Wise Christmas

Key Scripture: Matthew 2: 1-12

During the Christmas season, we never seem to have enough money. Our bank account balance falls miserably short of everything we want to buy for friends and family, so we put it on a credit card and hope for the best. Instead of snow-balling our debt and paying it off, we end up crushed by a financial avalanche. If you’re missing Peace because of all of the “stuff” you need to get, it’s time to put Christ back in the center of your finances. Give regularly back to Him, especially during seasons when it’s most difficult to give. Learn to give like Him, caring more about the person than the present. The greatest gifts we receive have nothing to do with what we want, and everything to do with who we are and who we’re becoming. Instead of buying gifts that cost a lot, give gifts that mean a lot - and rediscover the Peace you’ve been missing.

Scripture References: 1 Timothy 6:17, 1 Timothy 6:9-10, Ephesians 4:28, Malachi 3:10

Christmas Time

Key Scripture:  Luke 1: 26-38

During the Christmas season, we never seem to have enough time. Our already busy schedule gets even more crowded with work parties, decorating the house, entertaining friends, shopping for those perfect gifts, and countless other holiday responsibilities. When our busy schedule and our crazy plans become the center of our lives, we will inevitably find ourselves missing Peace. It’s easy to be preoccupied with everything we need to get done without ever considering what Jesus actually wants us to do. When we submit to God’s will and serve Him as Master, He frees us from the tyranny of the urgent. This Christmas season, stop trying to get control of your crazy holiday schedule. Instead, give HIM control of your schedule and rediscover the Peace you’ve been missing.

Scripture References: Philippians 3:19, Matthew 22:27-40, Ephesians 5:15-16

God's Way

Key Scripture:  Nehemiah 13:1-31

A life that matters is lived God’s Way; it’s a life of uncompromising obedience to His Word. This doesn’t just happen naturally. In fact, the sinful part of man constantly pulls him away from God and His perfect plan for us. Knowing this, we must do all we can to remove sinful influences that are destructive toward our Faith and not allow them to take root and take up residence in our lives. It’s vital to know and keep His commands when it comes to revenue, rest and relationships. These important areas of our lives directly affect the health of the only real essential area of life: our relationship with God. Are you living your own way? The World’s way? Or are you living God’s Way?

Scripture References: Galatians 5:17, Matthew 18:8-9, Galatians 5:4, Romans 7:6-7, Exodus 20:8, 11, Isaiah 30:15, 2 Corinthians 6:14-16, James 4:4

No Thanks

Key Scripture:  Nehemiah 12: 1-47

Thanksgiving should be more than just a holiday; it should be a regular part of our lives. Our natural tendency, however, is to compare ourselves to other people which leads to discontentment. We end up focusing more on the problems in our lives and the things we don’t have. We give no thanks. Yet, even during times of loss and difficulty, it’s important to praise God for who He is and thank Him for what He’s done. If we have nothing else, we have been redeemed from our sin and given the gift of Life in Christ. Thanksgiving can be expressed through worship – singing songs of gratitude and praise - and through giving cheerfully back to God. When we choose to give thanks, we protect ourselves against anger and bitterness, and we experience greater health in our mind, body and relationships. Let’s give thanks this holiday and every day!

Scripture References:  Nehemiah 12:1, 8, 24, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Nehemiah 12:27-30, 31, 38, 40, 43, Numbers 19:9, Hebrews 9:14

Live Free

Key Scripture: Nehemiah 9:1-39

America is the “Land of the Free,” yet most Americans live in slavery every day. We celebrate our freedom to do what we want, forgetting that true freedom is also being able to not do what we don’t want. We are slaves to sin, to fear, and to addiction. We regularly make and break commitments to God, to others and even to ourselves. We’ve become accustomed to failure and all too familiar with shame. But Jesus came to set us free. We are no longer slaves to the rules of this world because we are children of God. We’ve been redeemed to be different. As followers of Jesus, we don’t live like others live, talk like others talk or even think like others think. He brought us into His family so we can stand out in this world. Is your life different? Are you really living free?

Scripture References: Nehemiah 9:36-38, John 8:34, Romans 7:15, 18-19, 24-25, Hebrews 7:22, 8:8-10, Nehemiah 10:28-29, John 12:31-32, 1 Peter 2:9, Nehemiah 10:30-39, Matthew 6:24, 33, Luke 12:15-21, Matthew 6:19-21, 2 Samuel 24:24

Oh Joy

Key Scripture:  Nehemiah 8:1-18

A life that matters is a life marked by joy. Life has its trials and pursuing God’s calling often invites even more hardships, yet joy gives us an unshakeable foundation of strength. Joy isn’t the result of emotion – it’s not a feeling. It’s not even the result of volition – it’s not a choice. Joy is the supernatural result of my condition before God. It’s the fruit of knowing i am loved and accepted by my Creator, not because I deserve it, but because of Jesus Christ. No trial, tribulation or loss can change this reality or take it away from me. Happiness is a fickle friend that can change, wane and even leave over time. Yet, joy is steadfast and loyal. Grief and sorrow will never overcome it. No matter how many bad things we experience, it doesn’t change the infinite goodness of my right relationship with God. One day, we will be entirely free from pain, but until then we must remember our true source of strength: the joy of the Lord!

