Hope for the Hopeless (Aug 10)

hope4hopeless

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

August 10

Hope for the Hopeless

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 85:8-13 | Ezra 10:1-44 | 1 Corinthians 6:1-20 | Proverbs 21:3

Today’s Scripture Focus: Ezra 10

“We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel” (Ezra 10:2 NIV).

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” “There is always hope.” How do these two expressions fit together? Somehow Ezra’s story twists and turns through those two clichés. Maybe the hybrid expression would be: “It’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks, but there is always hope.”

The “old dogs” of Judah are returning to their old ways. God had been faithful to them, yet they once again proved to be hopelessly faithless. God had warned them about the effects of marrying the Canaanite women. He had forbidden it and already they had disobeyed big time (I sometimes wonder about some of the lists in the Bible, but I can understand the reason for the list in this passage—it shows the depth of compromise). 

By the way, occasionally I hear someone use this as a proof text against “inter-racial marriage”—not the point. The Canaanite people were of the same basic racial background as the people of Judah. The problem is that they had a reputation for sin and idolatry. God knew that intermarriage with Godless people like that would lead to further drifting and compromise. Be careful not to allow your prejudices to skew your interpretation of scripture.The point is: choose a Godly spouse!

That God’s chosen people would so quickly fall back into deliberate disobedience and sin brought Ezra to his knees. Rebuilding the temple was important, but they also needed to rebuild their lives in accordance with God’s design. He saw the sin of his people, and knew that they needed repentance and revival. So he prayed intensely until he got the breakthrough. 

I love the response of Shecaniah that signals the beginning of the breakthrough: “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel.” You see, there is always hope, even for “old dogs to learn new tricks.”

Paul in 1 Corinthians gives us a a lot of hope in regards to ability to change, despite our past failings. After describing their past lifestyles of sin, he says, “and that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. See, there is hope for you after all (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Despite our failures, our attempts to distance ourselves from God, our deliberate disobedience, our drifting from the principles of his word, God is still faithful and forgiving.  He is a God of grace and mercy. He is a God of hope (Rom. 15:13). He doesn’t give up on his people—even the ones who seem hopeless. People like you and me.

God of Hope, thank you for your faithful and steadfast love. Thanks for your patience with your people. Help me to find my hope in you today and keep walking on the path you have laid out for me. Amen.

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Seeking the Blessing of God (Aug 9)

seekingtheblessing

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

August 9

Seeking the Blessing of God

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 85:1-7 | Ezra 8:21 – 9:15 | 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 | Proverbs 21:1-2

Today’s Scripture Focus: Ezra 8:21 – 9:15

“‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.” (Ezra 8:22-23 NIV)

Yesterday we saw that the blessing of God was upon Ezra because he studied and obeyed the word of God. He was devoted to the word of the Lord and it brought the blessing (the hand) of God. 

Today we see that the blessing of God (his gracious hand) comes through prayer—intense prayer (such as fasting and prayer). God was showing his blessing in many ways, but there was continued need for the blessing of God. So Ezra and the people began to fast and pray for more of his blessing.

When Ezra saw the compromise of the people, it brought him to his knees. When Ezra saw the incredible job ahead of him—rebuilding the temple—it brought him to his knees. They needed “some reviving to set up the house of God, to repair its ruins…” (9:10 ESV). God had been faithful to bless, but the continued hand of the Lord was needed.

The Psalmist echoes the cry for the blessing of God: “Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6).

We all stand in need of the hand of the Lord (his blessing) each and every day. We just can’t do it alone. Therefore we go to him daily in prayer seeking his blessing as we pray, and as we hear and obey his word.

Open up your heart to him today. Share your concerns, your frustrations and your needs; look for the gracious hand of the Lord to bless you.

Father, I open my heart to you, freely sharing my concerns and needs. I look to you for your provision. I look to you today, that your gracious hand would be upon me. Oh that I might walk in your blessing today. Amen.

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The Hand of the Lord (Aug 8)

handoflord

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

August 8

The Hand of the Lord

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 84:9-12 | Ezra 7:1 – 8:20 | 1 Corinthians 4:1-21 | Proverbs 20: 28-30

Today’s Scripture Focus: Ezra 7:1 – 8:20

This Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. (Ezra 7:6 NIV)  

In yesterday’s reading we saw that the “eye of God” was upon his people. He was watching over them–he knew their problems and was acting on their behalf. It is a comforting truth that we all need to hear.

This passage repeatedly mentions the “hand of the Lord.” God blessed Ezra in extraordinary ways because “the hand of the Lord” was “on him.” The hand of the Lord being upon you is his blessing. Just as in the Old Testament, where we see fathers placing their hands on their children to bless them, and just as Jesus placed his hands on children to bless them, so the Heavenly Father himself places his hand upon Ezra and extraordinary blessings followed.

Blessings like God moving on the heart of pagan Persian King to do everything he could to see that the temple would be built: “The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.” Imagine that! The king granted him everything he asked for. Amazing! He arrived in Jerusalem safely “because the gracious hand of the Lord was with him” (9).

