Saturday, March 30, 2013

Nehemiah 5:12-19

At times, the best message preached is not the one that comes from your mouth, but the one that comes from your life. It is one thing to recommend what others should do, it is a far greater thing to actually become the ensample and live out every day in the reality of what you are proclaiming.
After hearing the petitions of the people, Nehemiah confronted the nobles about their abuse of power. He demanded that they restore the money that they had extorted. He explained that they must give back the land that they had taken away from the wall builders who had gotten into financial trouble.
Nehemiah knew that the nobles would not follow his instruction if he didn’t first sacrifice his place of prominence. Although he personally had been chosen by the king to lead the expedition back to Jerusalem, and although he had been given all of the financial benefits from the king, Nehemiah did not exploit his position or his power.
With the right to prominence, and financial benefit, Nehemiah humbled himself, and lived among the poor wall builders. He viewed the work and the unity of the workers as far more valuable than any amount of money or land that he could personally accrue.
He was willing to put what God desired over personal financial improvement.
With Nehemiah’s example in sight, the nobles all followed suit. The people who had been extorted had their land returned to them, and those who had been exploited were repaid the money that had been taken from them.
With his life, not just his words, Nehemiah had preached a loud, convicting message of humility.
Perhaps you are frustrated that those around you are not doing what is right. Perhaps you have a close friend who is making bad decisions, or someone you care about is doing something wrong. Like Nehemiah, you can tell them the truth that they need to hear, but that will only be as strong as the testimony you live out in front of them. Your actions will preach louder than words. So go preach truth with your life.

Food For Thought: Who is your closest friend? Who is your closest family member? What can you do to live truth out in a way that will influence them to do right?

Friday, March 29, 2013

Nehemiah 5:6-11

The Bible is about Jesus.
In Genesis, we see Abraham taking his son, Isaac, to the top of a mountain to offer him as a sacrifice. Jesus took a trip to the top of a mountain to offer himself as a sacrifice for us. Joseph endured the betrayal of those who were closest to him, but later became the very one who saved his family during a famine. Jesus was betrayed by Judas, but even in the betrayal, God used Jesus’s death to save all of mankind. Several chapters of the Old Testament (Psalm 23, Isaiah 53, etc.) explicitly help us to be reminded of this truth.
As we get to Nehemiah 5, the wealthy nobles had taken advantage of the common people. With the blessings they received from God, they enslaved their own people. The money that God had given to them so that they might heal and help, they used instead to extort and abuse. Rather than becoming agents of hope, they had become destructive villains in their pursuit of more wealth. Given much, they desired more. They falsely viewed themselves as amassers of wealth instead of conduits for a Providential God to work through. They saw themselves as the end of the road when it came to the blessings of God. They were very good at receiving, and absolutely worthless at giving.
And as we read, we must not lose sight of Jesus. You see, a passage like this shows us that by nature, and by tendency men are depraved and selfish. It shows that the natural inclination of the heart is to be greedy not merciful, to be proud not humble, to be unfairly evil not just.
A passage like this points at the destruction of sin. It shows the depravity of man, but through that depravity, it reveals the certain need of a Savior.
Nehemiah came to the rescue of these people. But that rescue would be only temporary, for within a few decades the Romans would march in and oppress them again.
However, one day Jesus came as the ultimate Savior. What Nehemiah could only do for a few years, Jesus has done for all of time.

Food For Thought: How was Nehemiah like Jesus in this text?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nehemiah 5:1-5

Did you ever realize that people really muck things up? Wal-Mart is the perfect grocery store to buy your stuff from; it’s just that at times, there are rude people (in their pajamas) or unruly toddlers there. School is a great place to learn, and grow, except that there are other kids who don’t desire to learn, and they just interrupt the day with their nonsense. Even church would be a good place if it weren’t for some of the people; you know the types…the obnoxiously over-spiritual, the Debbie-downer whose cat died last week, or the worst ones – the hypocrites.
It just seems that life would be much simpler if it weren’t so full of people. Ironically, this perspective forgets one thing…you and I are one of the muck causing “people.” So how then do we live? If we are muck causers, is there any hope for us?
As we read Nehemiah 5, we find that this whole “people messing stuff up” thing has been going on for quite a while. The builders of the wall sought to finish the wall, but other people in the city were causing this task to become difficult. The greed of the nobles was causing overwhelming poverty among the faithful builders. Greedy people were really mucking up a good thing.
In Romans, Paul explains it this way, “by one man sin entered into the world,” and since then, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” This was a by-product of Adam’s faithless disobedience in the Garden of Eden – all of mankind has been plunged into a hopeless sin cycle.
Sin absolutely ruins. You see, the true problem isn’t the people; the problem is their sinning. The problem isn’t us; the problem is the sin that dominates our interactions.
Just as the greed had polluted the nobles’ lives, sins of pride, and greed, and deceit dominate our lives and our relationships. And just, as the builders needed Nehemiah to help liberate them from the bondage brought about by the sickness of sin, daily, we need to be liberated from sin through the power of Jesus.

Food for Thought: In what way are we infected by the same disease as the greedy nobles in Nehemiah? Who is the solution to this sickness?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Nehemiah 4:16-23

