9:26 “Nonetheless they grew disobedient and rebelled against you; they disregarded your law.33 They killed your prophets who had solemnly admonished them in order to cause them to return to you. They committed atrocious blasphemies. 9:27 Therefore you delivered them into the hand of their adversaries, who oppressed them. But in the time of their distress they called to you, and you heard from heaven. In your abundant compassion you provided them with deliverers to rescue them from34 their adversaries.

9:28 “Then, when they were at rest again, they went back to doing evil before you. Then you abandoned them to35 their enemies, and they gained dominion over them. When they again cried out to you, in your compassion you heard from heaven and rescued them time and again. 9:29 And you solemnly admonished them in order to return them to your law, but they behaved presumptuously and did not obey your commandments. They sinned against your ordinances – those by which an individual, if he obeys them,36 will live. They boldly turned from you;37 they rebelled38 and did not obey. 9:30 You prolonged your kindness39 with them for many years, and you solemnly admonished them by your Spirit through your prophets. Still they paid no attention,40 so you delivered them into the hands of the neighboring peoples.41 9:31 However, due to your abundant mercy you did not do away with them altogether; you did not abandon them. For you are a merciful and compassionate God.

We all have a history.  Good, bad or indifferent, we all have a history.  For some of us this is a history of a family who has followed the Lord God for generations.  For others this is a history of a family that has largely followed God, but we were/are the one who turned their back on God.  For others it is a history that shows us as the first Christ-follower.  We have an opportunity to really change the ongoing future of our family for good.  We all have a history.

In the case of the Jewish nation, they had a history of following God and then rebelling against God.  Times would get tough and they would come back to God, but eventually they rebelled again.  Truthfully, many of our histories are also very similar to this.

A few days ago, I was talking with a few ladies about generational curses.  These are the curses that are passed down through the generations.  In our modernistic Christianity we tend to ignore these, but I don’t’ think we should do that.  These are not some hyper-spiritual curses.  In reality they are the truth that the sins of the father are passed down generation to generation.  Just think how much more likely you are to become an alcoholic if one or both of your parents are alcoholics.  If you live in a family that does drugs, you will likely do them also.    Abused children are more likely to abuse their own children.  These are the sins we pass down, the curses we pass down.  We all have a history, but we must let God be the ruler of our future.

Heavenly Father,

We live in an evil world full of sin and deviant behavior.  Forgive us.  Lord people follow in the footsteps of those who came before us.  Help us to stop these cycles of evil.  Heavenly Father, I love you and ask that you make us new everyday so these curses do not have a hold on our lives.  I love you Lord.  Amen.

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4:1 (3:33)1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall he became angry and was quite upset. He derided the Jews, 4:2 and in the presence of his colleagues2 and the army of Samaria3 he said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they be left to themselves?4 Will they again offer sacrifice? Will they finish this in a day? Can they bring these burnt stones to life again from piles of dust?”

4:3 Then Tobiah the Ammonite, who was close by, said, “If even a fox were to climb up on what they are building, it would break down their wall of stones!”

4:4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised! Return their reproach on their own head! Reduce them to plunder in a land of exile! 4:5 Do not cover their iniquity, and do not wipe out their sin from before them. For they have bitterly offended5 the builders!6

4:6 So we rebuilt the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height.7 The people were enthusiastic in their work.8

4:7 (4:1)9 When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the people of Ashdod heard that the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem10 had moved ahead and that the breaches had begun to be closed, they were very angry. 4:8 All of them conspired together to move with armed forces11 against Jerusalem and to create a disturbance in it. 4:9 So we prayed to our God and stationed a guard to protect against them12 both day and night. 4:10 Then those in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers13 has failed! The debris is so great that we are unable to rebuild the wall.”

4:11 Our adversaries also boasted,14 “Before they are aware or anticipate15 anything, we will come in among them and kill them, and we will bring this work to a halt!”

4:12 So it happened that the Jews who were living near them came and warned us repeatedly16 about all the schemes17 they were plotting18 against us. – Nehemiah 4:1-12

Anyone who has sought to do anything for God has experienced opposition.  Sometimes that resistance comes from those around us like it did in Nehemiah.  Even those who are closest to us tell us we should do something else, take less risk or that we are not really hearing from God.  Other times we receive more direct opposition from Satan himself.  We get feelings of depression, hopelessness and uselessness.  We may actually want to quit because it is just too hard or it is not working.