The hand of the Lord also gave Ezra courage to lead the people courageously.  He knew that God was with him blessing his efforts. 

Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem,  and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me (Ezra 7:27-28).

Why was the hand of the Lord on Ezra?  The text makes it clear:

“The gracious hand of his God was on him. [10] For 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 7:9-10 (NIV) 

God’s blessing (his hand) was on him because he was devoted to studying and observing God’s word, and teaching it to others. He was clearly a man devoted to the Lord and his word, and therefore, the hand of the Lord was upon him.

Look and pray for the hand of the Lord to be upon you as you devote yourself to studying the word and putting it into practice–and as you share it with others.

Apart from him we can do nothing, but with the hand of blessing upon his we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

Father, help me to delight in your word. May I cherish it, meditate on it, memorize it, and allow it to work in and through me. As your Word penetrates my mind and heart, let me see your hand of blessing. Amen.

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The Eye of God (Aug 7)

EyesoftheLord

From Open Up Your Heart by jeff Syverson

August 7

The Eye of God

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 84:5-8 | Ezra 5:1 – 6:22 | 1 Corinthians 3:5-23 | Proverbs 20: 26-27

Today’s Scripture Focus: Ezra 5:1 – 6:22

“But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped” (Ezra 5:5 NIV).

God has been watching his people. As they have begun to turn to him, he has turned toward them; he is watching out for them.

The story of Ezra is the story of God turning his face of blessing toward his people after a time of judgment. The people had been idolatrous and rebellious under the kings of Judah and had been taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar, the wicked king of Babylon.   

Prophets like Jeremiah and Habakkuk saw it coming, and lamented and wept that the people of God could fall so low that God would remove his hand of blessing, and allow them to come under the judgment of exile in Babylon. The story of Daniel and his three brave friends takes place during this exile in Babylon.  It was a hard time for the people of Judah. But as the 70 years of exile were coming near to an end, Daniel (and presumably others) began to pray and seek God for the fulfillment of the promise that God would turn his face toward them again, and bring them back to the land of the promise.

The Kings of Babylon were eventually overthrown by the Medo-Persian empire (as God had predicted through his prophets); God was watching and he was acting on behalf of his people.  He would prove faithful to his covenant, and his promise by moving on the heart of a pagan King (isn’t he amazing?).

One of those kings, Cyrus, ordered that the walls of Jerusalem and the temple be rebuilt.  He allowed some of the people to go back to begin the job. He also sent along helpers and supplies.

Of course it didn’t take long for opposition to arise. When God is at work, the enemy does what he can to cause confusion, division and frustration. No exception here.

But once again, we see the sovereign hand of God ruling over even the hearts of evil kings. His eye was watching over Judah to protect them, to care for them, to bless them. His eye was watching to strengthen them to accomplish the task of rebuilding the temple. That is the story of Ezra: The story of God watching over his people, remembering his promises to them, seeking to bless them so they can be a blessing.

But his eye is watching you too.  He wants to strengthen you today to accomplish the tasks he has given you. He hasn’t forgotten about you.  He’s there to care, to protect, to provide and to bless.

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

Father, thank you for watching over me, protecting me, strengthening me for the tasks of the day. I give myself wholly to you today that I might be used for your glory. Amen.

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Nursery Duty (Aug 6)

Nursery

From Open Up Your Heart

August 6

Nursery Duty

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 84:1:4 | Ezra 3:1 – 4:24 | 1 Cor. 2:6 – 3:4 | Proverbs 20:24-25

Today’s Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 2:6- 3:4

“But as for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealing with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 The Message)

I love kids, but I have often been glad that my preaching and teaching schedule conflicts with the nursery schedule—because I’d be horrible in the nursery. Once they can walk and talk and are out of diapers, I’m fine. But before that I’m clueless.

Nevertheless, I’ve found that there is plenty of “Nursery Duty” in serving as a pastor. But spiritual infancy is not a matter of age—it’s a matter of maturity (the lack of it). It is quite possible to grow old in the Lord without growing up in the Lord. It is very easy for any pastor to relate to Paul’s frustration. Yet I’m challenged to realize that while he calls them to a new level of maturity, he doesn’t spank them—and he doesn’t run from nursery duty. He mothers and nurses them (spiritually speaking, obviously). We must do the same, as difficult as that may be. The “babes” are given to us to develop maturity and character—theirs and ours. We need to learn from them as much as they need to learn from us.

“But as for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealing with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way?” (The Message, 1 Cor. 3:1-3)

It’s not terribly surprising that a consumer culture produces so many spoiled spiritual babes, but it is sad. Growing up requires taking up the cross and dying to our selfish immaturity, moving beyond our comfort zone and our need to always have it our way.

Learn to walk, to eat solid food, to explore, to follow God on adventures of faith that will cause you to mature and grow. There’s so much to learn, so much to do, so much to experience, so much of life yet to be lived, so much to accomplish for Him.

