Haggai’s second prophetic word just so happened to be given on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Was this just a coincidence, or was God using this festival to show Haggai—and us—something important?
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How to Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles
In the last video, we covered quite a bit about what the Feast of Tabernacles is. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to go check it out. And while I’m telling you what to do, subscribe to this channel and share this video with your friends.
The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, is a week-long celebration toward the beginning of the Jewish year, where God’s people are commanded to “rejoice before the LORD your God.” As such, it’s sometimes called “The Season of Our Joy.”
So, why do we rejoice? Two main reasons: One, because God eternally dwells with us, and we are eternally dependent on Him. And two, because we are expecting God to bless and increase us this next year, and we’re expecting God to bless and increase His Church through us.
So there you have it. That’s why we celebrate Sukkot. But that begs the question: how are we supposed to celebrate Sukkot?
Step 1: Sleep in a sukkah.
The Bible says, “You shall dwell in booths for seven days.” That’s not some sort of metaphor. You are literally supposed to build a hut in your backyard, just like the Israelites did while wandering through the desert, and then sleep in it for seven nights.
Your tabernacle, or sukkah, is supposed to be open on one side and have a roof made of branches. Here’s a picture of ours from last year. It doesn’t have to be too fancy, just something that hopefully doesn’t collapse while you’re inside of it. And if it’s any consolation, Jewish tradition says that only men need to sleep in it, so ladies, you’re off the hook.
Now we do this to remind our families of our complete dependence on God for the next year. And yes, this is celebrated in the Bible. When Solomon dedicates the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles, the people feast and stay in tents for seven days. And when Nehemiah rededicates the temple, the people all build sukkahs in the city square and live there for a week.
Step 2: Feast in your sukkah.
The Bible tells us to “rejoice in your feast,” with your family and with your coworkers and with your neighbors and with strangers and with orphans and widows and with everyone.
Every night of the week of Tabernacles, you should invite people over for dinner to eat in your tabernacle. They’ll probably have no idea why they are eating in a makeshift hut in your backyard, so it provides a perfect opportunity to explain the feast and encourage them to center their lives on the promises of God.
Show them scriptures about God’s blessing upon their lives. Teach them how they can bless others and bring people into God’s kingdom. And have a good time. It’s the season of our joy, after all. Don’t be afraid to turn on some music and party like Jesus is coming back tomorrow.
Step 3: Shake the lulav.
Now I’m going to warn you that what I’m about to say might sound silly, so I’ll remind you that we do plenty of silly things on other holidays. Like this. Or this. Or this.
All those things are really silly on paper, but we just accept that it’s normal and do it every year, and now we’re used to it and it’s not weird anymore.
The Bible tells us that we’re supposed to take branches from different trees and fruit, and make a lulav, which looks like this. Then you take your lulav and you shake it to the north, to the south, to the east, to the west, up to the sky, and down to the ground, and you declare Psalm 118:25 every time:
“Save now, I pray, O Lord. O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.”
From every direction, you call in God’s blessings for your family and you call in the nations for God’s kingdom. (Mishnah Sukkah 3:9)
And again, if you think that’s weird, just remember that you also do this on Jesus’ birthday.
Step 4: Speak God’s Word only.
You know, we live in a crazy world, and there’s plenty to complain about. And nowadays, social media makes it so easy to get bogged down with all the nonsense that’s out there.
But during Sukkot, we make a decision to start the year off right. Our constant declaration is, “The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.” People are gossiping at work? Not you! “The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.” The president said what? Who cares? “The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.”
Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, so we make a decision to fill our hearts with God’s Word and sing His praises with our lips. It’s a full week to set the course for the rest of the year, a year that is completely dependent on God, a year that is saturated with God’s presence.
Now if you’ve never celebrated Tabernacles before, I want to encourage you to give it a try this year. The Bible says we are supposed to keep this feast “forever in your generations,” so there’s not really a reason not to celebrate it. Even Jesus celebrated it, and the Bible says that we’ll still be celebrating it when Jesus comes back.
It’s a great way to start off the Jewish year, and a fun reason to get together with friends and talk about God’s goodness, so if you’re interested, here are the dates of Sukkot for the next ten or so years.
So in conclusion, Tabernacles—or Sukkot—is a weeklong celebration where we rejoice because God dwells with us, because God will bless and increase us, and because God will increase His Church through us.