The truth is we are bound to have one or both of these things happen to us when we are on mission with God.  We must know that when these happen it is okay because we are working with God.  This is something I cannot forget.

Heavenly Father,

I don’t always understand why road blocks are in my way and things don’t seem to work like I want them to work.  I know that you are in control and that I must trust you.  Help me to know you and love you.  Amen.

1:11 These are the words of Nehemiah2 son of Hacaliah:

It so happened that in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year,3 I was in Susa4 the citadel. 1:2 Hanani, who was one of my relatives,5 along with some of the men from Judah, came to me,6 and I asked them about the Jews who had escaped and had survived the exile, and about Jerusalem.7

1:3 They said to me, “The remnant that remains from the exile there in the province are experiencing considerable8 adversity and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem lies breached, and its gates have been burned down!”9

1:4 When I heard these things I sat down abruptly,10 crying and mourning for several days. I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 1:5 Then I said, “Please, O LORD God of heaven, great and awesome God, who keeps his loving covenant11 with those who love him and obey12 his commandments, 1:6 may your ear be attentive and your eyes be open to hear the prayer of your servant that I am praying to you today throughout both day and night on behalf of your servants the Israelites. I am confessing the sins of the Israelites that we have committed13 against you – both I myself and my family14 have sinned. 1:7 We have behaved corruptly against you, not obeying the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments that you commanded your servant Moses. 1:8 Please recall the word you commanded your servant Moses: ‘If you act unfaithfully, I will scatter you among the nations.15 1:9 But if you repent16 and obey17 my commandments and do them, then even if your dispersed people are in the most remote location,18 I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen for my name to reside.’ – Nehemiah 1:1-9

When we begin to read the book of Nehemiah the very first thing that we see is prayer.  Nehemiah was presented with a problem.  Instead of hunkering down and making plans, railing against the injustice or simply going on with his life because “there was nothing he could do,” he prayed.  He began with the most powerful option he had in his spiritual arsenal.  What is even more impressive/interesting is that from there he did have a plan, but it was not one he toiled over for hours.  Instead, Nehemiah had a plan that came from the mouth of God.

As I look at this story, I cannot help but think about how often I fail to take the first step to prayer.  I tend to make a plan and then make it happen.  Once in a while, I will throw in some prayer for good measure.  However, prayer should be the foundation of your plan, not just one of the ingredients.

Heavenly Father,

I ask you to help me to learn to pray to you with fervency.  I ask you to remind me of first things first – prayer.  I ask you to lead me into your way of planning and preparing.  I love you Lord.  Amen.

Ezra 8-10

9:1 Now when these things had been completed, the leaders approached me and said, “The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the local residents1 who practice detestable things similar to those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 9:2 Indeed, they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race2 has become intermingled with the local residents. Worse still, the leaders and the officials have been at the forefront of all of this!”

9:3 When I heard this report, I tore my tunic and my robe and ripped out some of the hair from my head and beard. Then I sat down, quite devastated. 9:4 Everyone who held the words of the God of Israel in awe3 gathered around me because of the unfaithful acts of the people of the exile.4 Devastated, I continued to sit there until the evening offering. – Ezra 9:1-4

These words in Ezra make me think about our tendencies in choosing a mate.  How often do we chose someone for some very good reasons, but ignore their spiritual condition.  The Israelites were God’s people (just like we are God’s people.)  They needed to have spouses and families that were dedicated to the one true God.  Yet, they were marrying women from nations that worshipped pagan idols.  This may have been the very first form of missionary dating, but it did not work back then and it will not work today.  It is vitally important that our closest relationships be ones that build up our faith and our commitment to God.  We are definitely called by God to have relationships with those who do not know him.  This way we can be salt and light in our world, but these relationships should not be our closest friends or our spouse.

Heavenly Father,

I pray that each of those who call on your name would surround themselves with Godly relationships.  I pray that they would continue to be salt and light to those who do not know you.  I pray that their closest relationships would undergird them and lift them up as they work to expand your kingdom.  I love you Lord.  Amen.