Scripture References:  Nehemiah 8:1-8, Hebrews 5:13-14, Matthew 6:21, 2 Timothy 3:16, Nehemiah 8:9-12, John 15:11, Nehemiah 8:13-18, Revelation 21:4

Calling Home

Key Scripture: Nehemiah 6:15-7:73

God’s priorities are clear. Jesus came to reach out to the least, the last, and the lost and bring them to a place where they can experience His peace and protection. He is the Good Shepherd who will leave the 99 sheep already in the fold in order to bring back just one who has wandered away. And once he returns, there’s a party! Do we as the Church have that same heart? It’s easy to get caught up in all of our Christian activities and duties, forgetting that countless people in this world are struggling with no help, no hope and no home. They live every day in fear, feeling like they don’t belong. At one point, they might even think about visiting church, but the fear of judgment and rejection is just one of many overwhelming reasons to remain where they are. We have the great opportunity and responsibility to bring these people the Good News of forgiveness and belonging in Christ. To do this, we must be a safe place for the exile – a place of Grace who loves people as they are. Do you know someone who needs this Good News today? Call them Home!

Other Scripture References: Nehemiah 6:15-19, Genesis 4:5-7, 1 Corinthians 4:20, Nehemiah 7:1-7, Luke 15:3-7

Seize the Moment

Sexual Assault. False Accusations. These two issues have dominated the headlines and infiltrated mainstream contemporary cultural conversation. Sadly, these two problems are not new to our world, but have been occurring in one form or another for most of human history. When our country and society is unraveling and being torn apart, how do we respond as God’s people? The Church has been the most influential, world-shaping and world-changing organization in the history of our world. It’s time to reclaim that identity as the people of God. In times of unrest, division and instability, we are called to make things right by making Peace. In doing so, we will help preserve our corrupted and corruptible society and be known as children of God. We can’t just hide behind the walls of the Church. We must lead the way in our country and culture – loving and helping others at our own expense in a way that doesn’t make sense to most people around us. We must show this world who Jesus is.

Key Scripture:  Nehemiah 5 and 6

Other Scripture References: Matthew 15:19-20, James 4:17, Matthew 5:9, James 3:18, Matthew 5:13, Matthew 6:19-21

Make a Difference

When we see something that needs to be different, how can we begin making a difference? Many of us feel the weight of a God-given burden at some point in our lives, but we don’t know what to do with it. How do we take what could and should be and make it what is? Living out God’s call on your life begins with passion. According to a recent Gallup poll, a mere 30% of the U.S. workforce is passionate about what they do for a living. This means 7 out of 10 employees are either miserable at work, or at best merely going through the motions. A change of position does not guarantee an increase in passion. Instead, significance can be found in any and every career by living out God’s call on our lives. Many people abandon their God-given burdens because they’re unwilling to risk their stable and comfortable routine. Others miss out due to a lack of planning or reluctance to work hard. While God’s call is never easy, He doesn’t ask us to do it alone. He has given us others to work alongside us as He works through us. Are you ready to make a difference?

Scripture References

Key Scripture:  Nehemiah 2 & 3

Nehemiah 2:1-8

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.

Hebrews 11:32-38

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

Philippians 3:7-8

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

It is not the critic who counts…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again…but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. – Teddy Roosevelt

Nehemiah 2:9-16

Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king's letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.

11 So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. 13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King's Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass.15 Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. 16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.

Nehemiah 2:17-20

17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”

Ephesians 2:8-10

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Matthew 5:16

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Genesis 2:15

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

In the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered. – Jim Collins

Nehemiah 3:1-2

Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel. And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.

Think about this for a moment. What would happen if you were to begin speaking to people’s potential rather than their performance? What if you made it a habit to dispense the same type of grace to others as has been poured out on you? What would happen if you intentionally laced your conversations with notions of what could be true of the people around you? – Andy Stanley

Called to Greatness

Everyone wants their life to matter, but few people feel it actually does. Every day we’re surrounded by need, yet we often miss the opportunities for significance God has put right in front of us. Why? Because we’re too self-focused to allow the tragedy of that need affect us. God wants to use each one of us in a unique way. His calling on our lives exceeds what we can do on our own and will take us beyond our safe, puny, bubble-wrapped lives of self-service and pseudo-sacrifice. A life of eternal significance requires everything we have and many things we don’t. It means daily pursuing His promises before our own plans. Are you ready to start living a life that matters? Are you ready to answer His call to greatness?

Scripture References:

Key Scripture: Nehemiah 1:1-11

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.

Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

Nehemiah's Prayer

4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Now I was cupbearer to the king.

Exodus 3:1-4

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

Isaiah 58:3

3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,[a]
and oppress all your workers.

Isaiah 58:6-7

6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed[a] go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Acts 9:15

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.

Acts 1:4-5

4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don't have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life. – Jim Collins, Good to Great