We celebrate by building a sukkah in our backyard, where we sleep every night as a reminder of our complete dependence on God. We also invite people over to feast in our sukkah every night of the week.
We shake the lulav and call in God’s blessings for our family and call in the nations for God’s kingdom. And we make it a point to reject gossip and complaining and evil reports, and instead meditate on God’s Word and constantly declare, “The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.”
What a great way to start the year.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
What is the Feast of Tabernacles?
There are a lot of weird holidays. There’s one where a fat, jolly saint who lived 17 hundred years ago breaks into your house to put presents under a dying tree covered in lights… because Jesus. There’s also one where a giant, anthropomorphic bunny poops chocolate eggs, and kids hunt them down and eat them… because Jesus… again.
How about the one where you dress up like a cartoon character and then threaten to prank your neighbors if they don’t give you candy, to celebrate catholic saints? Or getting drunk, pinching people, and dressing up like leprechauns, to celebrate a missionary in Ireland? Or Labor Day, which is basically just “Communist Day,” where you don’t labor… because you’re a communist?
Yeah, there are a lot of weird holidays that don’t make a whole lot of sense. But are there any holidays in the Bible? Well yes, actually. Turns out, God is a big fan of holidays. And fun fact, none of them involve threatening strangers, chocolate poop, or communism.
So the Bible has a lot of holidays, but there are three major ones: the Feast of Passover, which eventually became Easter… sort of; the Feast of Weeks, also called Pentecost; and the Feast of Tabernacles, which is the one most of you have probably never heard of.
So… what’s the Feast of Tabernacles?
The Feast of Tabernacles—or Sukkot in Hebrew—is celebrated at the very beginning of the Jewish year, right after Rosh Hashanah, and is described in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy as a festival in which God’s people “shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.” Because of this rejoicing, Sukkot is often called “The Season of Our Joy.” So why do we rejoice on Sukkot?
Two reasons are given: One, that our children would know that God delivered His people from the land of Egypt; and two, because the LORD our God will bless us in all the work of our hands.
So let’s take those one at a time. We rejoice because God delivered His people out of Egypt. Now there’s a lot we can say about the deliverance from Egypt, but what happened after the Israelites left Egypt?
For the first time in 400 years, they didn’t have a home. They were out in the wilderness, completely on their own. Well, not quite on their own, because for the first time in hundreds of years, God was with them. Out in the desert, the Israelites were entirely dependent on God for everything.
God led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He protected them from all danger. He provided them with every single thing they needed. And for forty years, God’s people dwelt in the wilderness in booths, or tabernacles. And they built one large tabernacle, right in the middle of their camp, where the presence of God could dwell in their midst.
First and foremost, the Feast of Tabernacles is a season of rejoicing because God eternally dwells with you and me. Immanuel—God with us—will never leave you nor forsake you. He is with you always, even to the end of the age. Our God isn’t far away. He dwells with us and lives within us. And if nothing else, that is something to rejoice about.
But there’s more. Not only does God dwell in the midst of His people; God’s people are entirely dependent on Him. Out in the desert, God provided all their needs, and we are to rejoice because we trust that God will bless us and prosper us in everything we do as well. For this reason, Sukkot is also called “The Feast of Ingathering.”
Think about it. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He didn’t bring them out poor and impoverished. No, they came out loaded down with the silver and gold of the Egyptians.
And during their time in the wilderness, God provided them with everything they needed: food, water, silver, gold. In fact, we’re told that God provided so much for them that Moses literally had to command the people to stop donating to the tabernacle building fund (Exodus 36:6).
And as their time in the wild came to an end, God promised to “to bless all the work of your hands,” the exact phrase God uses to describe why we rejoice during Sukkot.
During the Feast of Tabernacles, we rejoice because God’s blessing is upon His people—upon you and me—and we know that God will increase us in every area of our lives. Now that certainly means that God will increase us financially, but we also rejoice because God will increase our families, increase our relationships, and bring an increase into His Church.
For this reason, Sukkot is also called “The Feast of Nations,” and you can actually see this idea throughout the scriptures. When we celebrate, we are told to feast with our friends and family, but also with “the stranger and the fatherless and the widow,” and with all who are within our town. This feast isn’t just for you; you’re supposed to share it with everyone.
