Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Day Nine

Psalm 90, Exodus 35:30-36:38, Esther 3, 1 Corinthians 8

Psalm 90

Ps. 90:1-2 - Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth,or ever you had formed the earth and the world,from everlasting to everlasting you are God. - Psalm 90 is a Psalm that was written by Moses. In light of that, verse one is particularly poignant. Moses led the Children of Israel out of captivity and to the Promised Land. Because of the sin of the people, most who fled Egypt never reached the Promised Land. Their children did. So, God was the literal dwelling place of the people. And God would be the dwelling place of Israel from generation to generation. He was, and is, and is to be their refuge, their home forever and ever. We too should make our refuge in Him.

Ps. 90:4 - For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. - God is eternally existent. Moses reminds us all of how small we are and how even the longest life on earth is nothing compared to God.

Ps. 90:10, 12 - 10The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. 12So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.- Moses helps us to see just how precious every day is. Like the phrase Carpe Diem, Moses is encouraging us to seize the day! I love that he encourages us to number our days so that we might get a heart of wisdom. It's so true that an unchecked life just speeds by. As a father of four, I'm blown away at just how fast life is going. I want to redeem each day. I want to live my life in a way that brings glory to God and to live my life invested in the things that are most important.

Ps. 90:17 - Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! - As a pastor and as a husband, I love this prayer. I desire to see God show favor on me and those that I love. I want to see His favor on our congregation. And, I'd like to know that He is establishing the work of our hands and not us. May it be so!

Exodus 35:30-36:38

Ex. 35:31 - and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, - God has given each on of us gifts to be used to serve Him and make Him known amongst the nations. To Bezalel, the son of Uri, it was a lot of gifts. He had skill, he had intelligence, he could do anything when it came to craftsmanship. They were gifts from God. And, God would use Bezalel in a powerful way amongst the people in the building of the Tabernacle. So, how does God want to use the gifts that He has given you?

Ex. 36:1 - “Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whom the Lord has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.” - Have you ever met someone and thought, "They were created by God to do just what they are doing?" I have. Heather Flies is the Junior High Pastor at Wooddale Church and I had the privilege of serving alongside of her for seven years. She often times says, "God created me in my mother's womb to be a junior high pastor." She's right. She's great at what she does, and she loves it. I think that's a bit what Bezalel and Oholiab must have felt as they served God in the construction of the sanctuary. They were doing just what God had created them to do, indeed what God had called them to do.

Ex. 35:5b-7 - “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” 6 So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, 7 for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more. - What an amazing problem. When God's people obey Him, when they get excited about the work that He has called them to do, and when they give sacrificially of their time, talents, and treasure God shows up in a big way! That's what he did here. Can you imagine a preacher saying, "Stop giving! You've brought too much!" That's what happened here. I love the unrestrained passion that the people had as they sought to give back to God.

Esther 3

Es. 3 - Esther's third chapter records the plot that Haman made against the Jews. Haman was an evil man, who hated Mordecai, and hated the Jewish people. He talked King Ahasuerus into a genocide of all Jewish people living within the king's provinces.Verse 15, the final verse in this chapter records the contradictory feelings that Haman's actions produced: The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel. And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion. - The inhabitants of Susa didn't share Haman's hatred for the Jewish people. It's sad to see how people with too much power can so callously think of others. Such was the case with Haman and the King.

1 Corinthians 8

1 Cor. 8:9, 13 - 8But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. - The Corinthian church had a series of issues that they were facing that were causing division in the church. One of those issues was food offered to idols. There were some in the church that saw nothing wrong with eating this food, and others that saw it as sin. Paul tells the church that there is nothing in food that will commend us to God. We're not worse off for eating it, and we're no better off if we do. But, Paul cautioned the church not to do something that would offend a weaker brother. If your right is something that is offensive to another believer, then it is better for you to give up your right. Paul expands upon this in verse 13 which says, "Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble."

Monday, March 30, 2009

My Bible Reading Plan

Many of you have asked for copies of the Bible Reading Plan that I'm using for this year through the Bible. It's the plan located in the back of the ESV Study Bible. You can read each day's passages online by following this link. You can also print out your own copy of the reading plan by following this link. I hope you'll join me on the journey! In fact, if you're in, leave a comment on this post! I'd love to be praying for you as you go through your journey through the Bible in a year. Enjoy!

Day Eight

Psalm 89, Exodus 35:1‐29, Esther 2, 1 Corinthians 7

Psalm 89

Ps. 89:1 - I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever;with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. - I was reading a publication from another church today. The pastor has made it a church-wide commitment to make unprecedented attempts to reach/disciple those 18 years of age and under. This generation of American students is the most underchurched generation in the history of the United States. It is imperative that we do what Psalm 89:1 says. We need to make the steadfast love of the Lord known to all generations. We are one generation away from either losing the faith or passing it down for future generations.

