Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Saturday, 18 February 2023:
Nehemiah 1:6-9 — I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’
Nehemiah was in great despair and mourning because he understood the implications of the fact that after God had miraculously moved the heart of king Cyrus to support Zerubbabel in rebuilding the temple, and after God had miraculously moved the heart of king Artaxerxes to support Ezra in leading a large body of exiles back to the holy city and in teaching the people of Israel the Law, the Israelites had returned to the same sins that led them to their exile in the first place. As a result, the restoration they had long hoped for was in jeopardy. Nehemiah understood that restoration depended on true repentance, a complete change of heart, mind, and behavior, against sin and for God.
- Jeremiah 8:5 — Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return.
- Hosea 11:7 — My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all.
- Luke 6:46 — Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
- 2 Peter 2:20-22 — For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (Compare with Matthew 12:43-45)
- Ezekiel 18:32 — For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.
- Isaiah 55:6-7 — Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
- Mark 1:4 — John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
- Matthew 4:17 — From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
- Luke 5:32 — I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.
- Acts 2:38 — And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
- Acts 17:30 — The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,
- Romans 2:4 — Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
- 2 Peter 3:9 — The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
- 1 John 1:9 — If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
- 2 Corinthians 7:10 — For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
- 2 Chronicles 7:14 — If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
- Acts 11:18 — When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
- Romans 12:9 — Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
- Revelation 2:5 — Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
- Revelation 3:19 — Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
- Revelation 18:4 — Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues;
- James 4:4-10 — You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
- Luke 24:47 — And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Nehemiah was so distraught over the sins of his people that, despite being personally unaffected directly by what was going on in Jerusalem, he “wept and mourned for days and continued in fasting and praying before God…. confessing the sins of the people of Israel,” even taking personal responsibility for contributing to the culture of sin. Nehemiah was driven to intercessory prayer, but he was also convicted to risk his career and his life in order to personally help his people return to the Lord.
- 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 — All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
How convicted are you concerning the sins commonly accepted among God’s people, and how convicted are you concerning your own complacency and complicities? How bad do the sins of God’s people have to be before you are driven to weep and mourn for days, fasting and praying before God and confessing the sins of the people as well as yourself? And having been entrusted by God with the message and ministry of reconciliation, how passionate are you to spread the Gospel and to make disciples, and what are you willing to risk in order to accomplish this mission? What are you willing to risk in order to proclaim “repentance and forgiveness of sins… in His Name to all nations”? (Luke 24:47)
Psalm 19:12, 13 — “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.”
In light of this morning’s readings, take a moment to review the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and Luke 6 –
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
- “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
- “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
- “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
- “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
- “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
- “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
- “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
- “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
- Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
I see these heart conditions described in the Beatitudes (attitudes we should truly be) as both the starting point for growth in Christ and as the way of constant thinking which must shape our character as we are increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus. (Romans 8:29). The spirit of the Beatitudes is reflected in today’s Psalms. This is a humble, contrite spirit that recognizes his/her total inadequacy of self and total dependence on God’s mercy, grace (forgiveness and salvation through faith alone in Christ alone); it is a spirit which relies on Holy Spirit empowerment, revelation, conviction, coaching, and encouragement, while walking confidently in God’s forgiveness, love, and faithfulness. The Psalmist is a blessed, joyful mourner who, with earnest, nagging desire (“hunger and thirst”) for a closer relationship with God, realizes his inadequacy to overcome ‘self,’ and is comforted and satisfied (now, but still not quite yet) by the promise of God’s provision.
“Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” We rely on the “sharp two-edged sword” of God’s word and the revealing Light of the Holy Spirit to expose our hearts, to strengthen or faith in Christ, and to guide us to greater Christ-like character, while continually reminding us we are ‘declared innocent’ in Christ. However, the Bible warns us not to get out of step with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25), quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19), grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesian 4:30), resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51), or outrage the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 10:29). “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins.” In Luke 6, after the Beatitudes, Jesus declares a few ‘woes’ —
- “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
- “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.”
- “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.”
- “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
We conflict with the Holy Spirit when we get prideful, presumptuous, self-centered, and self-righteous, when we disciples get complacent in our disciplines, when we start to lose perspective on our total reliance on God –
- Romans 12:3 — For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
- 1 Corinthians 10:12 — Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
- 2 Peter 1:3-11 — His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Diligently confirm your calling and election in Christ by practicing godliness revealed in virtue, self-control, steadfastness, brotherly affection, and love, and get all the practice you can. To trust in God’s grace is to walk in God’s grace, by showing your gratitude by honoring Him in obedience to His commandments and by showing grace to others.
Proverbs 18:1 — Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.
Individualism is often a sign of selfishness. There is no such thing as a faithful Christian loner. Our mission is all about relationships. Christians are people persons.
Proverbs 18:2 — A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
Consider this verse in context with Proverbs 11:30 – “…whoever captures souls is wise.” Fools are driven, blinded, and deafened by pride. Wise people are humble, driven by love, and on a mission of reconciliation, reconciling others to God. Fools seek to win arguments. The wise seek to win souls. The wise listener doesn’t just listen to understand another person’s argument but rather listens to understand the other person, for what is in that person’s heart. Don’t let an issue become a distraction from Jesus. Don’t just win the debate, draw the listener closer to Jesus. Be wise, not a fool.