And in that cross-reference about God blessing the work of our hands, we are told that we are then to “lend to many nations.” This goes all the way back to the original blessing proclaimed to Abraham: “I will bless you… and you shall be a blessing… and in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
In fact, when you trace the celebration of Sukkot throughout the Bible, you find that it’s always connected with spreading the blessing of God to the nations. During the Exodus, which is the basis for Sukkot, God declared that He delivered His people from Egypt “that My name may be declared in all the earth.”
After Jonah preaches to the Ninevites—a foreign nation—Jonah has a Sukkot celebration… sort of. But that’s a tale for a different time. When Zechariah prophesies about the Millennial kingdom, he sees all the nations gathering to celebrate Sukkot. And when Jesus celebrates Sukkot, He sends out the 70 disciples to preach the gospel.
Now seventy’s a pretty interesting number. In a previous video, we talked about how “70” represented the nations. And how many sacrifices were the Jews supposed to make on Sukkot? Seventy!
Sukkot isn’t just about you being blessed. It’s about everyone being blessing through you. So we rejoice because God is with us. We rejoice because God will bless and increase us. And we rejoice because God will increase His Church through us. Simply enough, right?
But now that we know why we are supposed to rejoice, the question is… how are we supposed to rejoice? And we’ll cover that in the next video.
Thanks for watching, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
What is Love? (Church Basement)
Love. It’s what God is. It’s what we’re supposed to walk in. And depending who you ask, it’s also a battlefield, an open door, and all you need. But… what is it? What is love?
Nowadays most people would say that love is being nice, or maybe tolerance or acceptance. Some dictionaries say it’s a feeling of attachment, or passionate affection.
And a mistake many Christians make is using today’s cultural understanding of love and applying that to scriptures about love, rather than getting our definition of love from the Bible and living that out in the world.
So, what does the Bible say about love?
A few things, actually. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, people would ask Him, “What is the great(est) commandment in the law?” and His answer was always the same:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all of your strength.” “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now these weren’t laws that He just made up on the spot. No, these laws were given thousands of years earlier, when God gave them to Moses on Mount Sinai. These are established laws from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Now notice the connection between love and God’s law. Jesus says that when you’re walking in love, you’re obeying laws that God has commanded. And this connection between walking in love and living according to the law continues throughout the Bible.
Writing to the Romans, Paul says, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” You shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not lie, you shall not covet. Paul says these are all summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul is making the same connection between love and law. When you walk in love, you’re obeying God’s law. And conversely, when you disobey God’s law, you’re not walking in love.
James says the same thing, writing, “If you really fulfill the royal law according the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” To love is to fulfill—to obey—God’s law.
Even John, Jesus’ beloved disciple, says the exact same thing. In one of his letters, he writes, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.” In other letter, he says, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” Then he adds, “And His commandments are not burdensome,” as if to silence the objectors and say, “Guys, you can do this. You can walk in love.”
And finally, Jesus adds His agreement to James, John, and Paul. He tells His followers—He tells you and me—“If you love Me, keep My commandments,” and “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.”
Love isn’t some alternative to obeying God. Love is obeying God. Love is doing what God has said to do. To love someone is to treat them how God has commanded you to treat them. Love is obedience to God and to His Word.
And when you apply God’s standard of love to the world, you find that there are plenty of things that society says are loving that aren’t really all that loving.
Stealing something from one person and giving it to someone in need isn’t real love, because stealing is against God’s law.
Having sex with your girlfriend because you are in love isn’t real love, because sex outside of marriage is against God’s law.
Telling someone that their sin is okay because you don’t want to hurt their feelings isn’t real love, because lying is against God’s law.
If your supposed love is causing you to disobey God, then it’s not real love, because the most loving thing you can do in any given situation is to do exactly what God has said to do.
And real quick, I just want to point out that this isn’t a license to call people out like a tool. Ephesians 4 says our words should be used for godly edification and imparting grace, so if you’re not speaking words of grace, you’re not speaking in love.
So what is love, truly? It’s not what you see coming out of Hollywood. It’s not what you hear on the radio or what you read in Time Magazine or what you see trending on the internet. It’s what you find in the Holy Scriptures, revealed and commanded by the perfect and loving God.
