of God


“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.  Anyone of his people among you–may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.  And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.'” – Ezra 1:2-4 (NIV)

I think there is an assumption among Christians that the only place our kids can get shaped by God is in and by the church.  We can work towards insulating them in a cocoon of church activities and groups because we think that will protect them from sin.  This view, however, makes God less powerful and providential than His omnipotence would suggest.  God used numerous situations to shape His people that were outside the community of faith.  In the passage above, God is using a pagan king to replant His people in the promised land.  A pagan king.

The world is a scary, treacherous and sometimes dangerous place, but it is small compared to God.  If He chooses to work through a pagan king to bring His children home, who are we to question?  When I consider the different choices that face our family, I have to remind myself that fear is not a factor.  We are His children and He will bring us safely to His side, but we don’t get to decide who or what He uses to get us there.

I want my children to be safe.  I want them to be protected, but more than that, I want them to walk the road that God has set before them.  This is going to be a challenge, because I may have to trust people and situations that seem “unsafe” for my children.  I don’t relish those moments of decision where God is calling my child to be in a worldly place under worldly people.  I pray that I will be ready when those moments come.  I hope that I will see God’s hand at work in those situations and trust in His will and wisdom rather than my own.

Lord, help me to trust You with my children.  Give me the strength to let them go into the world, trusting that you can use even the things of this world to shape them for Your glory and honor.  Remind me of Your faithfulness and mercy when those moments arise.  Amen.

Community Matters


The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days; so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully.  Hezekiah king ofJudahprovided a thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep and goats for the assembly, and the officials provided them with a thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep and goats. A great number of priests consecrated themselves.  The entire assembly ofJudahrejoiced, along with the priests and Levites and all who had assembled fromIsrael, including the aliens who had come fromIsraeland those who lived inJudah.  There was great joy inJerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king ofIsraelthere had been nothing like this inJerusalem.  The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place.

When all this had ended, the Israelites who were there went out to the towns ofJudah, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. They destroyed the high places and the altars throughout Judah and Benjamin and in Ephraim and Manasseh. After they had destroyed all of them, the Israelites returned to their own towns and to their own property. 2 Chronicles 30:23-31:1

The word community gets thrown around a lot, but often it means other things: cooperation, organization, group, clique, etc.  Community is more than all of these combined and yet we think we can achieve it on Facebook or Twitter.  Community is deeper than a profile picture and more work than clicking a “like” button.  Community costs us something.  Community spurs us to action and to change.  Community is where God places the stones together to build Himself a house.  The people ofIsraelhad lost their identity as God’s people and lost their sense of community, but Hezekiah brought it back.

When we gather together with others in community, it requires things of us that organizations and clubs and online groups will never ask of us.  ForIsrael, it required action against the false gods and those who worshipped them.  The community that Hezekiah rebirthed in the celebration of the Passover motivated the Israelites to change the world around them.  When we are part of a community of believers, we should be motivated to change our little corner of the world.  This requires more than showing up on Sundays.  Community calls us to engage with one another, to love one another and to share that love with our neighbors.

The trap that so many of us fall into, as individuals and as congregations, is to isolate ourselves from the world.  We become less of a community and more of club.  We set-up guidelines and rules and boundaries to “protect” ourselves from the influences of the world, but what we really do is slowly eliminate the impact we have on the world.  We have to do better than that if we want to see salvation come in our neighborhoods, towns and cities, and our children need to be involved all along the way.

Real community sends us out.  Real community equips us for mission field.  Real community empowers us with confidence, because we know we are not alone in the work of the Kingdom.  I want my children to experience real community, and we are fortunate to be part of a church that lives and breathes community, but it has to be encouraged at home.  We need to make sure they are engaged in the lives of others at church.  We need to provide opportunities for them to serve.  We need to be engaged in the life and ministry of our community.

Lord, help me to stay rooted in the community of believers and engaged in the ministry you have called them to.  Help me to find ways for my children to be engaged in that community and empowered by that community to serve our neighbors.  Let us not just celebrate our salvation, but go out and share that salvation with the rest of the world.  Amen.

Honoring the Word


Then the king called together all the elders ofJudahandJerusalem. He went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people ofJerusalem, the priests and the prophets–all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD–to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. – 2 Kings 23:1-3 (NIV)

The cycle ofIsrael’s history is a reflection of man’s history and even the lifecycle of many individuals: realization of God’s existence, walking in God’s protection and will, growing apathetic and worldly, open disobedience toward God, suffering the consequences of bad choices, repentance and revival.  The passage today is part of the repentance and revival movement in the cycle and is tied to the discovery of God’s Word and a revelation of their history as a people of God.  While this cycle does not reflect God’s desire for His people it does reveal some important things about His character.