Opposition – Ezra 4-7

“To King Artaxerxes,31 from your servants in32 Trans-Euphrates: 4:12 Now33 let the king be aware that the Jews who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and odious city.34 They are completing its walls and repairing its foundations. 4:13 Let the king also be aware that if this city is built and its walls are completed, no more tax, custom, or toll will be paid, and the royal treasury35 will suffer loss. 4:14 In light of the fact that we are loyal to the king,36 and since it does not seem appropriate to us that the king should sustain damage,37 we are sending the king this information38 4:15 so that he may initiate a search of the records39 of his predecessors40 and discover in those records41 that this city is rebellious42 and injurious to both kings and provinces, producing internal revolts43 from long ago.44 It is for this very reason that this city was destroyed. 4:16 We therefore are informing the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, you will not retain control45 of this portion of Trans-Euphrates.” – Ezra 4:11-16

I have to admit that I am not a person who buys into this idea that Satan opposes Christians at every turn.  In fact, I think he leaves us alone most of the time because we are not really doing much of anything for the Kingdom of God.   He really has not reason to oppose us.  An argument can be made that when we are not actively pursuing Kingdom expansion, we are helping Satan.  Every lethargic Christian just gives people one more reason to ignore our faith.  However, then there are those who are on mission with God.

Just like the Israelites in the above verses, we will find opposition when we are on mission with God.  Opposition will come from those who don’t like us and those who “love” us.  We or people close to us will become sick.  Discouragement will set in as things do not go our way.  Times will not be easy, but this is just one more indication that we are doing something significant – that we are on mission with God.  I write these words as an encouragement to myself.  For the first time in years I have no doubt that I am completely in God’s will and there is opposition – but God is on my side.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your wonderful mercy and grace.  Thank you for your calling.  Thank you for letting us be a part of your mission on earth.  Lord, help me to remain focused on you and your mission.  Help me to serve you with every ounce of my being.  I love you Lord.  Amen.

Using Us – Ezra 1-3

1:11 In the first2 year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message3 spoken through4 Jeremiah,5 the Lord stirred the mind6 of King Cyrus of Persia. He disseminated7 a proclamation8 throughout his entire kingdom, announcing in a written edict9 the following:10

1:2 “Thus says King Cyrus of Persia:

“‘The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has instructed me to build a temple11 for him in Jerusalem,12 which is in Judah. 1:3 Anyone from13 his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the Lord God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 1:4 Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors14 with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.’” – Ezra 1:1-4

We serve a great and might God. I am constantly amazed how God used each of those who call on his name. Then I am even more amazed that God uses those who do not call on his name. King Cyrus of Persia could not be called a follower of Yahweh. He likley worshiped a pantheon of gods and goddesses. Yet, even he utters the worlds, “The Lord God in heaven.” These words clearly show that there is only one God in heaven. Cyrus goes on to talk about how may each person god be with them and how the god he is discussing is in Jerusalem. Cyrus may not have really understood that this god in Jerusalem was actually the one and only God, but God still used him to re-establish his people in the land.

As Christ-followers we really need to take this to heart. It show us that God can and will use each of us. If he is using those who do not know him, then we know he will use us. It also reminds us that we should not always judge the action negatively of those who do not know God. God used Cyrus, he used a donkey, and he could still be using those who do not know him today.

Heavenly Father,

I thank you for using your people for your service. I thank you for using those who do not yet know you to accomplish your will. I thank you for your wonderful plan that you allow us to be part of. I love you Lord. Amen.

34:14 When they took out the silver that had been brought to the Lord’s temple, Hilkiah the priest found the law scroll the Lord had given to Moses. 34:15 Hilkiah informed Shaphan the scribe, “I found the law scroll in the Lord’s temple.” Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan. 34:16 Shaphan brought the scroll to the king and reported,17 “Your servants are doing everything assigned to them. 34:17 They melted down the silver in the Lord’s temple18 and handed it over to the supervisors of the construction foremen.” 34:18 Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a scroll.” Shaphan read it out loud before the king. 34:19 When the king heard the words of the law scroll, he tore his clothes. 34:20 The king ordered Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah,19 Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant, 34:21 “Go, seek an oracle from20 the Lord for me and those who remain in Israel and Judah. Find out about21 the words of this scroll that has been discovered. For the Lord’s fury has been ignited against us,22 because our ancestors23 have not obeyed the word of the Lord by doing all that this scroll instructs!”24

With the last few Kings of Judah, we see a cycle of boom and bust – obedience to God and rebellion against God. Each Kings seems to directly reject the leadership of the previous King (thier father) when it came to religious matters. The Kings who rebelled against God failed the nation of Judah and it became weak. The Kings who were obedient to God help Judah to be success and the nation prospered. This distinction is made so clear in scripture, yet king after king still rejected this truth. We need to learn from the example of all of these kings.