Proverbs 18:1, 2 – “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
God intends for us to be in community and to focus on others over ourselves. We are called to reach out and proactively love the unloving. Often times, the hardest place to demonstrate this sort of love is in your family, and the second hardest place may be in the local church. However, God demands that we persistently, pursue 1 Corinthians 13 love as our top priority in both institutions (family and church) as these are God’s school houses for learning to love and our first workplaces to do His will.
Concerning family, the Bible says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8) Concerning the church we read today, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:18) Too often, Christians isolate themselves from both family members and the local church due to relationship problems. The Bible warns that this is “against all sound judgement,” selfish, and foolish.
Of course, God knows that many family members are selfish, sinful, and destructive and that that church is full of “self-righteous hypocrites.” That is exactly why He intends for you to be with them – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) God knows the “hurting people hurt people,” so in a way He has set you up for a beating, but it is in fellowship with Christ that you suffer as you serve as His instrument of grace and mercy. Who knows, in the process of loving the unloving, you might also discover your own flaws – “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3)
The primary reason Christians isolate themselves is because they are, in fact, self-centered, self-righteous, prideful, and unloving; they look at others from a selfish perspective rather than seeing others from God’s perspective. One of the first rules in relationship is to “seek first to understand others before being understood.” Proverbs says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding.” Why does that unloving person act the way he does? What happened in their lives to make him so __? Didn’t Jesus say that it’s the sick who need a doctor? But you have tried for years to have a relationship with that terrible person, and they just won’t change – “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
If we want to make the world a better place, let’s start with building Christ-like character in ourselves, then let’s focus on our families, followed by the church, then our local communities. If you are trying to serve as Christ’s Ambassador while in alienation to a family member or to your local church family, you are likely unfit for duty.
Proverbs 18:4 – The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.
People have much to say, but most of it is not worth hearing.
Proverbs 18:6, 7, 21 – A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul…. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
So many of our problems are caused because we can’t control our tongues.
Proverbs 18:9 – Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.
How many haven’t suffered because somebody didn’t do their job well? God expects his people to seek perfection in all that they do. We spend so much time, energy, and effort trying to fix what someone broke due to pure negligence, complacency, or laziness. Small, seemingly insignificant, decisions to cut corners or disregard fundamentals have a huge ripple effect that affects many and can become catastrophic. Truth be told, too much of your time is wasted also fixing what you broke because of your bad habits. For example, perhaps you don’t put something away where it goes, then later you spend hours looking for it — hours I could have used doing something productive, hours I will never get back. When we are not disciplined and diligent in our habits and practices, we pay a huge opportunity cost and destroy our productivity; this is a sin that I must work on daily. God is very interested in our attention to detail in all that we do. Our professionalism ultimately glorifies Him.
Proverbs 18:10-12 — The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it a wall too high to scale. Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
Nahum’s prophesy of Nineveh is particularly brutal, which is somewhat ironic since Nahum’s name means “The Lord comforts” or “comfort of the Lord.” However, God’s wrath would mean comfort to the victims of Nineveh – one of the reasons God hates sin is because it victimizes others. As you recall, Jonah warned Nineveh of God’s impending judgment, and they repented for a time. However, they soon returned to their evil ways. Jesus used Nineveh as an example to describe the destructiveness of returning to previously forgiven sin: “And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation (Matthew 12:45).” In fact, Nineveh had reached a place of no return: “Nothing can heal you; your wound is fatal (Nahum 3:19).” Nahum’s prophesy mirrors the verses from Proverbs above concerning the Lord’s mercy and judgment: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness (Nahum 1:7, 8).” Nineveh rejected the Lord and placed its trust in its own power and great riches. Nineveh became a victimizing city (Nahum 3:1), destroying lives through its wickedness; God would tolerate it no longer: “’I am against you,’ declares the Lord Almighty (Nahum 2:13).” Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, is an example of how God preserves a nation through the influence of His people (Jonah in this case) and judges a nation after patient warnings. What can we learn from the story of Nineveh?
Proverbs 18:13 – If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
Notice from Proverbs 18 the emphasis God places on how well we listen to Him and on what we say to others as His ambassadors. You cannot share with others what you don’t know. How important is diligent Bible study to Christians who have been commissioned by God to speak on His behalf as priests to the world?
If, while someone is talking, you are already devising your response, you are acting both foolishly and shamelessly. Commit to truly listening to others empathetically. Don’t just pretend to listen, and don’t just listen for the things you want to hear or things that seem to validate your perspective. Don’t listen merely for facts, determining whether you agree with what is being said while preparing your response. Don’t listen impatiently where you believe you already understand what is about to be said and already have the answer (interrupting). Listen empathetically – seek to understand the person. Don’t just listen to what is being said, seek to understand their perspective and what is behind their words. Listen for what is not being said. Slow down, be patient, talk less and listen more, repeat back what was said to ensure you don’t overlook anything. Seek to understand before being understood. Listen in order to build relationship and to model the character of Jesus. Finally, before you respond, remember, as a Christian, you are never speaking for yourself but rather for the Lord. Better to say nothing than to misrepresent the LORD.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 18 February 2023: Pray Psalm 19 today. Pray God will give you a heart for the lost and wayward like Nehemiah had for his people, and pray that God will give you the courage to take personal action to spread the Gospel.