Ps. 89:6-7 - For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, 7 a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him? - Who is like our God? No one! And, I love that. There is no one or no thing that compare to the majesty and splendor of our King. Last night I was at the Chris Tomlin concert with my son, Zachary. I've got to tell you it was awesome to watch my seven-year-old son sing at the top of his lungs about how great his God is. That's essentially what Ethan the Ezrahite, the author of this Psalm is doing. He's comparing all others to God and finding them lacking. There is none like God! There is none like Jesus! There is none like the Holy Spirit! Praise God for our triune God.

Ps. 89:11, 14- 11The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them. 14Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.- What magnificent statements about our magnificent God. I'll be putting my home on the market this week. I'm in an upside-down mortgage and have been a bit stressed about the process, but God is good. He has called our family to Woodbury, and I believe that He will take care of us. My God is the God who owns the heavens and everything in it. Trump Tower is nothing compared to Saturn -- the planet, not the car. Everything on the earth is God's. He has founded it and owns it all. And, He is a good who rules with righteousness and justice. I love that righteousness and justices are called the foundation of his throne. Our God loves when we strive to be holy and to seek justice.

This Psalm is actually a song of lament to be sung by the people in tough times to remember God's faithfulness. I love again that the writer chooses to mention the steadfast love and faithfulness of God. He is faithful, even when things seem like they aren't going our way. And, we have seen His faithfulness displayed in a New Testament sense because of Jesus Christ, the permanent sacrifice for our sins.

Ps. 89:30-33 - If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my rules,31 if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, 32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, 33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness. - These verses are speaking about the children of David, but the promise of God in verse 33 could apply to all believers. God doesn't promise us that our children will choose to walk in truth. Many are the stories of godly parents whose children have chosen to abandon the faith. I love that God continues to promise that he will love David and keep His promises. Our God can be depended on.

Ps. 89:52 - Blessed be the Lord forever! Amen and Amen. - The last verse of this Psalm of lament shows what our attitude should be towards God at all times. When things are good, we bless the Lord. When things are bad, we bless the Lord. The name of the Lord should be praised at all times.

Exodus 35:1-29

Ex. 35:1-29 - Moses shares the Sabbath regulations and the requirements that God has given the people to contribute for the tabernacle. The chapter records the way that the people responded, and the enthusiasm that they had to let God use what they had for His glory.

Ex. 35:10 - Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the Lord has commanded: - Here is an Old Testament example of the people using the gifts that God had given them for His glory. In this case it was those who were skilled in the area of craftsmanship. There are many who believe that craftsmanship is a spiritual gift. I tend to agree. I've seen people with this gift used by God to advance His kingdom by enhancing the beauty of the church or by making items that help services run smoother and the message to be heard more clearly.

Ex. 25:22 - So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. - It was essential that all of the people responded to the call of the Lord. I love that Moses was careful to include that both men and women came to participate in giving gifts for the tabernacle.

Esther 2

Es. 2 - One of the themes of the book of Esther is for such a time as this. While that phrase isn't used in Esther 2, it is certainly relevant. Esther and Mordecai were people who God had in Susa for this particular time. Mordecai was there because he had been taken there as a captive years before. Esther was there because she was an orphan, being raised by her uncle. She was beautiful and godly, and she was there when the king put his wife away. In Esther 2 we see the circumstances that resulted in Esther being named queen. The second part of verse 15 sums up why she rose to prominence: Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. Was this because of something Esther possessed? Yes and no. Esther possessed great beauty, and that made her stand out, but there were many beautiful women. What truly made her stand out was God. In His providence he allowed her to be where she was at this moment in time. And, God allowed her to find favor with the people around her.

Do you ever get jealous of those who God blesses with good looks, great personality, etc.? Recognize that when God does that, He gives them a huge responsibility. But, it isn't always looks or personality that God chooses to use. God wants to use all people to accomplish His purposes. It couldn't have been easy for Esther to be a part of a harem, or for Mordecai to live an undercover life as a Jewish man in hostile territory. But, God had them there. The chapter ends with Mordecai uncovering a plot to hurt the king. He gets the message to Esther, and Esther gets the message to the king. The men are hung, and God continues to lay the foundation for a great deliverance.

1 Corinthians 7

1 Cor. 7 - This is a difficult passage, full of "hard sayings," thus making it difficult to understand. It requires much study of the times and circumstances as well as the knowledge of the Corinthian church to whom Paul was writing. In 1 Corinthians 7 we read about the principles for marriage, divorce and remarriage, sexual temptation, singleness, being a slave to Christ, etc. There are great principles contained in this chapter. This is a chapter that has confused readers over the centuries, because Paul says in verse 12 (I, not the Lord) am writing this to you. Here is how my study Bible describes this tough passage: 1 Cor. 7:12–13 I, not the Lord. Paul knows the oral tradition of Jesus' sayings on divorce that were later written down in the Gospels (see note on vv. 10–11), but he is not aware that Jesus ever spoke specifically to a situation in which one spouse becomes a Christian and the other remains unconverted. He carefully distinguishes, therefore, between the written words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and Paul's own understanding of how Jesus' teaching would apply to this new situation. Paul views his admonition here as authoritative and inspired, not merely as human wisdom (v. 40; cf. 14:37–38). a wife . . . a husband who is an unbeliever. Is the believing partner defiled by being married to and having sexual relations with an unbeliever? Should they divorce? Clearly the believing partner is not defiled, for Paul says that if the believing partner has any say in the matter, they should not divorce.