Sometimes rest is not an option. God hard-wired each of our bodies with the capacity to metabolize food and to produce energy. This relies on a number of factors: a healthy diet, exercise, and regular sleep to name a few. When we don’t have one or multiples of these, our bodies begin to decrease the output of energy. So being sleep-deprived will by nature take its toll on our energy level in the classroom or workplace. Eating McAnything everyday for breakfast, lunch or dinner will eventually result in the decline of energy and the rise of exhaustion.
And so, we get tired. As a matter of fact, as victims of our own horrible practices, we get tired a lot. Whether it was staying up late on Facebook, or playing just one more hour of Modern Warfare, or watching just one more episode of Get Smart on Netflix, we deprive ourselves of sleep and find the next day we are absolutely exhausted, and we catch ourselves nodding off with little to no energy.
When it comes time for discipline, or when it comes time to do the things we should be doing, we cower in the excuse “I’m just too tired to do that now, maybe later.”
God’s work often gets back-seated to our “tiredness.” We don’t read His Word. We never talk to Him in prayer. We don’t engage those around us in the soul-liberating truth of Jesus. All, because we are too tired.
One old-timer put it this way, “If I only worked when I wasn’t tired, I would have never done anything in my life.” We will be tired. The work will be rough. At times, bloodshot eyes, weak eyelids, and tired limbs must work together to press on and accomplish the God-ordained task at hand.
This was the case with Nehemiah and his wall-builders. With the impending attacks of enemy forces, everyone was forced to work double duty at the wall. When one was building, another stood next to him ready to fight. After several hours, they would swap places. The exhaustion must have been nearly overwhelming. But, if they had only worked when they were not tired, the wall of Jerusalem would never have been built. Rather with a firm reliance in a faithful God, Nehemiah and his exhausted workers pushed through their fatigue to accomplish what God desired of them. When it came to accomplishing what God had called them to, this was a season of work and rest just was not an option.

Food For Thought: What are some of the reasons you get tired? Is tiredness an excuse to not continue working to grow in godliness?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Nehemiah 4:10-15

“Your blood will flow in the streets!” “Your children will be slaughtered!” “You will be destroyed!” “They are on their way, you all will die!” The terrifying threats were repeated as the faithless Jews from the outlying areas came running into the city with its half-built wall.
The armies had amassed and the troops were prepared for a surprise attack. The Arabians, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites prepared their men for the advance against the embarrassment of a city called Jerusalem.
With the force of a seasoned colonel, Nehemiah snapped into response.
“Grab your spears and shields, swords and bows!” he barked as he advanced around the city. “They’re coming, and they’re coming in fast, and if it’s a fight they want, we will give it to them.”
Stonemasons crouched behind the partial city wall with a sword in their hand. Water carriers, and mortar mixers all filed into the city and exchanged their building implements for weapons of war. The entire city held its breath as the unseen army marched closer and closer.
“Don’t be afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight,” Nehemiah’s encouraging words resounded down the ranks. The fear of their hearts bolstered into a solid confidence in God. Nehemiah’s realization had changed the spirit of the men. No longer did they view themselves as solitary defendants in an overwhelming battle, rather in a battle that was being waged against God, they were a part of His ranks, and He certainly could not be defeated.
These Arabians with their swords and fast horses were like ants before an all-powerful, “terrible” God.
Encouraged by the reality of an Almighty God, all of Jerusalem braced for impact.
But the impact never came. Word filtered from the city out to Sanballat and Tobiah, and their advance was halted.
Perhaps if they had caught the people unaware, they could have gained a victory, but not now. The slaughter squad retreated, and continued their empty barrage of insults.
What made the difference in the fight? It was the power of an Almighty God who turns the hearts of kings however He wants to. It was His power that had given confidence to the weak. It was His wisdom that had turned the enemy away at the right time, and spared His people so they could continue accomplishing His purpose.

Food For Thought: Read Psalm 23:5. What does this verse say about how our God relates to us in the face of our enemies?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Nehemiah 4:7-9

Poisonous thoughts become hideous deeds. This is as true when dealing with the lust-filled thoughts of a man’s heart as with the hate-filled words of an opponent.
“Your walls are so weak that even an itty-bitty little fox could knock them over,” Sanballat and Tobiah had mocked the builders. But Nehemiah was undeterred and with the help of God’s appointed people, he continued building the wall.
The threats were meant to undermine. The threats were meant to discourage. The weak Israelites who had come back to build were supposed to quake in fear. Their efforts were supposed to stop. They were supposed to cower, they were supposed to roll over like helpless little lambs.
Irritated and frustrated, the enemies of God’s purposes found that their hollow threats were not sufficient to undermine the morale of the people. Nehemiah’s faith in God was unshakeable. It was almost as if the work had increased. The threats that were meant to disintegrate the desire to build had rather stoked the flames of desire that were burning ravenously in the hearts of God’s people.
This is what happens when we stand firm in our faith in God during moments of opposition. The enemy is frustrated. But it is a real battle, and the barrage will continue. Satan hates to see God’s purposes accomplished and he will seek to undermine however he can. The first wave of attacks was simply verbal assaults, but more fierce things are on the horizon. And like Nehemiah, we cannot allow the darkness of threat to deter us.
The building continued, and so did the attacks. And as the wall gained height, the anger and scorn seemed to build. The terse words eventually became actions, when God’s enemies gathered allies to themselves to prepare to invade and devastate the work of God’s people.
Although the potential threat of a looming attack seemed to escalate, Nehemiah never lost sight of Who was truly in control. Amassing forces were being accumulated against the wall builders, but Nehemiah said, “nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God.” God was still in control of all things, and it didn’t matter if it was two dorky scorners or an army of fools, the Almighty God of all the ages could handle it, and Nehemiah trusted in that fact.

Food For Thought: Briefly describe the progression of attacks from the outside as seen in the story of Nehemiah.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nehemiah 4:1-6

After beginning the back-breaking, heat-stroke inducing work of rebuilding the wall, word came to Nehemiah of the local scorn-squad, Sanballat and Tobiah. They issued mockery and challenges, and questioned the possibility of the wall being rebuilt.
What would Nehemiah do? The outside forces that despised the work of God were assaulting him.
Nehemiah did what he always did when pressured in life – prayed. Instead of sending out reviling letters to the opposition, with a heart of faith and reliance in an all-powerful, all-sovereign God, Nehemiah bent his knees and lifted his hands. This was not Nehemiah’s fight. This was a mis-match. These cronies had picked a fight with God, and God would take care of them.
What is your natural reflex when you receive opposition? When others attack you verbally, do you unsheathe your razor sharp tongue and slice them in half? If someone questions your intelligence do you point out their inadequacies and verbally pants them? When someone challenges your veracity do you rebound with a list of accrued lies that they told first?
I think that sadly, all too often, a retaliatory slap is the knee-jerk reaction to any opposition that we face. We are human. We have our dignity. We have some awkward sense of Victorian “Honor” where if someone challenges us, we must become his “huckleberry.”
But, is there a better way? Can we possibly be wrongly accused or reviled and not retaliate? Can we bear to have our “Honor” attacked and not rise immediately to its defense? What course of action could we take?
In his messianic prophesy, Isaiah portrays Jesus as He suffered through the events of the Passion. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth…neither was any deceit found in his mouth.” Jesus’s reaction to the attacking vitriol of his mockers was a silent faith in God.
If someone corrects you for being wrong, then repent and do what is right. But if someone attacks you for doing what is right, if someone opposes your desire to live in obedience to God, if they seek to make light of His work in your life, if they chose to mock His Word, be like Nehemiah. Answer the beckoning call of the powerful hand of a sovereign God. Don’t reflex yourself into sinning. Rest in faith, trusting that those who oppose God have God to deal with.

