Wednesday, September 29, 2010

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Give Me Strength

Our study this week has been in the book of Nehemiah. God had given Nehemiah the task of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem that was destroyed by the Babylonians. In Chapter 4, beginning in verse 1, there were a couple of people who didn't like the Jews. One of the men, Sanballat became angry when he heard what they were doing. He ridiculed them and asked, "What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from these heaps of rubble- burned as they are?" Then Tobiah the Ammonite said "What they are building - if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!" How often do you hear those same kinds of discouraging questions about what God has called you to do? Most of the time, those questions don't come from people, but from the thoughts that are the arrows from the Devil. (See Photo: Excavated portion of the wall in Jerusalem from the first Temple period from 1000-586 B.C.)

Nehemiah was constantly being attacked by his enemies with words of doubt. Nehemiah's enemies had all plotted to fight against them and stir up trouble. Then the people of Judah became discouraged and began to doubt that they could rebuild the wall. They were afraid of being attacked. In verse 9, Nehemiah prayed to God and posted guards day and night to meet this threat. He stationed people everywhere with swords, spears and bows to protect every person and family. Nehemiah trusted that God would fight for each person.
In verses 15-18 says, "When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work. 16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me." Verse 23 says "Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water."

When I read the words "sword and weapon", I immediately thought of the Spiritual armor. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. (Ephesians 6:17) Even the word "sword" has the word "word" in it as a reminder. I suppose we should call it the sWord of the Spirit. If we can get the Word of God into our hearts so that, like those men, we have it by our side at all times. Ready to be spoken at the moment of a surprise attack!

In chapter 6 verse 2 it says that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab were scheming to harm Nehemiah. Ephesians 6:11 tells us to take our stand against the Devil's schemes. One of the dictionary definitions is "an underhand plot." That is what these men were trying to do to discourage Nehemiah from completing the task he'd been given. Our enemy, the Devil is always scheming against us.

Nehemiah didn't fall prey to those "lions" who were trying to devour him. Instead he replied to them in verses 8 & 9 by saying "Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head." They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, 'Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.' " Instead Nehemiah spoke back by praying "Now strengthen my hands." He didn't ask God to make them go away, or to kill them, he asked God for strength.

I wonder how our circumstances would turn out if we asked God to give us strength instead of making it go away. I'm guilty of praying that. Our human nature doesn't like to suffer or deal with difficult things so we usually pray, God heal me, provide for me, or make that difficult person go away. I wonder what would happen if we prayed, "Father give me strength to endure this sickness, give me wisdom in this financial bind or show me how to lead that difficult person to You."

At the end of chapter 6, the wall is finally completed. It took them fifty-two days to get the job done. Nehemiah realized that his enemies had even sent prophets to discourage him. Sometimes our own brothers and sisters in the Lord are used by the enemy to attack us. That is why it is important to know what God is saying to you personally.

On the other hand, notice that Nehemiah split the people in half. Half of them were workers and the other half were warriors. Some to do the job and the others to keep watch. We who are followers of Jesus need to watch out for each other. If we are armed with the Word then when our brothers and sisters in Christ become discouraged, we can help them press through and vice versa. In the end the job was done and I'm sure Nehemiah was relieved yet even more confident in God's Word. Verse 16 says, "When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God."

Ask yourself these questions. How is Satan discouraging you from the promises of God? Do you recognize his schemes yet? How are you fighting back? Are you fighting out of fear or faith? Lastly, are you possibly being used like those prophets to speak discouragement to other brothers and sisters in the Lord? Or are you one who is on "watch"? The Bible is clear about building one another up. I would take some time to write down some areas that you believe the enemy is scheming against you and thwart his effort. Conquering the battle is exposing the enemy's plan. God's plan is for us to be victorious. All we have to do is say, "God give me strength to endure" and He will!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Here Kitty, Kitty

Today's devotional is coming from my "Narrated Chronological Bible." If you are following along in the chronological prayer and reading guide, this past week we've been reading Zechariah, Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah. All of these books including the passage I am going to share today from Daniel, were all going on about the same time.