1 Cor. 7:5 - Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. - Paul wisely talks about how depriving your spouse of sexual relations can create a wedge in your marriage and create a foothold for Satan to work. This would also be true of depriving your spouse of whatever his or her need is. There are a lot of great books that have been written on the needs of husbands and wives, love languages, etc. Sometimes marriages are derailed because one partner refuses to meet the need of another partner due to feeling like his or her needs aren't being met. That is wrong. Affection and communication are needs that many people have before they can even think about sex. To require sex but not meet the needs of affection or communication is wrong. It's also true the other way around. Paul is wise though when he emphasizes the area of sex. More than any other area when this need is not met, there is a foothold for temptation; especially in today's supercharged sexual arena where images and sexually charged messages are constantly bombarding men and women from billboards, television sets, songs on the radio, the Internet, etc.

1 Cor. 7:8-9 - 8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.- Is Paul saying that all people should remain single? Is it better to be single? No. But, for those of you who are single, look at this period of time in your life as an opportunity to serve God with everything that you have. As hard as singleness can be for some, this is a time where God can work through you to accomplish things that you could never accomplish if you were responsible for a family. I have seen many singles waste those years on frivilous living. Don't waste your life. Following God is an adventure! That doens't mean that you need to go to Africa, but it does mean that you can be used by God, right now, to change the world of people all around you. If you need help on how to do this, e-mail me at bschulenburg@wccmn.org.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Day Seven

Psalm 88, Exodus 34, Esther 1, 1 Corinthians 6

Psalm 88

Ps. 88 - Psalm 88 is a song of lament. The author of the psalm is troubled so much that even his friends shun him. Have you ever felt like this? Have you ever been so distressed that no one wants to be around you? I know I have. There have been times where things just seem so rough that I have been consumed with dread. The psalmist does the correct thing. He brings his lament to the only One who can truly change things -- God. But, even God seems silent to the writer of this psalm.

So, does God's silence mean that we should no longer pray? No! Continue to cry out to Him. He sometimes allows suffering in order for us to draw closer to Him. It's not an easy road to walk, but it is sometimes the best road. Better to be distressed but dependent upon God than content with no need for God.

Exodus 34

Ex. 34:1 - The Lord said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. - The Lord is the God of second chances. God's conversation with Moses here reminds me of a tender father having a conversation with a child who has blown it. The Father loves His children, and when we are truly repentant, He gives us another chance. I picture God tenderly writing the Ten Commandments on the tablets, with a heart overflowing with love towards His creation.

Ex. 34:6b-7 - “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." This is both a wonderful and a terrifying description of God's grace and God's judgment. He takes sin seriously. May we not be a curse to our children by ignoring the warnings that God gives us concerning sin.

Esther 1

Est. 1 - The book of Esther opens with the story of King Ahasuerus' banquets and Queen Vashti's refusal to come when summoned by the King. Her refusal to come enraged the King, and opened a door for God to work for the people of Israel in an extraordinary way. Little did King Ahasuerus realize how much his ego would be used by God to accomplish God's purposes. God will accomplish what God wills. And, even the most powerful rulers are tools in the hands of God.

1 Corinthians 6

1 Cor. 6:1-11 - I love this section of Scripture. It has to do with lawsuits against fellow believers in Christ. To Paul, lawsuits amongst believers had no place in God's plans. Why would believers trust the world's system, which placed no value on God, with their disputes? Disputes between believers should be settled in the church.

Notice that Paul didn't say that believers shouldn't have disputes. Live as friends with someone long enough, and if you are honest with each other there will be times where you disagree. Sometimes these disagreements may become all out disputes. The beauty of the Body of Christ is that disputes can be settled internally. There is no need to run to the world to settle your dispute. Instead the counsel of fellow Christians, prayer, the Word, and time are part of the healing process.

Paul ends this section by describing the unrighteous. He writes,9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Cor. 6:18-20 - Paul gives a stern warning to the church at Corinth against sexual immorality. He tells them to flee from sexual immorality. His admonition to flee reminds me of the Old Testament hero, Joseph, who chose to flee from Potiphar's wife. In doing so, he found himself in jail. But, jail was a better place for him to be than to lose his favor with God.

Paul also warns the Corinthians that sexual sin is a sin against our own bodies. In other words there are reverberating consequences to sexual sin that can take years to get over. I've never talked to a person who said, "I wish I would have had sex sooner." But, I've talked to many who said, "I wish I would have waited." I've never talked to someone in the years after an affair who said, "That was the best thing I ever did." I've talked to several who said that if they could do it all over again they would have never left their spouse. I've never talked to a porn addict who said, "I'm so happy that I jumped into a life of porn." But, I've talked to many who have told me how porn destroyed their life.