Love is obedience to God’s Word. Love is keeping His commandments. Love is doing what God has said to do. And love is what God has called each and every one of us to do. So let’s get started.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
Mount Moriah (Church Basement)
“Love.” I’d think we could all agree that “love” is a relatively important topic when it comes to God, right? But do you know where the word “love” first appears in the Bible? Yeah, didn’t think so.
It actually shows up for the first time in Genesis 22, when God says to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you LOVE, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…”
So Abraham and Isaac set out for a mountain in the land of Moriah to make this sacrifice. Abraham brings a knife and a fire, while Isaac carries the wood. It’s a three-day journey, and on the third day Isaac looks around and realizes that Abraham forgot to bring a lamb. Apparently Isaac doesn’t know what’s about to happen. So he asks his dad, “Hey, uh… where’s the lamb?”
And Abraham says to Isaac, “God will provide for Himself the lamb, my son.” Now there’s two ways to read this: “God will provide the lamb, I say to you, my son.” Or, “God will provide the lamb, and the lamb is my son.” Frankly, either one fits, and both apply, so take it how you want.
Now we all know what happens next: Abraham binds Isaac on the altar—presumably with Isaac’s permission, as Abraham is well over a hundred years old and Isaac is probably around 20.
But before Abraham can lay a hand on the boy, God stops him and tells him, “Because you have not withheld your only son, in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Abraham lifts his eyes and sees a ram caught in a bush, and sacrifices the ram instead of his son.
And all of this takes place on a mountain in Moriah. Now the first time I read this story when I was 17, that place stuck out to me. “Mount Moriah.” I had heard of it before. And then I realized: That was the same place… where Gandalf died in Lord of the Rings! He died while fighting the balrog on Mount Moria.
But that got me thinking: Does Mount Moriah show up anywhere else in scripture? And it turns out, it does. The Hebrew word “Moriah”—which means “chosen by Yahweh”— shows up in one other place.
In 2 Chronicles, we are told that “Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah.” The temple, of course, was the center of the Jewish faith, and the place where all the sacrifices—including the twice-daily burnt offering—were to be made.
So you have this mountain—Mount Moriah—where Abraham was commanded to make a sacrifice, which resulted in a promise that all of the people of the earth would be blessed by a descendant of Abraham. And a thousand years later, that is the exact location where Solomon—a descendant of Abraham—builds God’s temple, where all of the sacrifices were made on behalf of the people.
That’s cool, right? But does Mount Moriah show up anywhere else? Well we don’t see the word “Moriah” again, but there is a hint in 2 Chronicles. We just read that Solomon “built the house of the LORD on Mount Moriah,” but there’s more to the verse.
“…Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David… on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” So David had been to Moriah too! But what exactly did David do there?
Looking back in 1 Chronicles, we read that David was “moved by satan” to lead the nation in what is described as an “repulsive” sin that brings “guilt upon Israel.” As a result, a plague falls upon the land, which threatens to destroy the people of Jerusalem.
We then read that David “lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, having in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem.”
And what does David do? He falls to his knees and declares, “Let Your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me and my father’s house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.” David begs for the punishment to fall on him and his descendants, and for the people to be spared.
God then commands David to “erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” Where is Ornan’s threshing floor? On Mount Moriah, in the exact place where Solomon would build the temple a generation later. David buys the place from Ornan, builds an altar, and makes a sacrifice there. Then God answers him “from heaven by fire on the altar,” and the destroying angel “returned his sword to its sheath.”
So in the same place where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his descendant to bring blessings upon the earth, David asks God to forgive the people of the destruction they deserve and punish his descendant instead, and then David makes a sacrifice on the altar. The same place where, a generation later, all of the sacrifices will be made. All of these events take place on Mount Moriah.
So with all of this context in mind, I have a question for you: Where do you think Jesus was crucified? On Mount Moriah. On the same mountain where sacrifices were made for hundreds of years, where Solomon built his temple, where David stood in the gap, where Abraham took his son. All of these events took place in the exact same spot!
Think about all the meaning packed into that location. Abraham had journeyed three days to get to Moriah while his son carried wood on his back, where he declared that God would provide his Son—his only Son, his beloved Son—as a lamb for sacrifice, and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed as a result.