“In a broad stroke of the brush, I would say, paraphrasing Thoreau, that as the hour of my particular sunset approaches, I would be appalled to discover that I had died without having lived.” (Brennan Manning, Reflections for Ragamuffins, 219)

To live life in it’s fullness requires getting out of our rut and moving on to maturity. Let’s move ahead together. Don’t get too frustrated by the fact that we walk at different paces—God teaches us patience through that. We are all at different places in the journey, and that’s OK so long as we are moving ahead together—we need to help each other out on this journey of faith. Then soon we can all join together in nursery duty to a whole bunch of new babes in Christ—and that kind of nursery duty is a joy.

Heavenly Father, keep me child-like but not childish. Help me to continue growing in maturity. Give me a push when I get stuck in a rut. Enable me to live life to the full  and one day stand before you fully mature. Amen.

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The Foolishness of Brilliance (Aug 5)

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August 5

The Foolishness of Brilliance

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 83:9-16 | Ezra 1:1 – 2:70 | 

1 Corinthians 1:18 – 2:5 |  Proverbs 20:22-23

Today’s Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 1

“I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy human wisdom and discard their most brilliant ideas” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19  NLT).

I was invited to the home of two college professors to fellowship with one of their colleagues. They all had advanced degrees in science. Often the conversation moved toward advanced topics in chemistry. I’m sure the conversation was brilliant. But to me it seemed like foolishness. It was over my head. I didn’t get it.    

Many of the greatest minds of history have found their revolutionary ideas to be rejected initially because they seemed to be foolishness. People just couldn’t understand.

Imagine trying to understand the wisdom of the most brilliant being in the universe—the creator of the universe. Is it any wonder that Paul tells us that the message of the cross is foolishness to many?

It does seem foolish that God would love us so much that he would send his Son to die for us in the most cruel, shameful way possible: a cross. That which was an instrument of death became an instrument of life to all who would believe. That which was meant for defeat revealed God’s great triumphant victory. What others had meant for evil, God used for the ultimate good.

We will never be able to completely comprehend the brilliance of God’s plan—his wisdom is beyond ours. But what we do know is that God loves foolish people like you and me and seems to delight in transforming the foolish, to frustrate the wisdom of this world.  How does he do that?  He accomplishes his plan by the foolishness of preaching the foolish message of the cross to the foolish people of the world (like you and me). Does that seem foolish to you? I think it’s brilliant!

Lord, thank you for the cross. Thank you for loving me and making a way for me to enter into eternal life. Give me your wisdom today and empower me to put your truths into practice. Amen

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Plastic Prayers Make Plastic Churchgoers (Aug 4)

plastic

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

August 4

Plastic Prayers Make Plastic Churchgoers

Today’s Scripture Readings:  Psalm 83:1-8 | 2 Chronicles 35:1 – 36:23 | 1 Corinthians 1:1-17 | Proverbs 20:20-21

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalm 83

“God, don’t shut me out; don’t give me the silent treatment, O God. Your enemies are out there whooping it up, the God-haters are living it up; They’re plotting to do your people in, conspiring to rob you of your precious ones” (Psalm 83:1-2 The Message)

Ron Mortoia, in his book Morph! tells of a conversation on the golf course with an unchurched man.  The man’s observation:

“People who go to church just aren’t real. I don’t think they’re trying to be deceptive, they just seem fake and act like their lives are better than I know they really are.”   

Ron comments: “The charge against the church used to be that it was ‘full of hypocrites’. The charge today is subtler but no less indicting. Now we’re just called ‘plastic and fake’” (Morph!, 64-65).

I think the man on the golf course made a valid point. Much of what passes for Christianity today does seem “plastic and fake.” But the Bible is not. The pages are filled with very real, human characters. It’s painfully honest about their struggles and failures (and the successes, of course).

The Psalms are like that too.  Painfully honest, the psalmist pours out his heart to God. He doesn’t hold anything back.  He doesn’t put on any masks; he doesn’t pretend. He just tells God what is on his heart and hopes that God will help him sort through his questions, his pain and his problems.

What about your prayers? Are they as honest and authentic? Or are they plastic and fake? A lot of prayers are—especially public prayers. God knows what is in your heart—and he delights in the man or woman who will put down their mask to pour out their heart to him.

My suspicion is that plastic prayers make plastic churchgoers and that authentic, honest prayers make men and women “after God’s own heart.” My chief witness: David.

Open up your heart to God, just like David did. Get it all “out on the table,” then allow God to deal with the questions, the fears, the pain, the problems, the doubts. He patiently waits on us to clean out the closets of our heart. He delights in meeting with us when we do. Honesty is the road to transformation. We trade in our plastic religiosity to become authentic Christ followers.

Father, I once again open my heart to you. I share my hurts, my pains, my concerns, my wounds, my fears, my doubts, my dreams, my hopes. Thank you for listening, for caring, for acting. Amen.

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