Great Collection

I'm a collector of baseball memorabilia, so I love this story. Check it out!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Kevin!

It's my brother Kevin's 37th birthday today. Happy Birthday, bro! I love you.

Day Six

Psalm 87, Exodus 33, Nehemiah 13, 1 Corinthians 5

Psalm 87

Ps. 87:1-2 - On the holy mount stands the city he founded; 2 the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. - The Lord loved the city of Zion. Called the City of God, Zion was the place where the temple stood, and where the glory of God was present. So, how does God feel about us? If our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, then we are the place God dwells. What an awesome thought!

Exodus 33

Ex. 33:3b - but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.- What a sad penalty for their sins! God, who would have been amongst the people on their journey to the Promised Land, now tells them that He will not be with them. In His grace He would not consume them, but make no mistake, God was angry. Sin angers God; plain and simple.

Ex. 33:7-11 - 11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.- The Children of Israel must have been blown away by the daily display of Moses talking with God. As Moses met with God, signaled by the pillar of cloud descending upon the tent of meeting, God met with His friend. That's right, like King David, centuries later, Moses was a friend of God. May we also be a friend of God. We have access to God through prayer. Take it. Spend time with God. He desires friendship with you.

Ex. 33:15-23 - Moses urged the Lord not to allow the Children of Israel to travel without the presence of God at their side. He appealed to God, using God's own promises of being a favored people. The Lord relented and told Moses that He would go with them, and that He would show favor to the people. Then Moses asks God to show him His glory. God told Moses that He would not show him His face, for no man can see the face of God and live. He instructed Moses to hide in the cleft of a rock and to cover his face. Moses would be allowed to see God's back.

I believe that God wanted His glory to be displayed to the nation, not just one individual. The nations would be amazed at the promises, power and provision of God.

Nehemiah 13

Neh. 13 - I'm struck by Nehemiah's absolute commitment to making sure that the people didn't make the mistakes or fall into the same sins as they had in the past. He quickly confronts sin in this passage. He exhorts the people to live holy, set apart lives. They are not to follow in the ways of their pagan neighbors. They are not to marry their pagan neighbors. They are not to desecrate the temple by working on the Sabbath or selling their wares outside of it. He is quick to point out the sin of the nation and make definitive steps to correct the sinful actions of the people. He ends this chapter, and the book of Nehemiah with this prayer: Remember me, O my God, for good. Now, that's how I want to be remembered by God!

1 Corinthians 5

1 Cor. 5 - Sexual immorality has not place in the body of Christ. Paul has heard about a specific case that was being tolerated in the Corinthian church. The man who was involved in immorality with his stepmother was actually boasting about his conquest, and apparently, the Corinthian church had done nothing to stop the behavior. Paul warns them that tolerating such behavior could destroy the entire church. It was important that this man be disciplined and asked to leave the local body of believers. Paul gives one of the strongest arguments in all of Scripture for church discipline in verses 9-13, which say, "9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.”

Friday, March 27, 2009

Day Five

Psalm 86, Exodus 32, Nehemiah 12:27-47, 1 Corinthians 4

Psalm 86

Ps. 86:1-2 - David asks God to incline His ear towards Him for he was poor and needy. How fascinating that the King of Israel would choose the words poor and needy to describe his state in life. He was the king! What could he possibly need?

But, David was wise, and he knew that in comparison to God, he was as poor as a pauper. He needed God's intervention in his life. He needed God's grace. Even though he was the King of Israel, and perhaps the most powerful ruler in the world during his time, David was nothing when compared to the King of Kings. If you are a leader, may this be how you view God. May you be a person who recognizes the authority of God. David, in verse two asks God to preserve his life, for he is godly. He also calls himself God's servant. David's wisdom didn't come from his position as king, but by his position as a servant of the Most High King.

Ps. 86:5-12 - David praises God for the fact that He is good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon Him. There are a lot of people who call upon God. This verse is one more evidence of the fact that God loves all people. Not all people will spend eternity in heaven with Him, because He forces no one to follow Him. But, He stands ready to forgive the vilest of sinners who call upon Him.

I heard an interview with a serial killer this week who accepted Christ's forgiveness in the final years of his life. He was won to Christ by a Prison Fellowship volunteer who had dedicated his life to sharing Christ with prisoners. The prisoner was sure that God couldn't forgive one like he, who had killed so many. Finally, after months of faithful witness, the killer confessed his sins and acknowledged his need of Jesus and trusted Christ with his life. We have an amazing God who loves even the "vilest offender who truly believes."

It's after hearing stories like that, that the truth of verse 8 rings out loud. There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.