Jesus—God’s beloved Son—is also called the Son of Abraham, the Lamb of God, and after He carried a wooden cross and was crucified on Mount Moriah and spent three days in the earth, His resurrection brought the blessing of Abraham upon all who would believe.
David stood on Mount Moriah—between heaven and earth—and implored God that the people should be spared from their justified destruction, and that the punishment for their sins should fall upon David and his descendant instead.
Jesus—the Son of David—was marched to the exact same location—between heaven and earth—and took our collective punishment upon Himself, that we might be spared our deserved wrath of God.
Solomon built the Temple on Mount Moriah, where his father had assuaged the wrath of God a generation earlier. Literally hundreds of thousands of sacrifices were made there, daily postponing the punishment for the sins of mankind.
And after a thousand years of sacrifices on that same spot, God finally provided His Lamb. The Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of God—He carried a wooden cross up that mountain, where they nailed Him to it and raised Him up before heaven and earth. And with His last breath, He declared, “It is finished,” and gave up the spirit.
All that had happened on Mount Moriah before had been leading up to this exact moment. The promise made to Abraham, the forgiveness extended to David, the offering made by Solomon—it was finally finished. Fulfilled in the same place where it started. Through Christ, the seed of Abraham, all the nations of the earth would finally be blessed.
And all of this takes place in the very first place where we were introduced to biblical love.
I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. Like, God is so incredibly good in all of this. But stuff like this is so easy to miss. If you don’t pay attention to where these stories take place, you’ll miss all of this meaning and goodness.
I once heard it said, “Geography is theology.” The Bible is 1,189 chapters. God wouldn’t waste His words telling us where these things take place if they weren’t important. The geography of the Bible is there for a reason, and when we make an effort to understand not only what’s happening but where it’s happening, God can show us things we never knew were there.
So next time you’re reading the Bible and God goes out of His way to tell you where the action is happening, take a minute and look it up. You never know what you’ll find.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
The Seventy Disciples (Church Basement)
We’ve all heard of the twelve disciples. You’ve got Peter, James, John, good Judas, bad Judas, and the other ones. These twelve men were commissioned by Jesus to go out into the world and preach the gospel to the nations.
But what you may not know is that those weren’t the only disciples. In Luke 10, we read that Jesus “appointed seventy others also,” telling them “the harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few.” He commissions these seventy disciples to go out into the world, healing the sick and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and gives them all authority over the power of the enemy (Luke 10).
Now here’s my question: why seventy? Why not 52, or 153? Did there just happen to be seventy guys hanging out with Jesus that day, or is there something more significant about the number 70? A good starting place would be to see if the number 70 turns up anywhere else in scripture. And it turns out, it does.
In the book of Numbers, God says to Moses, “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel… and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them” (Numbers 11:16-17). Well that’s pretty similar to Jesus, who gave His 70 disciples power over the devil.
Any other 70s?
A bit further back, Jacob and his descendants move from Canaan to Egypt during a famine. In fact, we read that people from all over the world were coming to Egypt because of this famine. Why Egypt? Because Joseph, by the Spirit of God, foresaw this famine and prepared for it years in advance, basically rescuing the entire world in the process. And during all this, Jacob’s family relocates down to Egypt. And how many descendants did he bring? Seventy.
But are there any other 70s? Turns out there’s one more 70 even earlier than this, but it’s a bit hidden. Way back in Genesis, God commands Noah’s descendants to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Then there is a list of every nation founded in the generations after Noah. You remember. It’s called the Table of Nations. It’s the chapter you probably skip every time you read Genesis.
But what if, instead of skipping that chapter like a lazy bum, you instead read the whole thing? Or better yet, what if you counted all of the nations listed? How many do you think there’d be? Turns out, there are exactly sixty-eight. Just kidding. It’s seventy.
From the very beginning of human civilization, from the very beginning of scripture, the number “seventy” represented the nations of the world. Every single man, woman, and child on the planet today—every single person who has ever lived—descended from one of these seventy nations.
And with that in mind, reconsider the different scriptures we’ve looked at. Why did 70 of Jacob’s descendants relocate to Egypt? Because Egypt was where Jacob’s son Joseph was bringing salvation to the nations of the earth. Why did Moses appoint 70 elders? To forever cement in the minds of the Jewish people that central promise of their existence—”in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
Thousands of years later, when the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek—the common language of the Roman Empire—so that everyone, not just the Jewish people could read it, it was called the Septuagint (meaning “the seventy”) and was translated by seventy scribes.