The devotions for today are from the book of Daniel, chapter 6. It is a familiar story of which most of us grew up hearing, Daniel and the lions den. As I was reading today, the Holy Spirit put a new twist on it for me. I believe that is why the Bible is a life giving book. You can always find something new in it.

The story begins with some coworkers who do not like Daniel. Daniel is now well into his life and probably close to retirement. The current king over Babylon is Darius the Mede, who only reigned for a few years himself. Darius was fond of Daniel. Daniel had a high position in the government and had exceptional qualities, so much so that Darius wanted Daniel to oversee all of the satraps and administrators. Obviously these men were jealous of Daniel's favor and decided to come up with a plan to do him in. Much like Haman did with Mordecai and all the Jews in the book of Esther. The satraps and administrators went to King Darius with this plan to enforce a decree that anyone who prays to any god or man instead of King Darius would be thrown into the lions den. They knew how committed Daniel was to his God so they thought this was a sure way to get rid of him. Of course King Darius agreed with them, not realizing he was putting his favorite man in jeopardy.

Daniel in his humility and obedience did not submit to the decree and sure enough, the satraps and administrators plans succeeded. Immediately they ran to King Darius to tell him that Daniel did not obey the decree so he had to be thrown in to the den with the lions. King Darius was troubled by this, but nonetheless, had to follow through on the punishment.

Daniel 6:16-19 reads, "
So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.”

17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night.

19 Very early the next morning, the king got up and hurried out to the lions’ den. 20 When he got there, he called out in anguish, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?” (NLT)

Daniel replied in verse 22 & 23, “Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.” 23 The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den. Not a scratch was found on him, for he had trusted in his God." (NLT)

Everything the satraps and administrators had planned now backfired. Not only was Daniel still alive, but it was proof that the God Daniel served was the living God. Instead, King Darius ordered them to be thrown into the lions den. Not only were the accusers punished, but their wives and children as well.

As I read this, I thought about how Daniel must have been feeling sitting in that pitch black cave. Unable to see anything, especially unable to see his predator. Daniel had spent his whole life living in humility and prayer that God protected him against the instinct of the animal that He had created.

The twist that I found this time in reading the story was not about the ferocious lions, but instead the ferocious men that came against Daniel. The men were more lion-like than even the lions. Their whole focus was to devour Daniel.

This brought me to this thought that I want to share with you today. Unlike Daniel, we may not have experienced the physical act of being in a dark cave with a pack of lions. But there are many times in our lives, we step out into a dark world where, in this case Satan is like Daniel's accusers and men are like the lions whose whole goal is to devour you.

This brought to mind 1 Peter 5, which I believe should be included with this chapter of Daniel. It says, "So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. 7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9 Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sistersb]"> all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are." (1 Peter 5:6-9, NLT)

What is important about this passage is that the "lower" we put ourselves, the "higher" God lifts us up out of the pit. It doesn't tell us to live ignorant or oblivious to the "lions" around us, but in verse 8 it says "stay alert" with an exclamation point for emphasis. We need to be on "watch" all the time. Even when it's pitch black and you can't see a thing, let your eyes of faith be your infrared light.

Daniel was a man who lived his life in complete obedience to the Lord. Thinking back on that night that Daniel spent in the den with the lions, I wonder if Daniel was so confident that his God would protect him from those lions that he was in there saying, "Here kitty, kitty." Instead, maybe the lions were afraid of him. Let God deal with the accuser and you say to those lions, "here kitty, kitty, my God will rescue me."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Why Me Lord?