Food For Thought: The story of David and Goliath seemed like a mis-match. In your own words describe what I mean by “the real mis-match was Goliath versus God.”
(poor little giant)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Nehemiah 3:17-32

God’s strength is made perfect in weakness, not “quit-ness.”
After being told that the wall of Jerusalem would be rebuilt, the families that lived there began the backbreaking work of rebuilding it.
Nehemiah told them that God wanted to accomplish this great task. The people could find confidence in the power of God; but this did not exempt them from being the ones who physically worked on that wall. They would have to find the rocks, clean them, shape them, set them, and square them. It was their fingers that would inadvertently get smashed between two stones. It was their sweat that dripped on bricks as they labored in the summer sun to piece the wall together.
It was God Who would accomplish the great task in spite of their weakness. But it was through the sweat from their weak bodies that the hands-on work would be completed. They were His vessels, accomplishing His purposes.
At times, we have a somewhat misguided perspective when we hear that God wants to accomplish something through us. We get excited, and surrender to allow Him to do His great work. In our minds, it is almost as if we are marionettes that dance around on invisible God-strings, by which the Divine Puppet-master sways His limp, mindless dolls from one holy task to another.
While this may sound good, it just isn’t biblical. We are not just agents that are controlled by invisible strings that reach up to heaven. No, rather we are agents of obedience who move our own hands and hearts. We walk by faith, and we do this by being obedient.
It is in our obedient weakness that God accomplishes great things.
Just as Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem had to partake in the finger-smashing, sweat-dripping, back-aching, Providence-powered work of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, we too must strap on our work boots and work gloves for the building of God’s kingdom. Relying on His strength, we can’t just “let go, and let God.” Rather, His strength is made perfect in weak effort. We must with everything thing in us, however inadequate that may be, strive to build His kingdom through praying and working.
Just as in Nehemiah’s day, He will accomplish. It is our task to work and to trust Him for the increase.

Food For Thought: Read Rev. 5:9. Will God be able to get His gospel to every nation, tribe, and tongue? How will He accomplish this?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Nehemiah 3:1- 16

God is a God of great power and ability. As a matter of fact, when we see God do one thing, He is more than likely accomplishing 10,000 things.
After being commissioned by Artaxerxes, Nehemiah set out to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. In Ancient cultures, the city wall was one of the most vital features to a successful city. Its primary function was that of protection. Invading armies could be spotted from the high towers that were placed strategically around the walls; and upon the arrival of the assailing force the massive gates could be bolted shut, effectively thwarting any would-be attacks.
Since the return of the exiled families, the city had lain vulnerable with its original wall in a state of disrepair. Now, through God’s power, Nehemiah had motivated the people to rebuild the wall.
While God was accomplishing their protection with this wall, He was simultaneously accomplishing another major thing.
In Nehemiah 3:1, the High Priest and his family rebuilt the “Sheep Gate;” in verse 15, Shallun and his family rebuilt the wall at the Pool of Siloah (Siloam).
Why mention these places by name? Why take the time to mention that they were once torn down, but now they were being rebuilt?
Galatians 4 hints that there was a whole series of events leading up to the coming of God’s Son, Jesus. The rebuilding of these places was an incredible part of that. A few centuries after these men laid stone upon stone for their own protection, God cleared the stage and pulled back the curtain for Jesus to do His Divine work.
God’s glory was revealed at the Sheep Gate in John 5, where, as the great Physician, Jesus healed a man who had been crippled for 38 years. In John 9, the man born blind was anointed with mud and sent to bathe in the Pool of Siloam where through the Divine power of Jesus he received his sight.
Nehemiah was faithful to accomplish what God had called him to. There was no way that He could have known that as he built a wall for his own protection, he was also building the grand stage for the coming Messiah.
The same God who called Nehemiah to be faithful and obedient calls us as well. While we may not see the long-term effect of our obedience, we can trust that a Sovereign God of 10,000 purposes does. We must be faithful to trust His designs and obey His desires.

Food For Thought: What attribute(s) of God leads us to believe that He is actually accomplishing multiple things when we see Him doing one thing?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nehemiah 2:17-20

We need a bigger view of our God. At times we come to Him in prayer and we ask for His help in the latest health ailment that plagues us or our close friends. It seems like we understand that God is in heaven and “in control,” but based upon our prayer life, He is really only good for sick people. But God is more than a Divine Pepto-Bismol! He is all-powerful. He accomplishes more than wiping away sniffles and calming sore tummies. Can He heal? Absolutely! But is that all He does? Based upon most prayer meetings it sure seems like it is.
God accomplishes great and mighty things - things that should be prayed about. 1) I needed to sell my house. I asked Him for His help. This month, He answered my prayer. 2) A couple of months ago, I asked for His grace to dominate a tough conversation I needed to have with one of my friends. He answered and my friend and I are even closer now. 3) Recently, I prayed that He would work in the indifferent heart of a young man, and He is doing it. 4) A few years ago, Mrs. Amber and I wanted to be able to give money to my church, so He had President Obama write me a letter that I could sell and get the money to give.
God answers and does so on a massive scale. What He accomplishes is at times startlingly awesome.
Nehemiah did not lose that perspective. After surveying the devastation of Jerusalem, he called a meeting of the Jews, the priests, and the rulers. He told them that they had a nearly impossible task ahead of them. It was a task that would require severe amounts of dedication and effort, and would at times seem daunting and intimidating. But thankfully, they would not have to accomplish it alone.
In Nehemiah 2:18, Nehemiah encouraged them with the truth of his big God, “God was good upon me.” A few verses later this comfort became motivation, “God will prosper us.” His confidence wasn’t found in himself or his own ability. It was shored up in the God of the universe, Who consistently proved Himself mighty and powerful. We need to open our eyes to and rest our hearts in the powerful God that we serve.