Heck, even the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council that persecuted Jesus and His disciples, had one president and 70 judges. They had clearly forgotten their mission—to bring the salvation of the Messiah to the nations—but it was right there in front of them the whole time: seventy!
Throughout Jewish history, the number 70 has always served as a reminder that God’s chosen people needed to have a heart, not just for themselves, but for all the peoples of the world, for the nations of the earth. So of course, when Jesus sent His disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and bring salvation to the world, He appointed 70—a specific number with a specific meaning.
Jesus’s seventy followed in a long line of seventies: The seventy Sanhedrin judges called to be a light in a godless empire. The seventy translators who had brought the Word of God to the world. The seventy elders anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit. The seventy descendants who saved the world from famine and death. The seventy nations sent to fulfill God’s original commission: be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth.
And you, too, follow in this great tradition, for you too have been anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit, you too have been sent to proclaim the gospel of God’s kingdom, you too have been commissioned to bring salvation to the world.
Seventy wasn’t an accident. Jesus was very deliberate with that choice. So maybe you should be deliberate with your choices as well. Seventy nations worth of people are counting on it.
Have a great day, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
 52 is the number of days it took for Nehemiah to rebuild the temple wall. 153 is the number of fish Peter caught.
Why the Joy of the Lord is your Strength (Church Basement)
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” You’ve all probably heard this verse before. Or maybe you haven’t. I don’t know you. But assuming you have, what does it mean?
A lot of people think this verse means that when we’re upset, we just need to choose to be happy instead. You know, fake it til you make it. Don’t not be happy, just be happy. Simple enough, right? Except… that doesn’t really involve God all that much. I mean, it’s the joy of “the Lord.” The Lord sorta needs to be involved, right?
No, to understand what this actually means, we need to look at this verse in context. So quick history, the people of God have been in slavery in Babylon for seventy years. Then over the next 70 years, they slowly begin to return to Jerusalem. They manage to rebuild the temple and the walls around Jerusalem, but they’re still not living right. They don’t know what the Bible says, they don’t know who God is, so on Rosh Hashanah in 445 BC, Ezra and Nehemiah gather all the people to the city square to have church. Men, women, and children all gather together, and for six hours Ezra just stands there and reads the Bible to them.
Now imagine what these Judeans must’ve experienced in that moment. It’s been years and years since you’ve heard the Word of God. You’re probably an idol-worshipper, married to an idol-worshipper, and raising idol-worshipping children. You have no idea who God is. And then in one day, you discover that you’ve been living wrong your whole life. The Creator of the Universe, the one true God, wants to know you, but you’ve been completely ignoring Him and doing your own thing. Your life is not what it’s supposed to be.
What would be your response? I don’t know about you, but these guys just start weeping in the streets. In a moment they come to the realization that everything they’ve believed is wrong, that everything they’ve been doing is wrong, that they’ve wasted their entire lives.
So there just sobbing and weeping all through the city, and that’s when Ezra stands up and says, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” But what else does Ezra do? He sends his disciples and the priests throughout the crowd, to help the people understand God’s Word. They clearly explain the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage. They basically started small Bible studies with everyone in town, so that they would all be able to understand God’s Word.
And that’s not all. They also started a specific Bible study with the fathers of every household. These men met with Ezra and received the same teaching the priests and Levites received. It was basically a men’s ministry, but all the men were getting ministry-level teaching. That way, they could lead their families to understand God’s Word.
And what was the result of all of these Bible studies? The people “rejoiced greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.” What was the source of their joy? Understanding God’s Word!
But there’s more. During their study, they discovered that they hadn’t kept the Feast of Tabernacles properly in almost a thousand years. So they began to act upon God’s Word as they read it. They kept the feast. They weren’t just hearers of God’s Word, but doers also. And what was the result? “They very greatly rejoiced.”
Notice the progression. As they understood God’s Word more and more, as they began to put it into practice, they went from joy to great joy to very great joy. And what was the source of their joy? God’s Word!
Now I want to point something else out here. Whose joy are we talking about? The joy of the… Lord. It’s God’s joy. That means two things: 1) God rejoices when you understand and do His Word; and 2) God is joyful! Think about it. So often, we think of God as being stern and serious, and kind of emo (Do people still say emo?). But we just read that God has so much joy that it can literally give us strength.
