Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 13:1-31 / Revelation 22:1-21 / Psalm 150: 1-6
The American Revolution changed the course of our nation. Many Revolutionary stories have been told yet none maybe as famous as Paul Revere’s ride as he warned the colonists, “The British are coming, and the British are coming.” Paul Revere was secretly watching the movements of the British soldiers and reporting them to the militia. Because of this, historians say that Paul Revere did warn colonists but he did not use that exact phrase but actually said, “The Regulars are coming out.”
As Revere made his initial warning, more than 40 riders took the message throughout the countryside. Eventually Revere made it to Lexington and Concord where the militia had gathered giving them the important news. This alarm system was so effective that they not only used riders but also bells, drums, trumpets and bonfires for rapid communication. There is greater news though…Jesus Is Coming!
Many assume the Book of Revelation is an unfolding of end time events yet it is primarily a “Revelation of Jesus Christ”. We see Christ unveiling and enacting the end times but the book begins with His revelation and ends with His coming! Christ’s coming is referred to seven times in Revelation but three of those times are here in chapter 22 as Jesus declares, “Behold, I am coming soon!” (vs.7,12,20)
The early church took Christ’s words to heart as they lived in expectancy of His imminent return. Jesus uses the word “soon” to describe the urgency and suddenness of His coming. Like a thief who comes suddenly, without announcement, Christ’s return will be sudden. John was also instructed to “not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.” (vs.10)
The Greek word for time is not “chronos” but “karios” – an opportunity or a next event. The early church believed they were living in the last days whereas we believe we are getting closer to the last days. The early church understood Christ’s words and lived in the expectancy of the “next event”. Today, we are not rushing towards an end time event in the future but living in the unfolding of the end times!
We have a tendency to place the return of Jesus some distance from us or when the world shows signs of unraveling, our expectations are heightened and we feel His coming is closer than we realize. We get caught up in connecting the dots of the end times whereas the early church simply lived in expectancy of His soon return.
Peter answered the scoffers during his day when they questioned the validity of Christ’s return by writing, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9) The world may scoff at the message of Christ’s return but in reality, eternity is just one heartbeat away. We live with that reality but have a greater hope and expectancy… Come quickly Lord Jesus!
Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 11:22-12:47 / Revelation 21 / Proverbs 31:21-31
Colton Burpo was two months away from his third birthday when he was rushed into emergency surgery with a burst appendix. After he woke up, he shared a remarkable story about going to heaven and meeting his great-grandfather, Samson, John the Baptist and Jesus. His father, Todd, wrote down his son’s account and published a 163-page book, “Heaven Is for Real”. The book has sold millions of copies and was a No.1 book on the New York Times best-seller list for paperbacks.
Everyone wants to know about the “afterlife” and book distributors say any book with “heaven” in the title sells very well. I have not read “Heaven Is for Real” but we will have a chance to see it early next year as it is being made into a Major Hollywood Film. I cannot verify the accuracy of the book but we have a proven first hand account of heaven from John the Apostle in Revelation 21.
John begins by noting a “new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” (vs.1) God begins by making a new heaven and earth; removing the old heaven, earth and sea. The Jews looked upon the sea as a place of separation and evil. Jesus rebuked the sea, the satanic beast in chapter 13 came out of the sea and the demonic filled swine took refuge in the sea.
John sees heaven, “The New Jerusalem” a “Holy City” coming down from God to man. Jesus was “The Word that was made flesh” and He came to the earth, now God will literally dwell with His people. Life will be unmarred by sin and completely pure and holy, as God Himself will again dwell among men. God will remove our tears, death, mourning, crying and pain. He will make all things new!
God ushers in a new environment free from sin’s disturbance, influence and presence! He who is the beginning and the end will give man fullness of life, deep satisfaction, abundant joy, and an everlasting flow of water that brings eternal life. The Holy City will have rivers, trees, streets and homes. Heaven will have a river and tree of life, streets of gold and mansions for all of God’s children.
Heaven will be a place of glory as everything reflects God’s glory. Illuminating streets of gold, walls of clear jasper, and the entire city will look like transparent crystal. The gates will be made of a single pearl and will never be closed. The city's foundation will have twelve levels and each one will have a unique precious stone.