Food For Thought: Where did Nehemiah’s confidence that they could rebuild the walls of Jerusalem come from?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Nehemiah 2:9-16

As long as God is calling His people to do what is right, there will always be opposition.
Genesis 3 says that it started in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.
God said “Don’t eat, or you will die.”
The serpent came and said, “You can eat, you won’t die.”
Literally the only law that was laid down by God with consequence, and immediately the Devil was seeking to devastate mankind in it. Adam and Eve eventually fell for the lusts of their own hearts and drank in the deception of Satan. Their shame and guilt drizzled down through time onto all their descendants who were ensnared by the same Satan-peddled deception.
When Nehemiah arrived from his two-month journey, the scorn-squad began their trouble making. Scripture reveals what they were upset about: “It grieved them that there cam a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.” They despised the fact that Nehemiah wanted to help other people out. What a revelation of their wicked hearts!
Whether it is in the classroom where students are striving to do right and submit to the authority of the teacher that God has placed over them; or if it is at work, where co-workers labor and do so with a meek and humble respect for their boss; or at home, where one sibling is trying to obey and honor their parents; we can often find those who are trying to live in the design that God has ordained. But almost without fail, the classroom finds a scorner, the workplace finds the disgruntled, the home finds the disobedient. Why?
Because wherever there is God’s perfect design, there are those who are striving to undermine it. So how do you respond? Nehemiah responded by moving on past the opposition. He would not let the misdirected and disgruntled determine his actions. Rather with great purpose and in absolute submission and obedience to God, Nehemiah pressed on and did what was right.
We too should be like Nehemiah. When faced with opposition. When tempted by those who are disobedient to God’s design. When challenged by a co-worker or a classmate who wants us to go against what we know God has called us to, we should stand strong like Nehemiah and obey the God Who called us.

Food For Thought: Why were Sanballat and Tobiah upset? What desire of God does Micah 6:8 use to push against Sanballat and Tobiah’s wrong thinking?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Nehemiah 2:1-8

Four months passed and Nehemiah continued to do his job. The chalice that Nehemiah carried to the king, day in and day out, was symbolic of the internal torment and struggle that Nehemiah carried about his unanswered prayer. He had begged God to intervene. He had pleaded that the Almighty step in…but he had received no response. So, Nehemiah continued on, day after day, with a deep burden of soul that ached with every step.
But one day, as the goblet passed from the powerless hands to the powerful hands everything changed. The king spoke. The palace hushed, as all eyes turned to see the one whose voice was believed to be the voice of a god.
With curiosity in his eyes, Artaxerxes fixed his gaze on this palace slave. “Slave, why are you sad in my presence?” It was a legitimate question for a king to have. There were tens of thousands of slaves who would die for the opportunity to be in the palace halls of the king of the known world, but this slave who had this privilege was somehow sad.
Before he could stop it, the answer bubbled out, “how could I NOT be sad…my people are oppressed and my home country is devastated.”
The king responded, “and what do you want?”
In an instant, Nehemiah had gone from a position equal to that of a dinner napkin, to one that held the attention of the king. Nehemiah’s heart must have been racing. His mind must have screamed a thousand things.
Then Nehemiah turned his gaze upward again. The text literally says, “So I prayed…”
Finding His confidence in the design and desires of God, he finally asked the king for letters of permission, and for building materials. Without hesitation, the king granted him all he asked.
God had been in control all along. In spite of frustration and fear. In spite of heartache and confusion. God had been in control every day.
This is how it is in our lives. We are often overwhelmed by the crashing waves of circumstance. The ache and frustration, the confusion and fear often cripple our minds. But we, like Nehemiah, have a great God. The remedy to these issues is a trust in Him. The safety from the battering tide is His mighty hand. We can always run to Him. He is in control. He will turn our frustration into opportunity. He will change our sorrows into joy.

Food for Thought: Why was Nehemiah able to ask the request of the King? What do you think would have happened to Nehemiah if he had just asked the king in his own timing? (read Est. 4:11)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nehemiah 1:4-11

Indifference is heartbreaking. Whether it is a guy who is trying to help his uninterested friend overcome temptation and self-destruction, or a mom attempting to instruct the hardened heart of her daughter, or a youth pastor pleading with the cold, indifferent scorner who ignores the truth of God and runs head long into tragedy, indifference always ends in heartbreak.  When we come into Nehemiah 1, we find this gut-wrenching heartache in Nehemiah. 
In verses 1-3, Nehemiah gets news from his friends that the Jews who returned to rebuild Jerusalem have done nothing. The city wall is in shambles, the building of the temple has halted, and God’s people sit idly by while invaders pillage their every effort. The indifference of the people who received God’s blessing disheartens Nehemiah.
So what does Nehemiah do in that moment of shear frustration? How does he fix the problem? What will he personally do in this moment to solve this quandary? Nothing.
Rather, according to Nehemiah 1:4-11, Nehemiah pulls himself out of the equation for a moment. It can be said that too often we view ourselves as far too significant. We see ourselves as the ultimate solution, and if we ever ask God what we should do, it is often simply to vindicate what we already decided to do.
In wisdom, with a broken heart, Nehemiah looked to the place that we must turn in the midst of our frustration – God.
The goodness and love of our God assured Nehemiah that God would hear and answer his prayer. He knew that he could trust the God of heaven at His promises. Nearly 1,000 years earlier, God had told Moses that if His people would repent of their sin, and turn in obedience to Him, He would bless them. Now, with tears running down his beard, Nehemiah pleaded for the grace of the God in heaven to intervene once more. It would not be good enough for Nehemiah to face his frustrations on his own. He needed God to face them for him. Nehemiah was trapped as a cupbearer to the king and could not leave his post to return, God would have to step in and motivate the hearts of His people.
The story doesn’t end here. As a matter of fact, the story continues and God moves in a way that Nehemiah could never have seen. Nehemiah, brokenhearted, leaning only on the power of the God in heaven to intervene in the lives of His unmotivated children, will ultimately see the hand of God in his own life.

