All Things to All People (Aug 15)


Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

Aug 15
All Things to All People

Today’s Scripture Readings:
Psalms 88:8-18 | Nehemiah 9:22-10:39 | I Cor. 9:19-10:13 | Proverbs 21:13
Today’s Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 9:19-10:13

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:20-22, NIV).

The gospel is a message for all people of all languages and cultures. God’s message of love must be communicated to each of those cultures in a way that they can really understand it. Paul, like any good missionary, understood this principle. He went out of his way to communicate the gospel to each group in ways they would be able to better understand it. He became all things to all people so that by all possible means he might save some.

We must be careful not to put stumbling blocks in the way to understanding the message. We often use language that doesn’t communicate clearly. Even more often we use methods that just aren’t relevant to the audience we seek to reach. Sometimes our methods betray the message and we miscommunicate the gospel.

The gospel should be communicated differently in Mali, Africa than in Manila, Philippines. Different means will be necessary in Lima, Peru than Lima, Ohio. We must seek to understand our target audience if we are going to relate the message to them in a way that really communicates the gospel. The more we can communicate in the “heart language” of the people (their music, their stories, their language, their culture), the better they will understand.

Of course, we must be careful not to compromise the gospel in the process—to water down or change the substance of the message. We must speak the message of the gospel loud and clear.

We have a message for all ages, for all peoples, for all languages and cultures. Let us seek to understand those we are communicating with, so we can better relate the gospel to them in ways that best communicate the truth.

God, give us wisdom to communicate your truth relevantly, simply, and truthfully. Help us to communicate it in grace and truth. May others see the truth of the gospel in even the manner of our presentation. Amen.

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Strengthened by Joy (Aug 14)


August 14
Strengthened by Joy

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 88:1-7 | Nehemiah 7:61-9:21 | 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 | Proverbs 21:11-12

Today’s Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 7:61 — 9:21

“For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10 NIV)

“And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.” Nehemiah 8:12 (ESV)

It was quite a scene. After years and years of neglect, the scripture had been uncovered. Ezra got all the people together in one place and began to read the law. He along with some of the other priests read and explained the law to the people. How did the people react to hearing the Word of God?

They worshiped. “All the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. ‘And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground’”(8:6).

They also wept. “For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law” (8:9). Confronted by the law, they could clearly see their disobedience and sin. Conviction of sin brought tears.

But Nehemiah encouraged the people to find joy. They were hearing the law and understanding it. This was reason for celebration. There would be a time for weeping, but this was a time for celebration: the celebration of understanding God’s word.

Each day is an opportunity for celebration as we hear and understand God’s word. Understanding it brings joy, and that “joy of the Lord is our strength” (8:12). God teaches us principles that enable us to live “life to the full.” His promises give us hope that strengthens us through the most difficult of times.

As you spend time in His word today, look for understanding and find joy knowing that the principles will strengthen you for the day ahead.

May the Joy of the Lord be your strength! Open your heart to him and live in his joy today!

Heavenly Father, I look to you to replenish the fountain of joy in my life. Fill me with joy in your presence that I might find strength for the trials of the day. In all I do today, may I find joy in doing it for the purpose of your glory. Amen.

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Building Up or Tearing Down? Aug 13


August 13
Building Up or Tearing Down

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 87:1-7 | Nehemiah 5:14 — 7:6 | 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 | Proverbs 21:8-10

Today’s Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 5:14- 7:60

“I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you? Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.” (Nehemiah 6:3-4 NIV)

Tearing down is simple. Building up is an art. Anyone can criticize; it takes no great skill to see the problems. It takes a real leader not to be distracted by the words that tear down; to keep to the task despite criticism.

The world is filled with critics (so is the church–when will realize that there is no “gift of criticism” listed in scripture?). They are good at seeing the obvious, and get stuck on the problem rather than trying to be part of the solution. Nehemiah had his critics. They kept harassing him with their complaints.

Anyone in a leadership role must learn to deal with criticism. Nehemiah was in the midst of this leadership lesson. I love his response to the criticism: “I am carrying out a great project and I can’t come down.” He refused to be distracted by the criticism of Tobiah and Sanballat.