First, God is merciful.  After initially introducing Himself to the people ofIsraelthrough Moses, God runs into rebellion upon rebellion from a stubborn and cowardly element in the ranks.  Instead of abandoning the Israelites and starting over with another group of people, He is merciful.  He relents in His anger.  He withholds His wrath.  God is merciful.

Second, God is patient.  With miracle upon miracle and sign after sign, God revealed Himself toIsraelas powerful and true to His promises.  And yet His power is forgotten quickly when things don’t go the wayIsraelwants them to go.  They fall easily into fear and worry and begin finding solutions of their own, which inevitably gets them into trouble.  Despite the overwhelming evidence of God’s providence and power, the people ofIsraelput their trust in other things. But God gives them opportunity to find redemption.  He sends His messengers to bring truth and warning.  He sends signs and wonders to show His power.  He waits for them to turn to Him in repentance and humility.  God is patient.

Last, God is unchanging.  Each time the Israelites go through their broken cycle, God is still the same when they come around to obedience.  He never did change throughout their cycle, whether they were following Him or in the midst of rebellion, but they did not know it until repentance brought them back to wisdom and truth.  He was merciful and loving and patient and kind every step the Israelites took through their checkered history.  God is unchanging.

DoesIsraelremind you of anyone?  I seeIsrael’s painful cycle every time I look in the mirror.  I know first hand the insipid weakness of my human condition and have cried out to a merciful God to raise me from my rebellious mess.  Gratefully, I have learned from my own failures and the cycle is less often repeated in less severe fashion.  God is merciful, He is patient and He is unchanging and He asks us to pass that along to our children.  As He has done to us, He wants us to do to others, especially our children.

This is something I am working on.  It was one thing to accept God’s mercy, patience and unchanging presence, but trying to emulate that for my children is a challenge.  The question arises, “How can I reflect the mercy, patience and constancy of God to my children?”  Good question and I think the life of God’s people gives us the answer: honor His Word.  Every time the people ofIsraelfell out of good graces, it was because they ignored the Word of God or at least became apathetic toward it.  If we want to help our children avoid the broken cycle, we need to be people who honor the Word of God.

This is more than reading the Bible everyday and more than being involved in a Bible study, although those things can inform what is important.  To honor the Word of God requires that the Word is more important than us; more important than what we think or feel, more important than what is popular, more important than our fears and worries.  To be people who honor the Word of God, we must place it as something more than a reference on how to fix our lives.  It is the living and active Word of God.  It is not a tool in our hands, it is a sword in the hand of the Holy Spirit to divide truth from untruth and set us right.  But we cannot expect it to keep us from the broken cycle if we only see it as something that gets us out of trouble.

The Word is what keeps us from trouble, but we must be in and it must be in us.  There should be less and less difference between what the Word says and the way we think.  In this way we honor the Word and if we honor the Word we will honor the God who gave it to us.

Lord, help me be a man who honors Your Word.  Keep me from the broken cycle that leads to shame and hurt and pain.  Help me lead my children into a right relationship with Your Word that they might follow you all the days of their lives. Amen.

Good Stewards


The money brought into the temple was not spent for making silver basins, wick trimmers, sprinkling bowls, trumpets or any other articles of gold or silver for the temple of the LORD; it was paid to the workers, who used it to repair the temple.  They did not require an accounting from those to whom they gave the money to pay the workers, because they acted with complete honesty.  The money from the guilt offerings and sin offerings[c] was not brought into the temple of the LORD; it belonged to the priests. – 2 Kings 12:13-16

Somewhere along the line, we have been taught that money is evil – that it is inherently tainted – but as with all things, it is us that makes them good or evil.  When we handle money with integrity and stewardship toward God, it is put to good use.  When it becomes the object of our affections, we and it are put to bad use and it is questionable if we are any longer in charge.  The example above shows the type of conduct and attitude the people of God should have toward money.

If we approach the subject of money with our children as a matter of the heart and not the pocket, we will equip them for a successful life.  If we teach them to master their money with a heart full of love for God, instead of being mastered by a love of money, we prepare them for a life of contentment and gratitude.  We can teach them that there is a difference between earning wealth and pursuing riches.  The best way to do this is by being good stewards ourselves.  In a culture where money is listed as one of the top reasons for troubles in marriages, this can be a hard row to hoe.

Having the relationship with money that we want our children to develop as they grow older will be the toughest challenge for some of us.  We can give them Scripture verses, quotes from famous Christians and tell them what is right, but if we aren’t living it, our efforts will fall flat.  Whatever your weakness is with money, start working on it because your children are watching; I know because I am still working on it and it is nice to know I am not alone.

Lord, help me to be a good steward.  Show me the flaws, misconceptions and weaknesses I have in how I handle money.  Work in me an attitude of contentment and gratitude so I can master money instead of it mastering me, and may you begin the same work in my children. Amen.