Food for Thought: We know that God is all-powerful, why then do you think we fail to ask God for His help in times of frustration?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Nehemiah 1:1-3

Smoke from a thousand fires billowed into the sky as yells of terror echoed down the narrow streets of Jerusalem. The fierce, unstoppable Babylonian army had turned its gold-hungry eyes on the Kingdom of Judah. With sword and shield, they smashed the Israeli armies and poured like a rolling tsunami across the fear-bound city of Jerusalem. Those who were not slain immediately were chained neck and hand and dragged out of the city to be slaves. The old were killed on the spot. The young were cast from the heights of the city wall to meet their doom on the rocks below. “The healthy and the wise,” that’s what the king demanded. They were to be stripped and humiliated. The Jewish king’s defiance had enraged the Babylonian war machine, and these helpless Jews would pay with their dignity.
A decade later, the devastation squad returned to decimate the city.  The beautiful temple of Solomon that had stood for nearly 400 years was torn down and the treasures of worship inside of it were ransacked. The people of God were slaves, with no homes, no families, and no temple. Their story had become a story of abandonment. They had been defeated, shamed, and now left with no identity.
A few decades passed and they became accustomed to their new identities as “slaves.” They were a people who had lost their homeland.
And although they may have accepted this identity, they did not enjoy it. They certainly did not desire to remain with it forever.
Eventually, God called a Persian king, Cyrus, to come deliver His people from the oppression and desecration of the Babylonians. After Cyrus defeated the Babylonians, in what can only be called a Providential proclamation, he decreed that all the Jews who desired to return to the kingdom of Judah to rebuild it could go. God had seen the plight of His people and had intervened. Cyrus was not a believer, he was just a little king in the hands of a powerful Sovereign God.
The book of Nehemiah starts 70 years after the decree of Cyrus was issued. In spite of Providential intervention, the city and the temple still aren’t built. God had offered a way of restoration, but the Jews had retreated into unorganized indifference.

Food For Thought: At times, God give us opportunity, and like these blessed Jews we miss it. What would be an opportunity that you have missed recently? What will you do to fix it?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Introduction to Nehemiah

Time for a History Lesson: 
The book of Nehemiah has a very interesting history. At one point in time, there was no separation between the book of Ezra and the book of Nehemiah. They were both combined into one book called “Ezra.” As time proceeded, the scribes determined that Ezra and Nehemiah should be separated since they deal with two distinctly different stories (although these stories occur back to back). The book of Nehemiah then gained its independent position in the canon of Scripture.
Chronologically, the book of Nehemiah occurs near the end of the Old Testament period. The Old Testament details God’s interaction with man, beginning in 4,000 B.C. at creation, and stretching 3,600 years to the last prophecy of the Old Testament era in Malachi, approximately 400 B.C. The events of the book of Nehemiah take place at the end of this period, occurring less than 50 years before the writing of the book of Malachi and after the writing of all other Old Testament books. Chronologically this places Ezra and Nehemiah at the tail-end of the storyline in the Old Testament. 
Historically, as the Old Testament winds down, the book of Daniel tells how the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and carried the Jews away into captivity (600 B.C.).  However, soon after, the Persians invaded and defeated the Babylonians(540 B.C.). The book of Esther then tells how that God used a Jewish queen of Persia to save His people from certain destruction (500 B.C.). After Esther, two Jewish leaders, Ezra and Nehemiah, return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and provide a place for God’s people to return (450 B.C.).
The book of Nehemiah covers the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the restoration of worshiping God in the temple. It is a grand tale full of highs and lows, as we will see over the next several weeks.
Keep in mind as we move through the book of Nehemiah, Whom the story is really about. The books of Scripture are often named after the author or a major character in the storyline, but ultimately the story of Scripture is the truth of how our God moves and interacts in the lives of men for their good and for His glory. Don’t miss Him as we read the story together.
Food For Thought: When was the book of Nehemiah written? How many books of the Old Testament are older than it?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Psalm 23:6

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
 -Andy Gleiser

Why have we studied Psalm 23? Because you need to know Jesus. He doesn't want your manufactured relationship or even the appearance of worship. He wants you. He wants you like a sheep bragging on and loving your Shepherd. The sheep end this song by telling the future. You can trust your Shepherd completely because he is a faithful God. 
The Shepherd has made a promise to you for as long as you live on this earth. His promise is that his goodness and mercy will follow you. It's like you have two shadows who are with you 24/7. God's goodness and steadfast love are with you when you sleep and when you wake. They are with you in the car and in the house. They don't leave you when you're at school or at work. You can find them just behind you in a crowd or when you're alone. When you're elated or broken, when you're right with God or away from God, when you're walking with God or running from him, his goodness and steadfast love are trailing you.
God's unwavering love and unfailing goodness shadow you all the days of your life…the good days and the bad days. Is your heart hurting? Are you discouraged? Broken? Fearful? You are the object of his love. You are never alone. 
How can you be so sure of his constant goodness and love? The Shepherd was abandoned by God so you would never be abandoned. Only Jesus knows the loss of goodness and love because he took your punishment on the cross. When you struggle to trust God's goodness and love in your darkness, remember that he endured that darkness alone. You are never alone in the darkness. Just look behind you! God's goodness and steadfast love are right there!
But the Shepherd has also promised you will live with him forever. The best part of salvation is not that you escape hell or get your sins forgiven (all incredible blessings!). The best part of salvation is that you get God! You get him not just for the years of time alone, but you get him for eternity. 
Psalm 23 thrills our hearts as sheep, but all he does for us in the psalm is for our time on earth. The psalm ends with, "The best is yet to come!" A day is coming when Jesus will make all things right. There will be no more sickness, pain, or broken hearts. The last child will have been abused. The last family will have been torn by war. The last person will have been ravaged by cancer. It is your destiny to dwell in the house of the Shepherd forever…and you're closer today than you were yesterday.