Think about Jesus. He was the kind of person that was constantly being invited to parties. You don’t typically invite the weird quiet guy to your party. And kids always wanted to play with Him. Kids don’t like to play with stern grown-ups. Who do they like to play with? Fun people. Joyful people. Dare I say, silly people! That’s the kind of person Jesus was. If you pay attention when reading the gospels, you’ll discover that Jesus is actually pretty funny.
Speaking of Jesus, He teaches the exact same thing we just read in Nehemiah. We just saw that the source of their joy was knowing and doing God’s Word. And during the last supper, Jesus says to His disciples, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in my love.” Then He adds, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” When we know God’s words and when we keep God’s words, we are filled with God’s joy. And that joy—His joy—is our strength.
So when we say, “The joy of the Lord is our strength,” what we’re really saying is that God’s Word is the source of our strength, that God’s Word is the source of our joy. We should find strength and joy in the Holy Scriptures. And the more we understand God’s Word, the stronger we’ll be. The more we act upon God’s Word, the more joyful we’ll be.
So do not sorrow, do not weep. Go to church. Study the Bible. Be a doer of the Word. For the joy of the Lord is your strength.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
If Not (Church Basement)
You’re probably familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. These three Hebrew men are brought before the king of Babylon and commanded to worship a giant, golden idol. “Bow down and worship,” they are told, “or you will be thrown into the fiery furnace.” The men courageously respond, “Even if God does not deliver us, we still won’t bow down to the idol.”
It’s a great example of someone not knowing whether God would deliver them, and still fearlessly accepting the possibility of death. Except… that’s not actually what happened. Let’s take another look at the text.
The scripture in question is from Daniel 3. The king orders the three men to worship the golden image or be thrown in the fire. And in verse 16, we read that, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.’”
So the question is, what does “if not” refer to?
Well, grammatically, it would be the “if” statement the men made in the previous sentence. They’re saying, “If that is the case, God will deliver us; but if that is NOT the case, we will not bow down.” So, what is “the case”?
We have to go back another verse, to Nebuchadnezzar’s threat. It turns out, the king had made an if/if-not statement of his own. In verse 15, he told them, “If you fall down and worship the golden image, we’re good. But if not, you’ll be cast into the fire.” Then the three men respond by saying, “If that is the case—if you throw us in the fire—God is able and willing to deliver us. But if not—if you don’t throw us in—we still won’t worship.”
These men weren’t expressing uncertainty to God’s willingness to deliver them. No, they were expressing indifference to the king’s threat. If he threw them in, God would deliver. If he didn’t throw them in, they still wouldn’t worship the idol. The king didn’t have any power over them—which is exactly what we read in verse 27: “The king’s counselors saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power.” There was nothing that the king could do to turn these men, because they were under the protection of God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God would deliver them from danger.
And if you think about it, it doesn’t even make sense to read this as uncertainty about God’s willingness to save. For one, the three Hebrew men had just declared that God was both willing and able to save them in the previous verse: “Our God is able to deliver us… and He will deliver us from your hand.” They literally just said that God WOULD deliver them. It doesn’t make sense for them to immediately backtrack and say, “But actually, maybe He won’t.” No, they knew He would deliver, which is why they “had no need to answer you in this matter.” It was a done deal for them. God was both able and willing to save.
And that’s what we’re talking about, right? God’s ability to save vs. God’s willingness to save. I’d imagine that every Christian watching this video knows that God is able to save. The question is, Is He willing? That was Nebuchadnezzar’s question, too. He tells them, “If you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who WILL deliver you from my hands?” The king is asking the same question: Is God willing?
So with that in mind, it doesn’t make any sense for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego to then say, “Well… our God is able to save us, but who knows if He’s willing?” No, they confidently declare, “Who is the God who WILL deliver? The God we serve is the God who WILL deliver.”
This is the God who promised in Psalm 50, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I WILL deliver you,” the God who declared in Psalm 91, “I will be with him in trouble, and I WILL deliver him and honor him,” the God who delivered David from Goliath, the God who delivered Hezekiah from Sennacherib, the God who would very soon deliver Daniel from King Darius.