Exodus 32

Ex. 32:1-6 - When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” - I'm struck by just how important godly leaders are. In the absence of Moses, the people reverted to the pagan rituals of their Egyptian captors. And, Aaron, who should have known better, went along with it. How many times have wrong decisions been made to appease the masses? Sometimes the voice of the leader cannot be heard above the raucous cries of the masses. That's when a leader must lead by not only his or her voice, but by his or her life. With godly conviction he or she will stand in the gap between God's truth and the people's will. Aaron cowered under pressure. He made a decision without consulting God that would have devastating results on the people. The actions of leaders always effect more people than themselves. To lead is a high calling. May we do it in God's strength.

Ex. 32:19- It blows me away how Moses reacted when seeing the sin of his people. Before descending the mountain, Moses had pleaded with God to have mercy on the people. God threatened to wipe the stiff-necked Children of Israel off the map, and start brand new with Moses. God relented after Moses' pleading. But, now, in verse 19, after seeing for himself the sin of the Israelites, Moses' anger burns, and he destroys the tablets of stone upon which the Ten Commandments had been written, by the very finger of God. The prior verses go into great detail about the precious stones. And, Moses' in his anger breaks them. He had a glimpse into the heart of God as he saw the people in their sin.

Ex. 32:26 - then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord's side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. - There they are, the Sons of Levi! Throughout the Old Testament you see this godly line standing up for truth. (See Nehemiah 8).

Nehemiah 12:27-47

Neh. 12:43 - And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away. - The wall of Jerusalem was complete. What a day of rejoicing it was. The people had seen God do something incredible. Their prayers were answered. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away. That was an awesome testimony to all who heard. May people hear our rejoicing when God has worked in our lives! May they know what God has done!

1 Corinthians 4

1 Cor. 4:5 - Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.- There were those in Corinth who were seeking to discredit Paul's ministry. He made sure that they knew in no uncertain terms that it was God who was the judge, not man. And, God would bring into the light the things that the Corinthians did in the darkness. He would bring impure motives to light.

1 Cor. 4:16 - I urge you, then, be imitators of me. - Have you ever had a spiritual mentor? I hope you have one in your life right now. If not, it's a relationship worth pursuing. The Apostle Paul was so striving to live as Christ had called him to live that he could write the words of this verse. He wanted to be a model for the Corinthian church. Just like we all need to have spiritual mentors, we who are believers should also seek to be a mentor in some other person's life. Could you say what Paul said to those you mentor? It's a goal worth pursuing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Day Four

Psalm 85, Exodus 30-31, Nehemiah 11:1-12:26; 1 Corinthians 3

Here are the notes that I added to my study Bible today.

Psalm 85

Ps. 85:4-5 -Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!5Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? - Aren't you glad that our God is a God who forgives? He desires for us to live in a covenant relationship with Him. As human beings we are prone to wander, but as God, He is faithful to forgive. His love is never ending. When I think about the Children of Israel, I think about my own stubbornness. How many times will I choose to ignore God's statutes to satisfy my own desires? When I do, God is not pleased. I hurt God. And, I hurt myself. May God restore us and as David said, may he restore to us the joy of our salvation. That happens when we live in fellowship with Him.

Ps. 85:9 - Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. Salvation is near to those who fear God. This verse comes immediately after the warning to not turn back to folly. Salvation only comes when we fear the Lord.

Ps. 85:12 - Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. - Is it possible for our God to give a gift that is bad? Even hardships that He allows to come into our life are ultimately for our good and His glory.

Exodus 30-31

Ex. 31:12-17 - God was passionate about the Children of Israel observing the Sabbath. So passionate was he, that to break the Sabbath was a law punishable by death. So, why is it that Sabbath is something that we take so lightly. God put it in the laws of the Jews that they should rest. Six days work and then a day of rest. We all need rest. We need time to focus and refresh. We need time to set aside our normal routines and worship God. How are you doing on that?

Nehemiah 11:1-12:26

I added no notes in this section. This part of Scripture is a listing of people and where they lived. It gives historical context to the book of Nehemiah, and includes many names such as King Darius, Zerubbabel, Jeshua and others that we see in other books of the Bible.

1 Corinthians 3

1 Cor. 3:2-3 - The Corinthian believers had been following Christ for some time now, but they were still acting like spiritual babies. For them, it was jealousy and strife. For others it can be something else. What would Christ say our life is producing? What kind of food would he feed us; milk or solid food?

1 Cor. 3:5-6 - Have you ever been a part of a church and heard people at your church talk about another church like it was a rival? What a shame. Churches ought to view other churches as partners in the task of reaching our world for Jesus Christ. We ought to be praying earnestly for the growth of other Bible preaching churches in our community. As churches grow, so does the Body of Christ. Unfortunately petty arguments about which church is better, or what preacher is better, or what Sunday School class is best go all the way back to the days of Paul, as these verses so aptly show.

1 Cor. 3:16-17 16Do you not know that youare God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.- It's an awesome thought that the Spirit of God dwells within the believer! We are the temple of God. No longer does His Spirit dwell in the Holy of Holies of a temple in Jerusalem. Our lives should reflect Christ wherever we go. He calls us to live holy lives, and we can do that because He is holy and equips us to live that way.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Day 3

Today's readings were from Psalm 84, Exodus 29, Nehemiah 10 and 1 Corinthians 2. Here are my notes.