Food for thought: Rejoice that your Shepherd became a Lamb so his sheep would never be alone.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Psalm 23:5

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
-Andy Gleiser

Can Jesus take care of you in every situation? Will the Shepherd provide for you at every point along the journey? One of the great responsibilities your Shepherd has is to defend and protect you from the surrounding enemies in your life. Many things try to get in and destroy you, but God is your Shepherd, protecting you from that which would harm you. In fact, he is so good at protection, the sheep often have no clue there was a predator nearby.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. Are you finding that's a recurring theme this week? The gospel once again is the answer to our fears and needs. On the cross, our Shepherd kept the enemy of our soul at bay. He defended us from death and then triumphantly defeated death for us three days later by rising from the grave by his own power. If Jesus has the power to beat death for us, why do we struggle trusting him to protect us from our enemies today?
It is in the presence of our enemies that our Shepherd provides for us. All the predators can do is look on as we enjoy the provision and food the Shepherd has given. Are you going through a particularly difficult time right now? Are there problems at home? Do you feel attacked at school or harassed for the sake of Jesus? Those hardships will not be the end of you if you belong to the Good Shepherd. Your enemies are powerless to harm you, and you will discover that the Shepherd turns your difficulties into a banquet that makes you more strong and healthy. What an incredible Shepherd you have!
Finally, note the care and attention each sheep is given by Jesus. The oil removes parasites that can damage and harm the sheep. The Shepherd intimately takes care of each of his sheep. His blessings continue to pour into our lives that we have no more place to store them. We are running over with blessings. The next time you wonder if your Shepherd really cares, go back to the cross and see him hanging and dying for you. You were on his mind then. Why would you be far from his heart now?

Food for thought: It is one thing to survive a threat, but it is quite another to turn that threat into a triumph.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Psalm 23:4

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
-Andy Gleiser

To this point in the psalm, the sheep have been bragging on the Shepherd to other sheep, but now the sheep talk directly to the Shepherd. It's easy to talk about the great Shepherd we have, but how many sheep are actually talking to the Shepherd? Do you have an intimate relationship with your Shepherd? Do your eyes light up when you're with him? If not, when he takes you through dark valleys, you're going to turn on him. 
Sometimes the Shepherd takes you on a quiet path to pastures and water, but sometimes he takes you on a path surrounded by terrifying fear. If somebody told you surrendering your life to Jesus would bring less pain, they lied to you. The Good Shepherd himself told you in the world you would have tribulations. But why would the Shepherd take us through valleys? He is taking us somewhere he wants us to go, but we can't get there until we go through the darkness. Sheep may not understand what the Shepherd is doing, but he is taking us to higher ground, sweeter grass, and greater satisfaction.
But notice the valley. It is a "shadow of death." Shadows can't harm! They can bring discomfort, fear, and disorientation, but they cannot hurt. Never forget…for there to be a shadow, there must be a light behind it. Paul said in 2 Timothy 1 that Jesus abolished death and brought life to light in the darkness through the gospel. The shadow of death can't harm you because the gospel is shining behind. The Good Shepherd laid his life down for the sheep. He took your death. Don't doubt in the dark what God taught you in the light. If the gospel was true in the light, it's still true in the dark. Jesus didn't abandon you at the cross, so why would he now?
This valley is not the destination; it's the avenue to the destination. The Shepherd will not keep you in the valley a second longer than necessary. Jesus had a shadow and it was beyond terrifying, but he saw the joy after the cross. Don't quit on the Shepherd or grow frustrated with him. He has been this way and he knows joy is coming.
Yes, the evil lurks in the shadows, but refuse to doubt your Shepherd's goodness and give into fear. You may not see him at times in the darkness, but you know he is there and will protect you. It's not our place to understand, but to trust.

Food for thought: Do you still trust your Shepherd even when you can't see him?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Psalm 23:2-3

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
-Andy Gleiser

You cannot comprehend the utter delight you are to your Shepherd. He is the King of the world and yet you are his irreplaceable treasure! Do you believe that? Your Shepherd's delight is to delight you. 
He delights you with rest. Sheep don't sleep if they have no peace. If anxious about prowlers, they can't lie down. If annoyed by parasites, they can't relax. If aching with hunger, they can't rest. But when you see a sheep lie down, you see a sheep at rest. It is always the shepherd who works to bring rest to the sheep! What weighs heavily on your mind or even scares you at night? What causes moments of panic to you? Have you noticed you can't quiet your own heart? You are a sheep in need of a Shepherd to quiet you.
Jesus said in John 10:14-15 that he is the Good Shepherd. He is aware of the entirety and enormity of what is bothering you. But Jesus doesn't just know about your anxieties, he did something about it. The Shepherd became a Lamb to experience his sheep's pain. Then he died for the sheep to make a way for the sheep to be at rest. If you are disquieted in heart, the answer is found at the cross. When gripped by fear, take your heart back to the Lamb sacrificed on the tree. 
He delights you with refreshment. Sheep left to themselves to find water will get into trouble. They will drink from muddy groundwater and parasite-infected pools. Like sheep, we are attracted to the stagnant ponds of the world thinking they will satisfy our thirst. We drink from music, books, art, entertainment, achievement, and money trying to gain happiness from them. Though they are all gifts from God, they cannot bring satisfaction. You were made for another world. Find refreshment in Jesus.
He delights you with restoration. The Shepherd revives the soul and gives strength to the sheep for the journey. You don't need to wait for camps, mission trips, or even Sunday to find revival. Today, you can find the restoration of soul you need. Get alone with your Shepherd and open your heart to him. 
He delights you with roads of righteousness. The wise Shepherd takes his sheep down the right paths. Notice that he is leading the sheep on the path. He has not abandoned the sheep on the road. He has looked ahead. He has been there before. He knows where he's taking you. Behind everything he does is a zeal for his name and his glory.