We can be zealous for God and follow him completely leading us to the success that God has planned for us. Our other choice is to rebel against God and fail. We will fail to live us to God’s dream for our lives. We will fail to live up to our potential. We will fail to live a life that truly makes a God given difference. I often wonder what the lives of people like Gandhi, Hitler, Bill Clinton and many others would have been like if they had been following the one true God. When you consider those three people, you see one who lead a exemplary life, one who lead a villainous life and one who has (and continues) to lead a mediocre life. Yet, they all had amazing potential. Gandhi could have been greater. Bill Clinton could have made a real and lasting difference in this world and who know the great works the genius (unfortunately evil) of Hitler could have fostered. We may never know the answer to these questions, but we do have the ability to follow zealously after God and reach the potential God has for us.

Heavenly Father,

I know you have a plan for us. This plan includes a future of love, joy and service. It is not a promise of an easy life, but it is a promise of a life on mission with you. I thank you for loving each of us so much that you would truly create a great and precious plan for each of us. Lord, help me to serve you and be part of your mission on earth. I love you Lord. Amen.

32:1 After these faithful deeds were accomplished, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah. He besieged the fortified cities, intending to seize them.1 32:2 When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had invaded and intended to attack Jerusalem,2 32:3 he consulted with his advisers and military officers about stopping up the springs3 outside the city, and they supported him. 32:4 A large number of people gathered together and stopped up all the springs and the stream that flowed through the district.4 They reasoned,5 “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find plenty of water?” 32:5 Hezekiah6 energetically rebuilt7 every broken wall. He erected towers and an outer wall,8 and fortified the terrace of the City of David.9 He made many weapons and shields.

32:6 He appointed military officers over the army10 and assembled them in the square at the city gate. He encouraged them,11 saying, 32:7 “Be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic12 because of the king of Assyria and this huge army that is with him! We have with us one who is stronger than those who are with him.13 32:8 He has with him mere human strength,14 but the Lord our God is with us to help us and fight our battles!” The army15 was encouraged by the words of King Hezekiah of Judah.

Just a few days ago, I was talking with a lady who is serving a six month internship at the new Kansas City Teen Challenge Girls Center.  She is a woman who has made some radical changes in her own life and now seeks to serve God in youth focused ministry.  She has truly seen God work.  We were talking about a $100,000 grant application that we put in with a local Christian foundation.  I made a comment that we were more likely to get $50,000 which would still be great.  She looked at me and commented that we need to believe God for the whole thing.

After twelve years in fundraising, I have learned how to raise money, read giving situations and even predict results at some level.  It seems I have forgotten one very important thing – the power of the Holy Spirit.  Many years in secular fundraising have made me so used to the art and science of fundraising that I have forgotten the Spirit.

King Hezekiah knew about faith.  A much larger army came against him.  He knew only the Lord God Almighty could defeat this army.  He had the faith to believe it was going to happen and because he was following God, it did.  I realize this is the kind of faith that I need.

Heavenly Father,

It is easy to begin to rely on your knowledge, experience and skills.  However, I know that the power of your Holy Spirit transcends all of these.  I thank you for your sovereign power to work things out as you choose.  I thank you for caring about our situation in Kansas City.  Lord, I ask for more faith.  I love you Lord.  Amen.

30:1 Hezekiah sent messages throughout Israel and Judah; he even wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, summoning them to come to the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem1 and observe a Passover celebration for the Lord God of Israel. 30:2 The king, his officials, and the entire assembly in Jerusalem decided to observe the Passover in the second month. 30:3 They were unable to observe it at the regular2 time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem. 30:4 The proposal seemed appropriate to3 the king and the entire assembly. 30:5 So they sent an edict4 throughout Israel from Beer Sheba to Dan, summoning the people5 to come and observe a Passover for the Lord God of Israel in Jerusalem, for they had not observed it on a nationwide scale as prescribed in the law.6 30:6 Messengers7 delivered the letters from the king and his officials throughout Israel and Judah.

This royal edict read:8 “O Israelites, return to the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so he may return9 to you who have been spared from the kings of Assyria.10 30:7 Don’t be like your fathers and brothers who were unfaithful to the Lord God of their ancestors,11 provoking him to destroy them,12 as you can see. 30:8 Now, don’t be stubborn13 like your fathers! Submit14 to the Lord and come to his sanctuary which he has permanently consecrated. Serve the Lord your God so that he might relent from his raging anger.15 30:9 For if you return to the Lord, your brothers and sons will be shown mercy by their captors and return to this land. The Lord your God is merciful and compassionate; he will not reject you16 if you return to him.”

