Walking Through Ephesians

Walking Through Ephesians

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A Heart Right with God

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

There are four aspects of a heart that is right before God.

First, a pure heart (Neh. 12:30).  “When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall.”  Before there was one moment of celebration there was purification.  We have a lot of information about how in the Old Testament the Jews purified themselves through ceremonial washings. But God never thought that external washing would make somebody clean. God hoped that through the process of these external washings, the people would have time to reflect on their need for internal cleanliness. As they did that this day, they saw the solution was to set themselves apart for God.

Second, a worshipful heart (Neh. 12:27, 31-43).  The dedication of the wall was a time to praise the Lord. Nehemiah organized two choirs to walk in opposite directions on top of the wall until they converged at the temple. They sang praises to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps, and lyres. God doesn’t want our work if He doesn’t have our worship. To worship God is to rejoice in and extol His great attributes and actions. It is to reverence God above all else. True worship is not just outward, but inward. It engages the mind, the heart, the will, and the emotions.

Third, a joyful heart (Neh.12:43). We get the distinct impression that these people were enjoying themselves! Note the emphasis on joy. It is mentioned four times in verse 43, and again in verse 44. It says, “The joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar.” “It wasn’t their song that was heard from afar, but their joy” (Swindoll, p. 188). Outsiders heard their joy! Have you ever been outside of a stadium when a ball game was going on inside, and suddenly the crowd roared? We know when that happens that something good happened inside! In the same way, people should be able to walk by the church and think, “Something good is going on in there!” In fact, God has hit a grand-slam homerun for us through Jesus Christ. We need to be so caught up with what God has done that His great joy radiates from this place!

Fourth, a giving heart (12:44-47).  These people gave joyfully so that God’s work could go forward. They saw the importance of worship at the temple, and they were willing to give the necessary offerings to support the many priests, Levites, gatekeepers, and singers who served there. The people did it because they “rejoiced over the priests and Levites who served” (12:44).

We are attracted to warm, generous people who freely share what is theirs with others. One of the most reliable gauges of our heart before God is our giving. If God is going to use us to serve to others, we need to have a generous heart.

William Carey was a cobbler before he left for the mission field. He would keep a map of India before him in his shop, stopping every so often to study it. He longed to go there and preach the gospel.

He did a lot of preaching and teaching on the side, with the result that his trade dwindled. One day a friend admonished him for neglecting his business. “Neglecting my business?” Carey said. “My business is to extend the kingdom of God. I only cobble shoes to pay expenses.”

That should be the mindset of every Christian.

For us today, to be right with God, our heart must be right. When our heart is right our worship will flow from a joyful heart. Giving is no longer a burden but a privilege. Strict adherence to Bible truth does not mean we are a bunch of grumblers. Far from it! Bible truths teach us that it is a joy to worship God and give to Him and His people. 


Tuesday, February 21, 2023

When we think of Jerusalem we think of a huge, massively populated city. And certainly there are times it was. But Nehemiah 7:4 tells us that the city was “large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt.” Without those large, protective walls, the people didn’t feel safe to dwell in Jerusalem. But now that the walls are rebuilt, and the people are on the right path of pursuing the Lord, how could Nehemiah go about repopulating Jerusalem. 

What seems to take place in Nehemiah 11 is this leader’s steps to fill the city once again. The first step was the leaders moving into the newly walled city, no doubt at Nehemiah’s prompting. Afterwards the people cast their lots to select one out of every ten Israelites to join them. What we find through chapter 11 is the list of people who were moving back to the city.

What lessons of leadership can we learn from this chapter? 

One Step at a Time – Nehemiah didn’t do everything at once. He didn’t hold the spiritual revival, the preaching of the Word, the humble confession in prayer, the repopulating of the city, while rebuilding the walls. First things first – he set his priorities in place and accomplished one thing at a time. Sometimes we can get to hasty. We try to pack on too much on our plates, placing impossible burdens on those under our influence. We expect too much without taking the time to prepare, to equip, to help others (or ourselves) succeed. A wall is built brick by brick. Habits are built one day at a time. Remember, leadership is about people. Inward growth and maturity takes time. It’s a process. It involves practice. It involves instruction. It involves mentoring. It involves time – it requires patience. Leadership is seeing the end goal, and setting reasonable, reachable steps to get there all along the way. “I want my kids to love the Lord with all their heart and serve Him, so we’re going to spend time every day in the Word, setting a foundation while they’re young, reading _______ books, and we’re going to worship as a family, and find ways to serve others each week…”. 

People Need a Push – it’s hard to break out of the comfort zone. Leaving the plains of Judea to live in Jerusalem was risky. But it was the right move. As more and more people moved in, the city would grow, and with more people comes more revenue, comes more protection, comes greater growth. As a leader sometimes we need to push our people beyond their comfort. We don’t grow in the green pastures, but through following the Shepherd on the path of righteousness, a path that can take us new, even difficult, directions. The times we’re challenged are often the opportunities for maturing. It takes bravery to push past the fears and doubts that say “we can’t”, and to step out of the boat, onto the waves, and deepen our faith, keeping our eyes on the Savior. 