There will be no need for sun or moon because Jesus will shine like the noonday. The Lamb’s manifested glory will be the source of life for the city and will shine for all eternity. The eternal life of heaven will be everything this life cannot be. It will be a place untouched by death and unstained by evil. But the greatest thing about heaven…Jesus will be there!
Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 9:38-11:21 / Revelation 20:1-15 / Psalm 149:1-9
A 2003 Gallop Poll reported that 82% of people polled believed in heaven and 69% believed in hell. Only 1% of those polled believed they would go to hell. That means a lot of people believe they are going to heaven and only a small fraction are going to hell. Interestingly, a 1991 Gallup Poll showed similar results with 4% believing they would go to hell.
Everybody thinks that they are going to heaven…or wants to think they are heaven bound. Jesus said it was the opposite, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” The existence of hell is not debatable and is not erased by a popular poll, scientific reason or human emotion. Man won’t believe in hell until they stand before it.
“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done… If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:12,13,15)
The New Testament word “Gehenna” was used to describe the “lake of fire”. It is a place of eternal punishment where people are tormented day and night forever. The “Valley of Hinnom”, a place outside the walls of Jerusalem, was described as Gehenna. This was the valley where people worshipped Molech and offered human sacrifices. It was also a garbage dump where refuse burned continuously and was overrun by festering worms. Jesus referred to this place as an illustration to the continual fire, infestation and stench of hell.
The lake of fire will be a place of eternal punishment where people are tormented day and night forever. The sea and earth will give up their dead so man can be judged as body, soul and spirit. Sinful man will stand before the Great White Throne as the books of their deeds and works will be examined. Their works, deeds and goodness will fall short of the standard of God’s holiness.
Because their names are not found in the book of life, sinful man will be thrown into the lake of fire. This is a fulfillment of Christ’s words, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (Jn. 3:36) When man rejects Christ’s plan of salvation, they will stand condemned and judged by an eternal verdict of everlasting and continual torment. It will be too late; there will be a judge but not a jury, a prosecutor but no defense, a sentence but no appeal. Today is the day of salvation as eternity awaits all of us…it’s either heaven or hell. Is your name written in the book of life?
Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 9:1-37 / Revelation 19:11-21 / Psalm 148:7-14
In 1954 some of the most powerful men in the world met for the first time in Oosterbeek, Netherlands to debate the future of the world. They decided to meet annually and in secrecy, naming their organization the Bilderberg Group. Today some of the most influential men, 120 to 140, from North America and Europe meet in order to gain greater power and control over the world. About one-third of the attendees are from government and politics, whereas the other two-thirds are from the finance, industry, labor, education and communication world.
The Bilderberg Group is the world’s most exclusive club and no one buys their way in. The Group’s steering committee decides who will be invited and only the powerfully elite, who adhere to a One World order of government, are considered. Some may scoff at a group of this nature but many men, groups and governments in history have had similar desires and have attempted to “rule the world”. The world laughed at them but sooner or later they had to deal with their madness.
Man has always had a desire to rule, if not the world then their own lives. Man’s lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and pride of life led mankind to rebel against the authority and power of God. Man will eventually follow an antichrist and will attempt to “once and for all” overthrow God’s rule and dominion. In response, God will rise up and “once and for all” pour out His wrath on evil and satan by the power of His victorious Son, Jesus Christ.
“Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:15,16)
Christ comes as the rider on the white horse who defeats and displaces all kings and kingdoms of this world. He takes dominion over all powers and comes as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The declaration of His Kingship and Lordship is written on His robe (a symbol of His great majesty) and on His thigh (representing His great power). He destroys all earthly powers not with man made weapons but by the authoritative and supernatural Word of Truth that He speaks! (vs.15)
Many crowns, representing His sovereignty over all nations, rest on His head (vs.12) because of His blood redemptive and sin destroying sacrifice on the cross. (vs.13) Jesus once rode humbly into Jerusalem on a donkey and was crucified but here He rides as a warrior into a hostile world on a conquering stallion to establish His Kingdom in authority and power! Christ will come to redeem all of creation and Rule The World. To Him be all honor, glory and power forever…He is The King of Kings and The Lord of Lords!
Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 7:4-8:18 / Revelation 18:17-19:10 / Psalm 148:1-6
If you could be a tree…what tree would you be? Some would like to be a Palm tree because of location – warm and tropical! Others might like to be an Oak tree of strength and might. While others, because of this Christmas season, might desire to be a beautiful Christmas tree full of beauty and brilliance!
Have you ever considered a Myrtle tree? We may be unfamiliar with a Myrtle tree but it was a significant tree to the Jewish nation. A Myrtle tree is similar to an evergreen tree but has dark glossy leaves and white flowers. It was very prominent on the hillsides of Jerusalem. It would not grow extremely high and at times it branched out like a bush.
It was a very sweet fragrant tree and its leaves, berries and flowers were used to make perfume and to season food. It was not only used for practical purposes but also had great spiritual significance. Symbolically, the Myrtle tree is associated with gladness! The Israelites had worked diligently to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and they were physically exhausted, they needed joy.
They were also spiritually dry, as their busyness had pushed away the things of God. When Ezra stood to read the Word of God, the people were convicted of their personal lukewarmness and their forefather’s apostasy. They mourned, wept and grieved over their sin as the convicting power of God took hold of their hearts.
Nehemiah instructed them, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) Instead of grieving over their sin, failure and disappointments, they were to rejoice in God’s forgiveness and faithfulness. The joy of the Lord was their promised strength, a fortress against despondency and a defense against discouragement!
Israel went and celebrated with great joy by feasting and giving gifts to one another. After their celebration, they read the Law and learned about the feasts of booths; a time when Israel was to reflect, remember and rejoice in God’s deliverance from the enslavement of Egypt. They read, “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from MYRTLES, palms and shade trees, to make booths.” (8:15)
For 7 days, they were to encamp under the Myrtle tree of gladness! God desired them to live in the sweet fragrance and seasoning of His joy. Our lives should reflect and bring a sweet fragrance to others as well as add sweetness to the despondent and discouraged. Like Esther, whose Persian given name “Hadassah” is literally “Myrtle…sweet fragrance”, we should all be Myrtles! Seems like a funny name but in reality…it is a joyous name reflecting a gladness of strength and sweetness!
Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 5:1-7:3 / Revelation 18:1-17 / Proverbs 31:10-20
Mothers are often underestimated and undervalued. Just because a mother or wife isn’t paid, doesn’t mean that they don’t make a significant contribution to the home and replacing her could be very costly. Taking into consideration a mother’s work in the home and with her family, insure.com estimates the 2013 value of a Mom to be $60,000. That figure of course is arbitrary but salary.com estimates the 2013 value of a Mom even higher at $113,586.
We need to consider that not only are they child care experts but also chauffeurs, cooks, psychologists and money managers who work more than 94 hours a week. The greatest underinsured people in the family are wives and mothers. Their life insurance policies will not even begin to cover the financial expense needed to replace them.
A wife and mother’s worth is not simply measured according to her financial replacement value. Her value cannot be measured by dollars but by the strength, love, unity and heart she brings to her family. The question is asked in Proverbs 31, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” (vs.10)
“Noble character” is understood in the Hebrew as strength and might. The word is often translated “army”, “valiant” or when describing men “man of valor”. A woman of unmovable commitment, virtue, strength and might is one of the greatest finds for any man…even more valuable than rubies!
“Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” (vs.11,12) By God’s design, she not only complements her husband, she completes her husband. Just as a man’s right arm or right eye is invaluable as there is no price too great in order to save them, a wife’s value is far greater. There is no standard or value that can measure her great worth.
God made woman as a helpmeet to her husband. At times a wife may feel she loses her worth and identity by serving her husband and children. The truth is, husbands owe much to their wives. A wife has the ability to be her husband’s greatest support or biggest detriment. She has the power to victimize or complete him. A wife of noble character builds her husband up and he has great confidence and trust in her.
Good comes from her and she displays great faithfulness in good as well as bad times. The question is asked, “Who can find…” A woman of this caliber is not impossible to find but she is very rare. A wife of this magnitude is not simply a byproduct of extensive training and practice. The foundation of nobility and character is found deep within her as she surrenders her heart to God’s divine love, purpose and plan for her life. A wife of Christian virtues and graces is greater than any inherited title or fortune…her influence is eternal!
Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 3:1-4:23 / Revelation 17:1-18 / Psalm 147:12-20
Nehemiah had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls and restore the gates. Each gate was significant and they were in need of repair. Nehemiah lists the gates here in chapter 3 and our lives, just like these gates are at times in need of repair and restoration.
The Sheep gate was the gate where the lambs were brought into the city to be sacrificed at the temple altar. This gate represents the cross on which the Lamb of God was sacrificed for our sins. This was the first gate repaired and the foundation of our redemption.
Next was the Fish gate. Jesus said, “follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) We are called to be His witnesses but if the gate of our witness has crumbled, we lose our witness. Our witness needs to be secure and effective. The Old gate was next and it represents truth. The truth of old is at times ridiculed and dismissed. The Word of God is true and must be established.
Those who travelled from the valley into the city used the Valley gate. It represents a place of humility, a place of lowliness of mind and humbleness of heart. God responds graciously to the lowly, humble and contrite. Pride must be dismantled before the valley gate can be used.
The Dung gate led out to the city dump in the Hinnon valley. When we repent, Christ removes the garbage and sin of our lives. We stand clean and purified before God! The Fountain gate is likened to Christ’s promise of a fountain of living water springing up within us to where we never thirst again. The Holy Spirit is to flow through us like a vibrant fountain, not a stagnant cistern. Is the Holy Spirit vibrantly flowing through our lives or stopped up by sin and doubt?
Next we read of the Water gate and water is always a symbol of the Word of God. Interestingly, this is the only gate that did not need repaired in Jerusalem. The Word of God does not need to be fixed, changed or altered. We simply need to believe and walk in the assurance of His Word. The East gate faced the rising sun and was a gate of anticipation and hope. We have great hope and expectancy of Christ’s return and walking through the Eastern gate.
As horses were a powerful force in warfare, the Horse gate is symbolic of spiritual warfare. We do not contend with flesh and blood but against principalities and powers…against the spiritual hosts of wickedness. Are we fighting or surrendering? Finally the Inspection gate was repaired. This was the gate where court was conducted and judgment was passed. We need to be regularly examined by God’s Word and His Spirit. These gates were important to Jerusalem and also for us. What gates are in need of repair in your life?
Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 1:1-2:20 / Revelation 16:1-21 / Psalm 147:1-11
Interested in going to Mars? A Dutch company is planning to send four lucky people to colonize the planet of Mars. An unmanned launch is planned for 2018 in order to study and establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. After a few years of study and testing, the four space travellers are scheduled to land on Mars in 2025. The only difficulty with the trip…the travelers will never return to earth!
This has not diminished response for the trip as more than 200,000 enthusiastic people, since April 2013, have signed up for the maiden journey. They are not concerned about never returning to the earth and living the rest of their lives on Mars. You can say that they are on a mission that is out of this world!
Nehemiah was also on a mission, “I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.” (Nehemiah 2:12) Nehemiah’s mission would only take him 900 miles away but the impact of it would surpass that of Mars to the end of the heavens.
Nehemiah’s journey started in Persia, as he was the cupbearer of King Artaxerxes I. He had a position of honor and influence. Nehemiah was a trusted and respected officer. Life was going well for Nehemiah until he inquired about the exiles that had returned to Jerusalem. He was told that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, the gates were burned and the city was a waste. Nehemiah grieved. He wept, mourned, prayed and fasted over the devastation of the Holy City.
His heart was deeply moved and his face, as well as his disposition, reflected his sorrow. Nehemiah’s grief lasted many days and he carried the burden of the city deep within his spirit. He understood the significance of the broken walls as reflective of God’s judgment and wrath upon Israel’s sin. They had broken their covenant with God and Nehemiah was moved to repentance on behalf of his people.
Nehemiah found favor in the eyes of the king and was commissioned by Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem. Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and surveys the city by night. He takes a few men with him as he inspects the burned gates and crumbled walls. Nehemiah was silent about his plans because he would encounter opposition. He was calculating and wise because that which God had laid upon his heart was all-important and divinely appointed.
When God places dreams, directions and a calling upon our life, we cannot help but lay everything else down for the supremacy of His plan for our lives. Nehemiah was consumed with his mission and was willing to risk everything and give everything to see the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt. If 200,000 are willing to die for a mission to Mars, are we willing to die for an eternal and divine mission? God doesn’t necessarily ask us to die for His cause…just live for it! What’s your mission?