Food for thought: "You can't always trace the hand of God, but you can always trust it." (Robert Moffat)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Psalm 23:2-3

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
-Andy Gleiser

Isn't it obvious when two people like each other? They stand or sit next to one another. They talk to friends about the one they think about all the time. Can people tell that about you and your Shepherd? Is there something going on between the two of you? Is God more to you than an answer on a test or even the subject of Sunday school? How is your relationship with God? There is so much in these two verses we'll need to take them over two days.
Look closely at David's four statements about the Shepherd. "He makes. He leads. He restores. He leads." The emphasis is not on what David does but on what the Shepherd does. Though he was the king, David understood he was in the care of someone else.
The shepherd does all the work for the sheep. He finds pasture, food, and water. He finds the safe path. He protects, provides, leads, quiets, comforts, and searches for sheep that have wandered away. Were it not for the shepherd, the sheep would perish. Without him, they are disquieted, dissatisfied, and directionless.
Just like sheep, your life is dependent on your Shepherd. Were it not for the Shepherd dying for the sheep, all of us, like sheep, would stumble into hell. You need the Shepherd for salvation, but you need him for everything else! You need him for wisdom and comfort. You need him for power, rest, courage, and answers. Don't foolishly believe you can live independently of God.
But we sheep get ourselves into so much trouble because we do not trust our Shepherd. Even though our Shepherd stands just ahead of us and beckons us to come with him to quiet pastures and satisfying streams, we so often refuse to willingly submit to his leading.
Do you think if you follow God, he'll make you unhappy? Do you realize your Shepherd sees something you don't? Could it be you're a bit angry with God? He has allowed something bad to happen, and so you think, "If my Shepherd truly loved me, he wouldn't take me this way." So you close your heart to him. You don't trust him because he has let you down. You're going to trust how you do things now.
No matter how intelligent we are, we are still sheep. We don't get it. The Shepherd sees things we don't. Do you trust him with your life? Will you submit to his instructions? He will direct your paths when you lean on his understanding…not yours.

Food for thought: Has it occurred to you that God has bigger dreams for you than you have for yourself?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Psalm 23:1

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
-Andy Gleiser

What's going on in your life today? What weighs on your mind at night? What do you find strangling your soul? Do you have issues at home? Do you feel lost? Feeble? Fearful? The 23rd Psalm is what you need. You need a Shepherd. Jesus said in John 10:11, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." As you read the Shepherd's psalm, remember it is all about Jesus.
If it is true Jesus is your Shepherd, what does that make you? A sheep! What are sheep like? I'm sorry…it's not too flattering! Sheep stink. Sheep are fearful. Sheep are stupid, weak, dependent, and have a strong desire to wander away. Surely, this couldn't be a picture of us! But wait… 
Can your attitude, behavior, or reactions stink? Check.
Do you ever worry over the future, your parents, your salvation, or even failing? Check. 
Have you ever done a foolish, stupid act of sin, going places physically or digitally you never dreamed you would? Check.
Do you lack strength to obey God and walk with him? Check. 
Do you need guidance for big decisions? Check.
Has there ever been a time when you drifted away from God? Check. 
Ouch! We are very much like sheep. What do sheep need? A Shepherd! And according to David, you have one, and his name is Yahweh. Yahweh is the One who was reigning when you went to sleep and when you awoke. Yahweh is the One who holds the universe together by the power of his voice. Oceans obey the slightest command of Yahweh!
But though he may be a Shepherd to millions, he is your Shepherd. Yes, Jesus is all-powerful. Yes, Jesus is special, perfect, and sovereign. Yes, Jesus is God. But Jesus is yours! Health, moods, plans, and family all change, but your Shepherd never changes, never leaves, never forsakes, and never sleeps.
But don't miss the end of the verse. Jesus is also your satisfaction. Because he is your Shepherd, you will not lack anything you need for today or tomorrow. This also means you will not crave anything. In other words, Jesus so satisfies you that you need nothing else. You don't need the approval of classmates; you have Jesus. You don't need a relationship with a boy/girl to make you happy; you have Jesus. You don't need more stuff to make you feel special; you have Jesus. Nothing satisfies like your relationship with Jesus.

Food for thought: You may know Psalm 23, but how well do you know the Shepherd?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jude 20-25

But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

Jude closes his epistle with an encouragement to not be simply spectators to the destruction of the disbelieving, disillusioned, and disobedient. All deserve the judgment and wrath of God. Many will receive it. But a loving Christian will not stand idly by and rejoice at the destruction of other souls, no matter how deceitful and how wicked.
This is the point of the gospel. Jesus, the sinless, saw the sinful in need and acted. In Ezekiel 18, God tells us that it is not a joy to Him to watch the wicked be destroyed. Romans 5 takes it a step further and says that we were enemies of God in our wickedness, but He was willing to reconcile us. He says, furthermore, that while we were sinners Jesus died for us.
He cared so much about our desperately lost situation that He was willing to die to accomplish our reconciliation. It didn’t matter that we were His enemy. Our sinfulness separated us from Him, but not so far that He would not lovingly engage us. Rather, God made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us that we might have a chance.
We were hopeless, but Jesus brought us hope at the expense of His own comfort and safety. When we see those around us, and even those in the church whose willful disobedience to God disgusts us, we must remind ourselves of the fact that at one point when we were without the grace of God, we had our rough edges too. We must then with the mind and heart transformed by gospel truth, lovingly engage those around us.
Jude says “have compassion,” “live in the love and mercy of God,” “help them.”
Now, how will you lovingly engage those who at times frustrate you? How will you seek to reconcile those who are absolutely wrong in their assumptions and actions?  What will you do to further extend the grace of the gospel of Jesus to them so that they can be saved from the death that you have been saved from?
Those who have found hope must become agents of that hope. Those who have been forgiven must proclaim that forgiveness. The delivered must help deliver. The saved must help save.