Psalm 84

Psalm 84 - We sing the song Better Is One Day, on a pretty regular basis in our church. It's a song that is based upon Psalm 84. Until today, (even though I'm sure I've sung Better Is One Day) at least 100 times in my life, I didn't realize that the song was based upon a Psalm that celebrates a pilgrimage to visit the temple in Jerusalem.

What an awesome sight it must have been to a pilgrim to finally see Jerusalem's temple. I'm not sure that there has ever been a more magnificent building on the planet, for Jerusalem's temple was designed by God, and was the place where His glory dwelt.

Exodus 29

Ex. 29:18, 25, 41 - "a pleasing aroma . . . to the Lord." There is something beautiful about the sacrifices that the Children of Israel made to the Lord. God speaks of these sacrifices being a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Their worship, their obedience, was a pleasing aroma in the nostrils of God. From the throne room of Heaven, God declared such offerings to be pleasing to Him.

Our worship should be a pleasing aroma to God too. What does God see when we worship? There was great care taken in the preparation of the priests' garments, the offerings of the priests and the offerings of the people. They wanted to go before God on His terms, not theirs. They recognized the holiness of God. May we do the same.

Ex. 29: 45-46 - "I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God." Recognize that this is God speaking to the Children of Israel. He was choosing to dwell with them. He was voluntarily making His dwelling, amongst the Children of Israel. He had chosen them. And, He would do great things in and through them.

Those of us who are followers of Christ have God dwelling within us too. Does your life reflect someone who has the Spirit of God dwelling within you? Or, does your life say something completely different? May God have the reigns of your life, and may the world see Him working in and through you!

Nehemiah 10

Neh. 10 - This entire chapter is a bit like a congregational meeting. There are many people who seal the covenant between the people and God and then agree to abide by the covenant. I'm struck with just how serious the people took their covenant and with the sacrifice that they were willing to pay personally to make sure that the activities of the temple could take place. The chapter ends with these words in verse 39, "We will not neglect the house of our God.” May we follow their example in our own houses of worship!

1 Corinthians 2

1 Cor. 2:2 My grandfather was a pastor for many years. He was thrilled when I told him that I felt like God was calling me to become a pastor. He was also full of advice. One thing Grandpa told me that I'll never forget is, "Brian, make much of Jesus! Make much of Jesus in your preaching! Make much of Jesus in your life. Make much of Jesus!" It's essentially what the Apostle Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians 2:2 when he wrote, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

1 Cor. 2:16 "'For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ." This entire chapter talks about the mind of Christ and God's wisdom. Those of us who are followers of Jesus have the wisdom that comes from the Spirit of God. What a gift! May you seek His wisdom today!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Day 2

Psalm 83, Exodus 27:20-28:43, Nehemiah 9, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Here are the notes I added to my study Bible today:

Psalm 83 - Ever wish that God would prove to the world that He was God with an awesome display of His might? Maybe you have friends or family members who are skeptics. No matter how much you try to show them God's love, no matter how much you try and prove to them that God is real, their hearts are closed. Psalm 83 is a Psalm of Asaph, and it records His cry that God will deliver Israel from the hands of their enemies. Asaph prays for the defeat of the Gentile nations that oppose Israel. In verses 16-18 he prays, "Fill their faces with shame,that they may seek your name, O Lord. 17 Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever;let them perish in disgrace,18 that they may know that you alone,whose name is the Lord,are the Most High over all the earth."

Asaph wanted his enemies to know that Yahweh was God. He wanted them to call upon the name of the One True God. He felt like we do from time to time. He wanted God to show His power; to prove that He was God. He wanted all nations to know that He was God.

Scripture is full of references to the General Revelation of God. Psalm 19:1 tells us that "The heavens declare the glory of God." Romans 1:20 says, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, "so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."

God has revealed Himself in creation. He revealed Himself in the flesh in Jesus Christ. He reveals Himself through the Holy Spirit, through His Word, and He reveals Himself through His people. May we always be paying attention.

Exodus 28 - "For Glory and for Beauty" is a phrase that is used twice in Exodus 28. The chapter is all about the garments that Aaron and his sons should wear. Aaron was the first High Priest of Israel. His sons also served as priests. God gave meticulous instructions about what their garments should look like. In verse two he said, "And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty." In verse 40 he said, "For Aaron's sons you shall make coats and sashes and caps. You shall make them for glory and beauty."

God wasn't instructing the Children of Israel to do this so that Aaron and his sons could receive glory, but so that God would receive glory. God deserves our best. So holy is God, that if Aaron went into His presence unprepared, He could die! Bells were to be put around the hem of his robe. He could be heard as he entered into the presence of God and as he left the presence of God. Look at verse 35 - "35 And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the Lord, and when he comes out, so that he does not die."

How do I enter into God's presence? Am I cavalier in my approach, or do I recognize the glory of God and the holiness of moments with Him?