Scripture Reading: Ezra 10:1-44 / Revelation 14:14-15:8 / Psalm 146:1-10
One of the greatest marketing and publicity strategies is to convince consumers to trust and believe in your product. It is very easy to place our trust in things that we can see and in the things that have been proven to be reliable. We even find it easier to trust the things that we can see rather the things that we cannot see! Like someone once said, “If we trust in men, we will get what man can do but if we trust in God, we will get what God can do.”
The Psalmist states it clearly, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” (Psalm 146:3,4)
We find ourselves putting confidence and trust in man who is mortal and uncertain. Princes were men of power and influence. To have the Prince’s favor was to live in security and prosperity but there was no guarantee a prince would retain his power and position. They were mortal and susceptible to betrayal, defeat and death.
Like Israel, our reliance and trust in the world will only end in disappointment and hopelessness. Man is frail and unreliable but God is trustworthy and faithful. If we are not careful, we will place our trust in things, people and resources of this world while dismissing the intervening power, presence and purpose of God in our lives.
When the nation of Israel left Egypt, they came to the Red Sea while the Egyptian army pressed against them from behind. They were trapped with nowhere to go and faced certain destruction. God intervened by placing an intense whirlwind between them and the Egyptians. Moses lifted his rod over the Red Sea and God parted the waters, allowing the Israelites to walk across on dry ground. God proved He was trustworthy as He time after time provided miracles on their behalf.
I read of a story about a man who desired to regularly give a tithe to The Lord but was fearful his bills would not get paid. He shared his dilemma and fear with his pastor. The pastor encouraged him to follow his heart, be obedient to God’s Word and give cheerfully. He even said, “If you tithe for one month and find you do not have enough money to pay your bills, I promise to personally make up your deficit.
After considering the pastor’s challenge and promise he said, “If you promise to make up any shortfall, I guess I could try tithing for a month.” The pastor then put things in perspective for the man saying, “You are willing to trust a man like myself who has little resources but you can’t trust your Heavenly father who owns the whole universe!” God is always trustworthy and as Corrie ten Boom said… “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
Scripture Reading: Ezra 8:15-9:15 / Revelation 14:1-13 / Proverbs 31:1-9
God’s grace and favor was upon Ezra and the Israelites as King Artaxerxes decreed for the temple in Jerusalem to be rebuilt. The king allowed as many Israelites as would desire, the opportunity to return to Jerusalem. He not only encouraged them to return, he commanded offerings to be given by the citizens for the expense of rebuilding the temple.
There was an overwhelming response to the king’s decree and they brought huge amounts of valuables to the returning Jews. The king, his officials and Israel brought them 25 tons of silver, close to 4 tons of silver articles, 4 tons of gold articles and polished bronze which was as precious as gold.
This was a tremendous blessing but it also presented a huge challenge for Ezra. The road to Jerusalem was not safe as thieves and bandits often robbed unsuspecting and unprepared travelers. They were in great danger of facing greedy and brutal criminals who would stop at nothing to heist such a treasure.
What made the situation worse, Ezra declined the king’s offer of a military escort to Jerusalem and was now regretting that decision. He had boldly told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” (Ezra 8:22) Ezra had been witnessing to the king about how great God was and he put himself in a position where he was going to have to “practice what he preached.”
He was extremely humbled and desperate for God’s miraculous intervention. Ezra’s solution… “I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.” (vs.21) Ezra desired to touch the throne room of God and get His attention. He was so serious in his petition that he called all of the returning exiles to fast.
They were unwilling to go forward with His wonderful provisions alone, they needed His divine protection. The only way God’s protection would be secured was through fasting. We often overlook the value and need for fasting. When we deny ourselves of extended meals, God begins to mold our humble souls, intensify His power in our lives and turn up the heat on the enemy!
There are times when fasting and extensive spiritual warfare is needed. Jesus told his disciples the strongholds of satan can only be broken by “prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29) Ezra’s testimony, “The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way.” (vs.31) Ezra found God to be faithful to their prayer and fasting. Be sensitive to The Spirit when He directs you to fast. We must be willing to diligently and sacrificially seek the face of God by fasting. When WE do…GOD always comes through!