Food for Thought: Who do you know that could use a little more compassion from you than judgment? What will you do about it?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Jude 12-19

These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great welling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage. But beloved, remember ye the words which were spoke before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not he Spirit.

In one of His last messages to His disciples, Jesus spoke of the day when all would be gathered in judgment. On one side of the Judge would be placed the “sheep.” On the other side would be placed the “goats.” Ironically, they would all be mixed together. There would be those mixed in with the sheep who ate grass and followed the flock around, but were never actually sheep. When they were all finally called in, the distinguishing eye of the Shepherd separated the ones He knew were His own sheep and cast the goats out.
The picture is one of Jesus sorting through all those who call themselves His followers. All come walking through the gate at judgment with a sense of confidence. Jesus matter-of-factly separates His true followers from the ones who had just been playing the game and living on false hope. It didn’t matter that they went to Sunday school, or attended every church function. Attendance did not ensure atonement. Dedication never accomplishes deliverance. Salvation comes through faith not faithfulness. Years of following the flock around, doesn’t transform a goat into a sheep.
Judgment day will come, and those who have spent their lives laboring to convince others of their own spiritual position will have their goat-selves cast into eternal punishment.
Jude sees these in the church. Many of them are polluting the accomplishment of the church and frustrating those who long to do right. They distract from the main thing. They worry about pew and carpet color. They love words like “fellowship,” and hate words like “evangelize.” They prefer to cause strife and mutter sarcastic attacks against those God has placed in charge instead of actively growing themselves and those around them in the truth. They don’t mind enduring a forty minute monologue, but will never do the hard work of listening to the truth presented. Just about every time they appear to have fruit, reality sets in and the underdeveloped outgrowth rots away.
Following this thought of the final judgment, Paul says in Philippians 2 that all who call themselves “Christian,” should “work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling.” If the goats will one day walk in the gate with self-deceived confidence, what blindness must control them! Sadly, blindness is a condition that leads to judgment, and can never be used as an excuse from condemnation.

Food for Thought: What are some of the word pictures Jude uses to describe those who are in the church, but are not truly Christian?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Jude 8-11

Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. Yet Michael the archangel when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah.

Jude gives a character sketch of those who disregard God’s design. A lack of belief in the life of a person plays itself out in a number of ways:
“Filthy Dreamers” – These are the people who with a grotesquely vile mind fantasize and objectify those around them. They do not see people as eternal beings in need of truth and life, but rather as the very tools to accomplish their own lustful desires. They have completely missed the health, life and purpose that God has offered to them. The One Who knows them, and has designed and crafted them, offers a much better way for their mind. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy…mind…”-it was designed to be enamored by His greatness, not fleeting, hollow fantasy. No amount of gratifying fantasy can ever fill the depths of satisfaction offered through a mind set in Him and His truth.
“Defilers of the Flesh” – Romans speaks of those who do those things “which are inconvenient.” It doesn’t matter whether the internal devastation comes from a disease or from the more deep-set poison, shame, the flesh of those who disregard God’s designs rots and festers. With closed ears and open arms they embrace the self-destroying death of defilement, fully ignoring the truth of God’s warning. And when they ache, somehow they wonder “why?”
“Despise Dominion, and Speak Evil of Dignities” – “You don’t own me.” In an individualistic culture, the thought of being owned by anything is so repulsive, that these pride-slaves push against anything that seems to be in charge. They back-bite their teachers. They hate correction of parents. They despise being told what to do. They murmur about their boss. Their words are an open coffin with stench and rottenness about the President they want everyone to know they disagree with. They fail to believe God when He says He is in control of all authority, and instead of praying for their authorities, they vomit God-forbidden ridicule. They trade His desire, the perfect design of respecting and honoring authority, for their own desires, disrespect and disregard for those in charge.
Look in the mirror of God’s Word. Do you see yourself as obedient to God, or do you look remarkably like the ones who poise themselves under the promised destruction of a just and holy God? God help us to humbly accept the truth of God’s Word and to find the liberating life that it brings.

Food for Thought: Which of these descriptors would you say you struggle with the most? What will you do about it?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Jude 5-7

I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of that great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

God tells the truth. He only tells the truth. He always tells the truth. It is Who He is. When God says something, without a doubt, it will come to pass. He has never uttered something that did not come to pass. This is vitally important in understanding how He interacts with mankind throughout history.
At times, we see the drastic consequences of man’s disobedience, and somehow walk away with a feeling of “WOW! Really?!?!? Did God really just react that way!?!” It is as if we see God extend the punishment that He promised, and somehow it seems a bit over the top. We must not lose sight of the fact that while the consequences of sin are dark and sometimes startling, they are not poured out on the undeserving. As a matter of fact, a gracious God is always kind enough to warn those He would judge. He sends agents of truth to offer liberty to those who stand in opposition to Him. The only gracious, omnibenevolent God always tells the truth when He lovingly warns of the consequences to sin.
Jude plays out a reminder of three of these instances: the doubting Israelites who had been delivered from the Egyptian slavery; the fallen and, subsequently, judged angels; the Twin Cities of fornication, Sodom and Gomorra, that were obliterated by cataclysmic sulfur-balls.
God told the Israelites that He delivered to simply trust Him. He would help them conquer their baby-murdering enemies. After the angels had seen Him in His glory, they foolishly chose separation from Him, and earned their forgiveless banishment. Sodom and Gomorra proved to be the epitomization of the depravity of unbridled lust. None of them trusted Him, and when they leapt into the fire of His justice, they were consumed with its flames.
God lovingly had offered the way of truth, and they had foolishly rejected it. He was the One Who had told the truth. They preferred to close their ears to truth, and rather live in the lies of their own hearts and in the error of deceit-blinded peers.
Our reaction to the stories of Scripture that tell of a God of Justice, should not be one of recoil. We need not question His goodness, because He lovingly warns of the consequence long before it ever pours out on the heads of the disobedient.

Food For Thought: What is the proper perspective of God when we see the punishment of the wicked in their own devices? What did God do to liberate man from his bondage to this self-destructing cycle?