“Precious Shepherd of our souls, we give you thanks for the list of names read in Nehemiah 11, of the brave souls who overcame comfort and fear and moved to Jerusalem. No matter how strong, how wise, how mature we believe we are today, give us the courage to pursue more, to continue to push and to grow, to become more and more like Jesus. And help our lives encourage others to follow on that same path.” 

Israel’s Agreement with God

Monday, February 20, 2023

In Nehemiah chapter 10, Israel is not making a covenant with God.  She is making a firm agreement to live according to the existing covenant that God had established through Moses.  In essence, this was Israel’s way of saying that they were going to start taking God seriously. They showed they meant business in two ways.

First, by their willingness to write it down and sign their names. Second, by binding their promise with a curse and with an oath. In other words, they said in their agreement, “Lord, if we don’t keep this promise then may we receive the curses that are found in Your law for disobedience.”

Let’s look at the three specific promises they made to God. 

Promise number one is when they say, “We will maintain our distinctness in personal relationships.  We will stand out from the crowd when it comes to our choices about who we allow ourselves to be closely aligned with.  We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the people around us or take their daughters for our sons” (Neh. 10:30).  The concern here is not racial; it’s religious.  The Law said specifically, “If you marry pagan peoples, it will affect your walk with God” (Ex. 34:15-16). When it comes to trusting God, isn’t that the real issue for many of us when it comes to our relationships?  Are we willing to put our trust in God or in people? 

Second, “We will maintain our distinctness in our money making.” They said to God in their agreement, “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts” (Neh. 10:31). There is a time for business and there is a time to forget about business. Israel was making a vow to be governed by a higher principle than profit. Once again, the real issue is trusting God.  Are we going to trust God to make up what we give up?  

Finally, they said, “We will maintain our distinctness in matters of faith” (Neh. 10:32-39).  At the very end in verse 39 they close by saying, “We will not neglect the house of our God.”  In other words, taking God seriously meant that Israel was going to be conscientious about the care and maintenance of the temple and its activities. Israel made promises to put God’s will first in their homes, business and in their faith. Once again, they were pledging to demonstrate their distinctness to the nations around them by showing how much they trusted God when those first fruits of harvest came in. They were saying we are going to trust God to bring in the rest of the harvest. We’re going to put Him first. 

For us today, in Nehemiah’s day the place where God dwelled was the Temple, that is the place they said, “We will not neglect.”  Where does God live now?  Today the house of God is within you. Talk about a mind-boggling concept!  This passage urges us to place the highest priority on the inner person where Jesus Christ resides, where the Holy Spirit has built His temple (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

God doesn’t try to trick us with fine print.  We’ve all signed documents that we didn’t read closely, and we found out later that we wish we had because we didn’t read the fine print.  God doesn’t put fine print in the terms of His covenant.  He is honest and up front about what He wants. 

“If you’re going to follow Me and come into My kingdom, you’re going to put Me before all other relationships. You’ll put Me ahead of all other agendas. You’ll put Me ahead of all other choices.”  To be Lord at all, means He’s Lord of all. He wants to be taken seriously.  


Friday, February 17, 2023

After the incredible revival by the Water Gate, the work of rebuilding the spiritual strength in the people’s hearts continued. In Nehemiah 9 we find the longest record of a prayer found in Scripture. While the length is certainly impressive, the hearts and attitudes of the people are just as noticeable. They assembled, “with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dirt upon them” (v. 10). 

The right attitude, the right heart, the right response – the people are taking the right steps towards rebuilding a right relationship with God. This is all indication of leadership. Leadership is about people, and when the people are in the wrong, hiding, ignoring, blame-shifting, only make things worse. They are selfish and arrogant responses to our sins. Remember Paul said that evil isn’t overcome by evil (ROM 12:21). It’s hard to admit our faults. It takes a humble spirit to confess our sins. But that’s the path to healing, to forgiveness, to a right relationship with God (1 JOHN 1:9; PS 32:5).

That’s where Nehemiah leads the people through this incredible prayer. It’s been broken down in different ways – one that stands out to me is the multi-directions found in this prayer: 

  • Looking up (v. 5-6) – the starting place of a great prayer is focused on the Lord 
  • Looking back (v. 7-31) – walking back through Israel’s history – a testimony to God’s faithfulness
  • Looking in (v. 32-37) – the honest expression of where they stood in the present 
  • Looking ahead (v. 38) – the plan to pursue what is right before God going forward 

This four directional prayer provides an excellent model to follow when we pray – focus on God, reflect on what He has done, honest admit where things are today, and express confident commitment and faith on what is to come. 

When the people we lead stumble and fall, they’ll look to their leaders to help find the path back to the right. This chapter reminds me of what is said in 2 Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” How can we help the people under our sphere of influence pursue the Lord after having fallen? 

