Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Saturday,28 July 18:
1. Nehemiah 5:5, 7, 8 — “We are powerless because our fields and our vineyards belong to others…. You are exacting interest, each from his brother…. We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!”
– Today’s readings have an important message to the church about financial debt, about which I am tempted to write pages; but I won’t. Bottom line: wealth is a form of power, but financial debt has rendered the people powerless. Recognizing that I stand in a very small minority, I don’t believe God desires His Kingdom people to be in debt to the world, and I don’t believe that God intends for His people to charge interest on what they lend to each other. The Bible clearly points out that the borrower is the slave to the lender, and God’s people must not sell themselves into slavery to the world as we are slaves to Christ and Christ alone. Nehemiah comments that the Jews had been working hard to “buy back” their Jewish brothers from the hands of the Gentiles. However, even some Jews were taking advantage of other Jews by charging interest on debt, and Nehemiah harshly rebukes these moneylenders (even 1% interest was too much). It is also important to note that those trapped in debt were even more vulnerable during times of financial crisis. Because they had no savings or contingency fund, they had to go into deeper debt to pay expenses such as taxes – their hole only got deeper. Interestingly, one of the Hebrew words used for debt has its origins in the Hebrew word for snakebite – debt is a poison that kills you slowly. Today, Christians are in heavy debt to ungodly institutions while reportedly only about 2-4% of the church tithes. The vast majority of Christians who say that they are “homeowners” actually only “own” debts to financial institutions who really own their homes. Additionally, some denominations spend more money to pay off building debt than they do to support missionaries. Again, that building debt is being paid to ungodly institutions. The Church body is working hard to make the world rich; is this what God intended? What would happen if Christians put the same amount of money they currently pay to debt interest into the work of the Church? Just one example: If you take out a five-year loan on a new car (something Christians do all the time), you basically pay for that car twice, except half of the money goes into the pockets of moneylenders instead of towards another car. Instead, why not buy two cars and donate one to a missionary team? Wouldn’t that choice more effectively support the Great Commission? I think so.
– I believe that we are to be free from debt to ungodly institutions and that we have a responsibility to get other Christians out of slavery “as far as we are able.” In that, I believe Christians should lend to other Christians without ANY interest, and that we should use our resources to help other Christians remain financially free before we pursue independent luxuries. Nehemiah lived far below his means that he might ease the financial burdens of others; he did this “because of the fear of God.” (Nehemiah 5:15) When that young couple in your church struggling to make ends meet needs a new muffler on their car, will they go to the church for financial help or will they put the expense on their credit card owned by ungodly institutions? When people criticize others for making bad financial decisions, are those people willing to take the time to teach, coach, and mentor them into better financial decisions? Does your church now the financial debt of the body? Does your church have a plan to get out of debt (both the institution and the people within the institution)? Tithing is much easier without debt. The tithe is another instrumented intended for the church to use to keep people out of debt, a storehouse for needs. Christians are called to tithe into the storehouse but ALSO give gifts and offerings beyond the tithe to address genuine needs of others. Today, when most Christians have financial needs, they go to worldly banks rather than the church and other Christians – this is a serious problem that is disempowering the church and empowering the world.
2. Nehemiah 5:9 – “So I said, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?” Taking advantage of others and refusing to give to those in need is not only ungodly but also defames God before unbelievers.
3. Nehemiah 5:10 – “Let us abandon this exacting of interest.” Once again, God does not want His people gaining wealth by lending with interest to people in need. Nehemiah demanded that there be NO interest on debt. Christians should give to other Christians freely, exacting no interest at all. The OT direction was that on every seventh year, all debt was erased, a testimony to God’s grace. There is no reason why we shouldn’t retain that practice today. God wants His people to gain wealth through productivity, not by feeding off of the productivity of others through interest on debt. Also, God does not want His people to be enslaved by debt to others.
4. Nehemiah 5:14-19 – Nehemiah did not accept any special treatment and did the work of all the people. Additionally, he led by example in generosity. This is what leadership looks like.
5. Nehemiah 5:15 – “The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God.” Nehemiah made sure that he did not profit from his position of leadership because that is ungodly. Is that what leaders do today?
6. Nehemiah 5:19 – “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” Nehemiah found his riches in his relationship with God.
7. Nehemiah 6:1-9 – People will use all sorts of schemes to thwart your work for God. Stay focused on what God wants you to do, and have no fear.
8. Nehemiah 6:6 – “In it was written, ‘It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king.’” Rumors started as insecure people assumed the worst motives of God’s people.
9. Nehemiah 6:9 – “For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’ But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” The ungodly will always threaten and attack God’s people.
10. Nehemiah 6:12 – “And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.” Not everyone who claims to know God’s will actually does, and many claim to speak for God in order to deceive you (or to lie to themselves). It is critical that you know how to distinguish between God’s word and false prophecy. Anybody who says, “Go told me….” when God really didn’t or who uses God’s written word out of context is a false prophet. Fortunately, Jesus taught us how to identify the false prophet — “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20) What is the fruit? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….” (Galatians 5:22, 23) Not every dynamic preacher is a true disciple.
11. Nehemiah 6:16 – “And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” God works through the faithful to reveal Himself to a watching world.
12. Nehemiah 6:17-19 — There remained disunity within the church despite God’s activity. Jesus had Judas. It seems we will always have someone in our group subverting progress. Jesus didn’t kick Judas out, and it appears that Nehemiah did not directly resist those working against him. Nehemiah simply stayed focused on accomplishing God’s will. Don’t worry too much or get distracted by those who resist the truth or what God would have you do. Stay focused and let your persistence overcome the resistance.