One other item that struck me to the core in this chapter was the magnitude of the responsibility that Aaron had as he went before God, representing the people. Read what God said in the last part of verse 30: "Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly."

That is a huge burden to bear. When Christ came, all believers were given access to the very throne room of Heaven. The theological principle is "The Priesthood of Believers." May we remember what Aaron and the other priests faced as they went before God, and may we come to God with reverence!

Nehemiah 9

Neh. 9:3 Confession is a good thing. God commands it. He tells us to confess our sins one to another. When the people of Israel confessed their sin in Nehemiah 9, they separated themselves from all the foreigners in their land. The people knew that they had to deal with their sin before God. They knew that they, as God's chosen people had committed sin against Yahweh. And, so, they spent 1/4 of a day (probably 3 hours, since the Jewish day ran from 6AM-6PM) reading from the Book of the Law of the Lord. For three hours, the people stood as the Law was read. And then, for another three hours, the people made confession and worshiped the Lord.

Neh. 9:5b "Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise." It was the Levites again who led the people. This time, leading the people to confess their sins. I love that they begin their confession by acknowledging the true character of God. His name alone is to be glorified. The people had not done so. It was time for them to approach God with a holy reverence and fear.

Neh. 9:8b "And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous." - God's promises are not dependent upon our faithfulness. Our God will stay true to His Word, regardless of how we act. He is so good, and the Children of Israel are realizing just how much they have given up because they were not trusting upon the faithfulness of God. As a righteous God, everything that He has said will happen, will.

Neh. 9:16 16“But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments." - I wonder how many times God looks at me and says the same thing. "Brian, there you go again, acting presumptuously! I've given you my Word, I've revealed my truth to you, and yet you are such a stiff-necked person. When you cease to obey my commands you pay the price. Your life does not go well. Obey me, find joy, trust me!"

Neh. 9:21 21Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. - When is the last time you looked into your closet and said, "I've got nothing to wear?" We all know that when we make those statements it's simply not true. We do have clothes to wear. But, we don't like what is in there. We don't like the clothes because they are last year's style, etc. When the Children of Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years, they had clothes to wear. They wore the same clothes for forty years. God took care of them.

Their feet didn't swell when they walked the wilderness either. God gave them strength. And, their bellies didn't bloat. God provided them with food and water. Our God is not slow in keeping His promises! He takes care of His children.

Neh. 9:31 31Nevertheless,in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. - Even though the Children of Israel repeatedly rejected Christ, He was merciful to them. He did not do away with them. He didn't say, "Okay, I'm starting over." He allowed them to suffer so that they might come back to Him.

Neh. 9: 36-37 36Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.

The Children of Israel had asked for a King. Now, they were slaves in their own land to their kings, princes, priests, and fathers.

Neh. 9:38 38“Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.

The confession of sin was accompanied by a covenant, made in writing between the leaders of the people and God. The covenant emphasized the faithfulness of God, and a commitment on the people's part to observe the laws of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

1 Cor. 1:18-31 - I love this passage of Scripture. It begins with these words, 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

We serve a God who is wiser than the wisest man or woman. Men and women have spent countless hours debating the existence of God. We have written countless books trying to capture a glimpse of Who God is. But, our wisdom is like foolishness compared to God. He has made those of us who trust Him to have wisdom. It is not a wisdom that the world will readily accept. We may even be mocked. But, if all we live for is the small amount of time that we have on earth, we gain nothing. Our lives must be lived with eternity on our hearts. May we recognize the truth of verse 25: 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Day One

Psalm 82, Exodus 27:1-19, Nehemiah 8 and 1 Corinthians 1:1-17

When you purchase an ESV Study Bible, you are given an unlock code so that you can access the ESV Study Bible online. There you will find everything that is in the Bible, plus a section for you to add your own notes from your personal study. I love this feature! I have terrible handwriting, so whenever I try to write in my Bible, I find that I can't read what I've written when I go back later. This is a tool that I'll use throughout this study. Here are the notes that I added to my ESV Study Bible online, from the passages that I read today:

Ps. 82:3-4 Here is a description of what true government should accomplish - give justice to the week and fatherless; look out for those who can' t look out for themselves (the afflicted and the destitute), to rescue the weak and needy by delivering them from the hand of the wicked. A modern day example of this is what The International Justice Mission is doing to free women and children from indentured slavery or prostitution.

Neh. 8:1-3 Can you imagine what it would have been like? You own no copy of Holy Scripture. Chances are you may not even know how to read. The reading of the Law of Moses, that which the Israelites considered to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life was a sacred moment. With rapt attention and fascination the men and women, and "those who could understand" (probably children) listened as Ezra read the law. He read from it from early morning until midday. What a beautiful picture!

Neh. 8:6 the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands - I know a godly man who is well into his 90's. He grew up in a lively church where the pastor would often times shout, "Hallelujah! Praise Jesus!" in teh middle of his sermon. Today, this dear man has trouble staying awake through an entire service. His 90+ years have taken their toll. He'll often times ask me, "Couldn't you just throw in a 'Hallelujah! Praise Jesus!' in your message? It would keep me awake!" He wants to be an active participant in worship.