  • Humble Ourselves – pride blames. Pride covers. Pride dodges. Pride runs. Pride justifies. Pride excuses. Humility listens. Humility confesses. Humility honestly accepts where we are. 
  • Pray – don’t run from God, don’t give up, don’t quit. Bring the burdens, bring the pain, bring the charges, bring the sin to the Lord in prayer. 
  • Seek God’s Face – seek God’s favor, seek to be right with God, seek His forgiveness. Confess the sin, honestly, sincerely, fully, acknowledging our wrong, and pleading for His mercy and grace 
  • Turn from our Wicked Ways – that’s repentance. It’s not just a change in heart, but it’s a change of heart that results in a change in behavior. Breaking habits. Cutting off sinful influences. Being in control of one’s attitude. Mindful of our words. A clear, noticeable change in the way we live – no longer making those sinful decisions – now purposefully making choices that honor God. 

What does this show us about leadership? It’s easy to lead on days of victory when the sun is shining. It’s hard to lead on days of defeat while in the dark. The greatness of our leadership is often defined by those hard moments. It’s hard as mates, as parents, as shepherds, as bosses or managers – when those under our influence stumble and fall. Our response to another’s failure can make the difference between victory or defeat, in clinging onto hope or sinking in despair, in turning from sin or plunging further into it. Are we harder than God on another’s fault? Do I offer any help or hope, or am I a voice of defeat and doom? Would I bend down to one who’s fallen, helping them rise, leading them in prayer, walking the path of repentance along side them, helping them find their way back to the Lord? 

“Majestic Master, we stand in awe of You. You are perfect in power, in wisdom, in justice, in mercy, in love. You have been with Your people from the very beginning. You delivered them from evil. You rescued them from harm. You led them on the path of righteousness. You extended mercy and grace abundant for their sins. And you have done the same for us. For our every sin, our greatest shames, our countless failures, You have given Your Son, the perfect gift of mercy. In the ways we stand weak before You today we humbly confess. In the reasons we have to rejoice we give thanks. In whatever time remains until Your Son returns, it is our hope, prayer, and trust that You strengthen our weaknesses, refine our spirits, and help us to mature more and more to the perfect image of Jesus. And as we grow, use us in the lives of others to point them all the more to You.” 

Revival At the Water Gate

Thursday, February 16, 2023

God wants His people to continually be spiritually refreshed. The wall is built, now the time had come for a revival among the people (Nehemiah 8). The day of revival had an incredible emotional impact on them. They cried out, “Amen, Amen!” They bowed with their faces to the ground and worshipped. They wept and they rejoiced greatly. Their emotional response was genuine and an essential factor in their renewal. But a revival will not be sustained based on emotions. They must be established on the word of God and a willingness to submit to God’s word. That is what happened at the Water Gate.

On the first day of the month the people gathered in front of the Water Gate. For six hours they stood and listened as Ezra read the law. Their hearts were broken as they realized all their sufferings were a direct result of their disobedience to God’s Word. Then, they were sent away to rejoice knowing that God was still their God.  Now, we want to ask, “What happened the next day?  How did they maintain their spiritual fervor?  What do we do when God’s Word has a powerful effect on us?”

Notice, the heads of all the families along with all the priests decided they would come back the next day. They “gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law” (Neh. 8:13). Notice, in verse 12, it says, “the people greatly rejoiced because they understood the words that were declared to them.”  They came back the next day to gain a deeper understanding (Neh. 8:13). The NASV uses the word “insight.” On the first day they had absorbed an understanding of the facts of the Law. Their Bible knowledge was enlarged. They had received input, but not “insight.” That’s what they came seeking the second day.

The word translated “understanding” or “insight” is translated from a Hebrew word which means, “the ability to discern inner character or underlying truth. It is the ability to see and clearly understand the true nature of things.” We must seek that kind of insight, that kind of “beneath the surface” understanding. Insight is the ability to be discerning, to see principles and apply them in our daily affairs of life.  “Insight” into God’s word is not just to find information, it is to fuel transformation.  In other words, God has given us revelation of Himself so that He will make a difference in our lives. Also, that we might gain insight into how we are to live life. God gave us His word to change our lives. A surface knowledge of God’s word will not produce profound change.

What produces insight?  Let me show you three things from Nehemiah 8:13.

The first thing it takes is the right amount of time.  No one suddenly becomes wise.  If the heads of the families of Israel were to gain insight into the words of the Law, they were going to have to invest themselves.  In verse 18 it says, “Day after day Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God.”  Insight, like anything else worth having, is going to require a commitment. 

Next was the right kind of teacher. “They were gathered around Ezra the scribe in order to understand the words of the Law” (8:13).  Ezra was a great teacher.  He had genuine insight into God’s Words. “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).

Further, they needed the right type of attitude. Understanding requires effort on the part of the presenter and the listener.  Again, in verse 13 we see who came to understand the Word. It was the head of all the families, priests, and the Levites. These men had the proper attitude of humility. We cannot gain understanding from God’s word unless we have a humble spirit. We must approach the word of God daily saying, “What can I learn today? How will this change me?”

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