13. Proverbs 28:1 – “…the righteous are bold as a lion.” Are you as bold as a lion?
14. Proverbs 28:2, 7, 11, 15 – The word “understanding” is used four times in Proverbs 28. Understanding involves submission to God and His word. Knowledge and understanding are not the same thing. You might know what the Bible says, but you won’t understand it until you apply it. Those who disobey God lack understanding.
15. Proverbs 28:5 – “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.” God is the source of all justice. The further away someone is from God, the further away they are from justice. Pure justice comes only from God. Justice cannot be administered by the ungodly. Many people will claim to be on the side of justice when, in fact, they are only pursuing self-centered agendas. God sets the standard for justice, not people. God’s standard is not the same as social morality (the standard of society) which shifts like the sand and favors popular opinion. The majority is usually wrong. Those who would administer justice must submit to God’s just word.
16. Proverbs 28:7 – “The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding, but a companion of gluttons shames his father.” Gluttony is taken very seriously in the Bible. This lack of self-control is a spiritual issue, revealing a heart condition that always transfers into other areas of life too.
17. Proverbs 28:8 – “Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers it for him who is generous to the poor.” Greed won’t work.
18. Proverbs 28:9 – “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” Behavior affects prayer.
19. Proverbs 28:13 – “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Facing the pain of confession helps us overcome the power of sin and guilt in our lives and also invites others to do the same. Confession is the first practical step in genuine humility; it destroys the pride which causes you to cover up your sin and allow it to continue. Confession is a public acknowledgment that you rely on God’s grace rather than your own “goodness.” Confession opens the door for the true honesty required to address the problem at hand. Confession frees you from the struggle of trying to pretend to be something you really aren’t. Confession is the first step on the path of becoming who you really want to be. Confession is very hard because pride doesn’t want us to admit our failures, particularly to others. However, where you are prideful is where you are seeking give credit and honor to yourself rather than to God. God will not share credit with anyone.
20. Proverbs 28:14 – “Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” Those who do not honor God as God are hard-hearted.
21. Proverbs 28:18 – “Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall.” The consequences of sin are often instantaneous and catastrophic.
22. Proverbs 28:19 – “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.” A dream isn’t a plan, and a plan isn’t getting things done. You must have a real plan for getting things done, and you must be willing to make the daily sacrifices required to actually execute the plan. Nothing worth doing is easy. Many know what to do but simply aren’t willing to do it. Some are willing to work hard but do not take the time to plan their work, so much effort is directed in the wrong places. A good plan gives you focus and direction. Hard work gives you results in your focus areas. God honors prayer, and God will work miraculously in your life to do what you can’t do (if what you are doing is aligned with His will), but God will not honor your lack of discipline with miracles.
23. Proverbs 28:25 – “A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.” Greed is the opposite of trusting in the LORD. You hoard what you don’t trust God to replenish. Greed is fear, not faith.
24. Proverbs 28:26 – “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” How foolish is it for someone who has lived less than a century on some spot of the planet, less than a speck in the universe, think that they can figure life out without God, the Creator of all.
25. Proverbs 28:27 — “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Do you believe Proverbs 28:27 is true?
26. Psalm 85:4 – “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!” Repentance is continuous. A humble, repentant spirit mourns over sin, continually asks for forgiveness, accepts continual forgiveness, and doesn’t wallow in guilt and regret but rather demonstrates love for Christ and appreciation for grace by wholeheartedly resolving to sin no more.
27. Psalm 85:8 – “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints, but let them not turn back to folly.” After receiving forgiveness from God, don’t keep doing the things for which you asked for forgiveness. Honor God with your behavior. Worship God with your behavior. Love God with your behavior.
28. Psalm 85:10 – “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” Love and faithfulness go together. If you love God, be faithful to Him. Living righteously gives you peace.
29. Psalm 85:8-13 — “I will listen to what God the Lord will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints— but let them not return to folly. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.”
– God’s first word to us is the same word Jesus said when He first met the disciples after His resurrection: “Peace.” (Psalm 85:8) Peace comes through grace and then through obedience to God. Accept peace from God and then live at peace with God. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit by continuing to dishonor the One who saved you and freed you from your sin, and don’t continue to destroy your own peace and joy by continuing in sin. Hebrews 12:1 encourages you to, “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And… run with perseverance the race marked out for [you].” Life is challenging enough without the needless burdens of sin. Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” God wants you to have the fullness of joy that comes from complete surrender to Jesus and obedience.
– The psalmist speaks of the requirement of God’s people to obey God in order to appreciate the fullness of his blessings on earth. This reminds me of what Jesus said: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11) I know I want nothing but the very best for my children, but when they don’t listen to my instruction and/or don’t make the effort to do what is right, they suffer needlessly and often cause each other to suffer. I can also look at my own life and see that most of my problems have been self-induced – they never had to happen. Of course no one is perfect, and we all make mistakes, which is why these Psalms begin by expressing his gratitude for God’s mercy and grace. But as we grow up in the Lord, we must continue the endeavor to grow in faithfulness. As the Bible reiterates in many places including this Psalm, love and faithfulness go together.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 28 July 18: What sins are you continuing commit though you know it is wrong? Where do you lack self-control? Remember, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (see Gal 5). Pray that God will strengthen you to put real change into your repentance, and strive with all of your might to desist. Meditate upon what it means to be unfaithful in your behavior before the Almighty, Holy God who paid for your sins with His One and Only Son, Jesus. (Psalm 85:8)