The Children of Israel were active participants in the reading of God's Word. They responded to the reading of the law by saying, "Amen," which means "So be it." They agreed with the words that were being read. May we receive it the same way.

Neh. 8:7-8 the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. Who are some of the people in your life that you are most grateful for? As a Christian, I'm grateful for the people that God has brought my way that have helped me understand the Scriptures, and understand Him better. When Ezra read the law, there were thirteen Levites who were mixed amongst the crowd who made sure that what Ezra was reading was understood. I love that God saw fit to include their names in the book of Nehemiah. These must have been cherished people, for they helped make what Ezra was reading become alive. It was almost as if Ezra was the pastor reading the text and these men were the small group leaders, making sure that the text was understood.

Neh. 8:9-12 Can you imagine that conviction that the Children of Israel must have felt? Sure you can. When we read God's Word, many times were come face to face with our own depravity in the midst of God's holiness. That is what is so beautiful about the words of this passage. Nehemiah and Ezra encouraged the people to take joy in the Lord. This, the day of the reading of the Law, was not a day for mourning but for rejoicing. God had opened the door for forgiveness. By exposing the people to their sin, they were now able to see clearly, confess their sin, and move forward in their relationship with a loving God. As God showered them with mercy, they were also encouraged to be merciful, and share of their blessings with those who had nothing ready to celebrate with.

Neh. 8:17 for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so - the Feast of Booths is the same as the Feast of Tabernacles. It was in Nehemiah 8 that this truly became the most celebratory of the Jewish festivals. To this day Jewish people celebrate this festival by making Sukkot tents. The tents are made in such a way that there is an opening in the roof. The people can see the stars at night and remember the wilderness wanderings of their ancestors. It is a reminder of God's great provision. It reminds the people of the mercy of God. The festival had been re-discovered by the Jewish people in Nehemiah 8, and it would be a part of the celebration of the Jewish people from that year forward. One other note - notice that the Law of Moses was read over the seven days of the festival. On the eighth day there was a solemn assembly. This reminds me of revival weeks that churches in America used to hold on regular occasions.

1 Cor. 1:10-17 Paul begins his letter in the normal way that he does, by giving thanks for the church in Corinth, and by giving a greeting. But, Paul is quick to the point. He is not happy about the divisions that have arisen in the church. And rightfully so. Unity in the church is one of the things that Christ is most passionate about. He prayed that His children would be unified. He wants the church to be known for their love for one another. That is hardly what Paul was seeing in the Corinthian church.

The Challenge

A couple years ago I decided to blog on all 176 verses of Psalm 119. It was one of the most enriching experiences of my Christian life. There was something special about focusing on one verse a day for an extended period of time. Now, I want to try something new. Last week, I had lunch with a former student of mine from my days at First Evangelical Free Church of Moline, Illinois. He told me that First Free has taken The Challenge this year. It's a church-wide challenge to read through the Bible in a year. The pastor is blogging on what is read. You can find out more at The Challenge 2009.

I love the blog that they are keeping. There is even room people to ask questions to the pastors of the church about what they are reading. So, today, I've decided to take the challenge to read through the Bible in a year. It's March 23rd, and I hope that March 22, 2010 will be my final day of my own one-year challenge.

I'll be using the Bible reading plan in the back of the ESV Study Bible. I like how they have it laid out. Each day you read Psalms and Wisdom Literature, Pentateuch and History of Israel Scripture, Chronicles and Prophets Scripture and Gospels and Epistles. Today, I'll be reading Psalm 82, Exodus 27:1-19, Nehemiah 8 and 1 Corinthians 1:1-17. I'll blog on it later on today.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Sermon By Josef Tson, The Man Who God Used to Call Me Into Ministry

I found a sermon online tonight from Josef Tson, a Romanian pastor who faced incredible persecution under the regime of Nicolae Ceau┼čescu, the former Secretary General of Romania. This is a sermon that Tson preached in 1989, about a year after I heard him speak at Liberty University's mission conference when I surrendered my life to full-time Christian service. This is a 65-minute sermon, and worth the listen. When you have time, check it out. You will be blessed. He talks about revival.Here is the description from the web site: Exiled Romanian pastor Joseph Tson shares how the brutal persecution in his native land in the early 1970's led many to the great sin of desiring to survive. Revival occurred when repentance and surrender to Jesus Christ were preached. He shares a very strong warning against the weaknesses that have crept into American evangelicalism, such as replacing 'commitment' for 'surrender' and 'servant' for 'slave'.

This is a paradigm shifting message. I'm speaking on John 15 tomorrow morning at Woodbury Community Church, and this sermon relates so well to my message. Following Christ involves sacrifice. There are times that following Jesus will bring persecution with it. Nobody that I know understands and articulates this as well as Tson. He is one of my heroes.