King Hezekiah of Judah could have easily lead his nation into repentance to God without including those from the nation of Israel.  However, Hezekiah knew that the brotherhood that was created by their mutual worship of the one true God was more important than their nationalistic tendencies.  It would have been easy for him to only invite his own countrymen, but he knew that God wanted all of his people to come back to him in real worship.

Often, Christians let nationalism and other forms of pride get in our way of doing God’s will.  Yet, our faith call us to a much higher standard.  We are to unite together to reach the whole world for Jesus Christ.  We cannot let petty squabbles about politics get in the way of giving the whole world the Gospel truth.  The catholics and protestants in Ireland must stop killing each other and start loving the world.  The true Christians in the United States must put aside petty theological differences and start to doing the Gospel, instead of arguing about the inconsequential.  We have been called to a higher standard and we have failed miserably to meet it.

Heavenly Father,

Your have given us a standard of unity and action.  Forgive us for our tendency to strife and complacency.  You have given us truth and life.  Forgive us for our triviality and mundane living.  Lord, help each of us who truly call on your name to learn to serve you with everything we are or ever will be.  I love you Lord.  Amen.

24:1 Joash was seven years old when he began to reign. He reigned for forty years in Jerusalem.1 His mother was Zibiah, who was from Beer Sheba. 24:2 Joash did what the Lord approved2 throughout the lifetime3 of Jehoiada the priest. 24:3 Jehoiada chose two wives for him who gave him sons and daughters. – 2 Chronicles 24:1-3

24:17 After Jehoiada died, the officials of Judah visited the king and declared their loyalty to him.16 The king listened to their advice.17 24:18 They abandoned the temple of the Lord God of their ancestors,18 and worshiped19 the Asherah poles and idols. Because of this sinful activity, God was angry with Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 24:17-18

25:1 Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for twenty-nine years in Jerusalem.1 His mother was Jehoaddan, who was from Jerusalem. 25:2 He did what the Lord approved,2 but not with wholehearted devotion.3 – 2 Chronicles 25:1-2

25:14 When Amaziah returned from defeating the Edomites, he brought back the gods of the people32 of Seir and made them his personal gods.33 He bowed down before them and offered them sacrifices. 25:15 The Lord was angry at Amaziah and sent a prophet to him, who said, “Why are you following34 these gods35 that could not deliver their own people from your power?”36 25:16 While he was speaking, Amaziah37 said to him, “Did we appoint you to be a royal counselor? Stop prophesying or else you will be killed!”3 – 2 Chronicles 25:14-16

26:3 Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for fifty-two years in Jerusalem.5 His mother’s name was Jecholiah, who was from Jerusalem. 26:4 He did what the Lord approved, just as his father Amaziah had done.6 26:5 He followed7 God during the lifetime of8 Zechariah, who taught him how to honor God. As long as he followed9 the Lord, God caused him to succeed.10 – 2 Chronicles 26:3-5

26:16 But once he became powerful, his pride destroyed him.21 He disobeyed22 the Lord his God. He entered the Lord’s temple to offer incense on the incense altar. 26:17 Azariah the priest and eighty other brave priests of the Lord followed him in. 26:18 They confronted23 King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not proper for you, Uzziah, to offer incense to the Lord. That is the responsibility of the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who are consecrated to offer incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have disobeyed24 and the Lord God will not honor you!” – 2 Chronicles 26:16-18

Joash, Amaziah and Uzziah all started out strong (admittedly Amaziah was only half-hearted from the beginning.) They did what was right in God’s eyes. Joash repaired the temple and made sure the sacrifices were being offered properly. Amaziah and Uzziah followed God’s lead by keeping the people worshiping God and only fighting other nations when God approved. Yet, none of them finished strong. None of them were able to do what was right throughout their lifetime. In fact, in each case when a Godly adviser/priest died their loyalty to God died. This strongly illustrates the point that our loyalty to God must come from within or it will not stand the test of time. Joash, Amaziah and Uzziah started strong because of Godly advisers but could not finish strong because they never took the advise to heart and made it their own.

Heavenly Father,

I thank you for Godly advisers and teachers in our lives. I thank you for loving us so much that you would teach us right from wrong and warn us to place these teaching in our own heart. Help me Lord to learn from those you have placed in my life and to place these truths in my own heart. I love you Lord. Amen.

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