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 people of prayer (being the guinea pig for possible poisoning will bring on that tendency). Contractors tend to be people 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. People of action must also be people 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.”

People of prayer must always be people of action. While people 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

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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ABCs of Confident Prayer

Big Trees Community Bible Church’s Worship Service for August 9, 2020. Pastor Jeff Syverson on the ABC’s of Confident Prayer.

Join us for worship online!

Ps 145:1    I will exalt you, my God the King;

I will praise your name for ever and ever.

2 Every day I will praise you 

and extol your name for ever and ever.

3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;

his greatness no one can fathom.

4 One generation commends your works to another;

they tell of your mighty acts.

5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—

and I will meditate on your wonderful works. 

6 They tell of the power of your awesome works—

and I will proclaim your great deeds.

7 They celebrate your abundant goodness

and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

8 The LORD is gracious and compassionate,

slow to anger and rich in love.

9 The LORD is good to all;

he has compassion on all he has made.

10 All your works praise you, LORD;

your faithful people extol you.

11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom

and speak of your might,

12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts

and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,

and your dominion endures through all generations.

The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises

and faithful in all he does.

14 The LORD upholds all who fall 

and lifts up all who are bowed down.

15 The eyes of all look to you,

and you give them their food at the proper time.

16 You open your hand 

and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways 

and faithful in all he does.

18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,

to all who call on him in truth.

19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;

he hears their cry and saves them.

20 The LORD watches over all who love him,

but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD.

Let every creature praise his holy name

for ever and ever.

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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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The Hand of the Lord (Aug 8)

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)

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)

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)

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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