Tobiah and Sanballat had evidently gone to the school of Telemarketing, and kept pestering Nehemiah again and again. Nehemiah remained devoted to the task and undeterred from his vision of rebuilding the walls. He would not stop building just because a few words were aimed his way to tear him down.

When the criticism became almost unbearable, he took it to the Lord. “But I prayed, ‘now strengthen my hands” (6:10). When the criticism seems too much to bear, take it to the Lord and ask him to fill you with his strength to stick to the task he has called you to do.

Lord, keep me so focused on the project you’ve called me to, that I’m not tempted to fall prey to criticism. Instead, may the voices of encouragement keep me pressing forward in obedience to your gentle whisper. Amen.

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Bending God’s Ear (Aug 12)


Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

August 12
Bending God’s Ear

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 86:8-17 | Nehemiah 3:15-5:13 | 1 Cor. 7:25-40 | Proverbs 21:5-7

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalm 86

“Bend an ear, God; answer me” (Psalm 86:1 The Message)

“Teach me, your way O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name. I will praise, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.” (Psalm 86:11-12 NIV)

We’ve looked for God’s eye to watch over us and his hand to bless us. Today, David is looking for God’s ear. He is looking for God to hear and answer his prayer. He finds himself in a desperate situation, and he is looking for someone to talk to, someone who can protect and save him.

David knew where to turn. He knew the greatness of his God:

“You are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you” (5). “You are great and do marvelous deeds, You alone are God” (10) “Great is your love toward me” (13) “You, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Awestruck by his greatness, amazed by his abounding love toward him, David always knew where to turn. No matter how difficult the circumstances or the opposition, he knew his God was greater; he knew his God loved him.

Open up your heart like David. Tell him all your troubles and look to his loving heart to bring the deliverance you need.

Teach me your way O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O Lord my God with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. Amen (Psalm 86:11-12).

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Constructive Praying (Aug 11)


Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

August 11
Constructive Praying

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 86:1-7 | Nehemiah 1:1 — 3:14 | 1 Corinthians 7:1-24 | Proverbs 21: 1-2

Today’s Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 1-3

“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” (Nehemiah 1:11 NIV)

Cupbearers tend to be men of prayer (being the guinea pig for possible poisoning will bring on that tendency). Contractors tend to be men of action. Nehemiah was both. A Burdened heart led to powerful intercession. The struggle of prayer led to an open door by the blessing of God. A praying cupbearer was given opportunity to put feet to his prayers.

The King saw Nehemiah’s distress and asked him why he looked the way he did. Nehemiah, because the hand of the Lord was upon him, grew bold and not only told the king the reason for his distress but also made some major requests. The praying cupbearer became the contractor on a major project: Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

The foundation for his work was laid in prayer. It always is. Men of action must also be men of prayer. To try to do God’s work without laying the prayer foundation will lead to frustration and walls that won’t stand for long. As one seasoned prayer warrior said, “We must do more than pray, but not until we have prayed.”

Men of prayer must always be men of action. While men of prayer know how to wait until the right time, they don’t procrastinate their obedience when God opens the door. They step out in faith expecting the hand of the Lord to be upon them. They expect God to already be at work, preparing the way for their steps of obedient faith.

Nehemiah’s story also reminds us that it isn’t only the pastor’s job that is important. Whatever we do should be done for the glory of God. Ezra (the ministry role) and Nehemiah (the contractor role) had to work together to get the job done (not to mention prophets like Zechariah). If you are a cupbearer, God can use that for his glory. If you are a contractor, he can use that too. Whatever your vocation or calling, God would have you do it with all your heart unto him (bringing him great glory).

Like Nehemiah, lay the foundation of prayer and look for the opportunity to act. This is the way to glorify God and to accomplish great things for him.

Heavenly Father, continue to teach me that prayer should be the foundation of all I do. Continue to teach me that I must also act as you open doors and empower me to do the things you have called me to do. Help me to be a leader who balances prayer and action. Amen.

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Hope for the Hopeless (Aug 10)


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)


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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