This past week, we have been reading through the book of Job. Never in my life have I, to some degree, related to Job. Not necessarily because of his loss or illness, but rather the question "why me Lord?" I'm sure most of us can relate to that question. Especially when you are trying to do what the Lord has asked of you. I've come to the conclusion as a follower of Jesus that God's will sometimes conflicts with our will. We might be doing what God has asked of us, but the will of our flesh doesn't like it. I heard myself say the other day that living in God's will is sometimes hard. I've realized it's hard because my own will gets in the way.

In the last ten years, I've noticed that the months of August and September seem to be the hardest months for me. Seasonally, they are the hottest months of the year. It also seems to be the time God turns up the heat in my refining process.

Something in me this time wanted to forfeit reading this book this time. I don't know if it is too depressing or if it is because so many of us are currently facing similar circumstances, that I would rather read a book of the Bible that is more uplifting. It is even interesting that this book, which was written long before the others is nestled in between the books of Esther and the Psalms. I wonder if God placed it there because He knew that eventually a reading plan would be set up. In all of God's wisdom, He knew August/September would be the last months of the summer season, usually the hottest months of the year which also means fall is coming, a season of letting go. It is interesting that this man, Job who lived long before the nation of Israel, believed in God and even all those thousands of years ago, still struggled with the same issues, sufferings and thoughts as we do today.

This past month has been a struggle for several people that I know. Even recently I was faced with a reality that has brought me to a place of fearfulness. (I have to say I am trying to stay faithfilled) One of the most well known scriptures from the book of Job is from chapter 3 verse 25 "What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me." I believe more than ever this is true in our lives. Just the other day, I was glancing back at 16 years worth of prayer journals. In reading those journals a majority of my most difficult times have been in August, yet it seems that most of the dreams that I have had from the Lord were in the month of August. Job 33:14-18 says, "For God does speak - now one way, now another- though man may not perceive it. 15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, 16 he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, 17 to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, 18 to preserve his soul from the pit, his life perishing by the sword." Its true. Most of my dreams from the Lord seem like warnings.

Fear seems to be one of the main schemes used by the devil to paralyze his victims. Job lost everything including his health. He was a very wealthy man with a big family. Then Satan took what he feared and used it against him. What is even more interesting is that God chose Job to be the one Satan could bring torment to. That would seem disturbing. But that is only because God "knew" Job and where his heart was, that he was a man who revered the Lord and was truly good. God did not fear that Job would turn away. Think about that for a minute, God is not afraid of anyone or anything. Even after Job's life seemed to fall apart and his friends gave him a hard time, Job says in chapter 17:9 "Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger." That was what Nehemiah asked for in his days of distress, strength. Only the strength that comes from the Lord can carry us through suffering. Job in his distress, hung on for dear life.

Thankfully, the book of Job ends on a good note. Chapter 42 is all about Job being restored everything, in a double portion. Job 42:2 says "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted." So true. God can do all things and even when enemy plots out his scheme to bring you down, God's plan always prevails. This past week Pastor Jeff put a new twist on "nothing is impossible with God." No thing is impossible for Him. Even when it seems like "nothing" is happening, it is impossible for God to do nothing about it. God is always working.

The book of Job is such a picture of the average Christians life. We live our lives doing what we know is right and then because we are in the world, we are subject to the side effects of sin. Those being sickness, financial ruin do to world economy and being wronged. We can to nothing about any of these things that are out of our control. Most of the time, it just happens. But it is all in our attitude and how we choose to walk it out. By faith or by fear. By faith keeping focused that Jesus is leading us, even in the unknown areas. Or by fear, allowing us to be paralyzed by or circumstances and not moving at all. I believe our double portion isn't going to be found here on earth as Job's was. Our double portion will be when we get to meet Jesus face to face. As the old hymn "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" sings, "...and the things of earth will grow strangely dim..." It won't even matter when we get there what happened here. That is when we will finally be in perfect health, no more financial worries and no more grief, pain or fear! It's all about enduring, just like Job did and hanging in there, even when it seems to be the end, there's always a happy ending when Jesus is involved.