Deliverance is what He does, victory is in His DNA, Salvation is His name. Literally. Jesus in Hebrew is the word Yeshua, which literally means “salvation.” Of course God is willing to save those who call upon His name. Of course He showed up in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. Of course the fire and the smoke and the heat and the threats had no power over them. They knew who their God was, and they put their faith entirely in Him.
And that’s exactly what we read in the only New Testament recounting of this story. Hebrews 11 is sometimes called “The Hall of Faith.” It’s all about people who received from God because they placed their faith in Him, because they had unwavering confidence in Him. We read that Noah was saved from the flood by faith, that Moses and the Israelites were saved from Egypt by faith, that Joshua took the Promised Land by faith. We’re told that Gideon and Samson and David were all delivered by faith. The list of men and women who were supernaturally delivered by faith goes on and on and on. Then the list ends with those who “stopped the mouths of lions and quenched the violence of fire.”
Who’s that talking about? Daniel, and his three friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. They were supernaturally delivered from lions and furnaces and kings and death. Why? Because of their faith. Because they were confident in the things not seen. Because they knew who their God was, and knew without a doubt that He was both able and willing to deliver them from whatever threat would come their way.
And we, too, serve that same God, so we should have the same confidence in His ability and willingness to save. Those same promises of deliverance belong to you. So don’t question His willingness to deliver. Don’t doubt it, even for a second. Stand firm in your faith, just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego did. The devil has no power over you.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
God Does NOT Have a Plan for your Life (Church Basement)
Jeremiah 29:11. Any youth pastor worth his salt has this verse tattooed in at least three places on his body. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans of peace and not of evil, to give you a hope and a future.”
From this, we can deduce that God has some grand plan for your life way off in the future, and you are singlehandedly responsible for figuring out what that is and making sure it comes to pass.
Except… that’s not what it means.
To figure out what Jeremiah meant and what that means for you and God’s great plan for your life, we first need to look at the context of Jeremiah 29:11. This was written in 597 BC, right after Babylon had invaded the southern kingdom of Judah for the second time and taken thousands of Judeans back to Babylon in chains. While in captivity, these Jews believed that God would very soon deliver them from bondage. They were God’s people, after all, so in spite of the fact that the nation had all but turned its back on God, they were confident that God would rescue them.
Enter Jeremiah. He writes a letter from Jerusalem to the captives in Babylon and says, “Yes, God will bring you home… in seventy years.” In the meantime, he tells them, you should build houses in Babylon and plant gardens there. You should get married, have a whole bunch of kids, raise those kids, and let them get married, because you’re gonna be in Babylon for a long time. He tells them to seek the peace of the city and pray for it, “for in its peace you shall have peace.”
In other words, he tells them to become godly citizens in the middle of the ungodly world they have found themselves in. This, God says, is the plan of peace I have for you, the plan that will give you a future and a hope.
Now with all that context in mind, let’s see what else the Bible has to say about God’s will for your life. Luckily for us, Peter and Paul tell us exactly what God’s will is.
Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul says, “This is the will of God: your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). Then he adds, “that you should abstain from sexual immorality,” and all the teenagers in Thessalonica groaned. You were hoping God’s will was for you to get a new car, and instead it’s no premarital sex or looking at porn.
That’s a part of it, and yet it’s so much more. God calls us to live a sanctified—or holy—life. This is the same word used to describe the holiness of God, the same word used when God says, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16, Leviticus 20:7). In other words, our lives are supposed to reflect the holiness of Jesus.
Paul then tells us to increase the Church by our love (1 Thess. 4:9-10), that we may “lead a quiet life” (1 Thess. 4:11) and “walk properly towards those who are outside” (1 Thess. 4:12). A chapter later, Paul adds that we should “always pursue what is good,” not only for ourselves, but “for all,” and that we should constantly be rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:12-18).
In other words, the exact same thing Jeremiah told the Babylonian captives. Be a godly citizen in the middle of an ungodly world, praying for your city and seeking the good.
Peter addresses his first epistle to the Christian exiles living in an ungodly world (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11), and—just as Paul did—tells them to abstain from fleshly lusts. Apparently, sexual immorality was a big issue in the first century. Thank God we’re not still struggling with this, right?
He then tells these Christians to have “your conduct honorable among the nations,” that they may “glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12). He tells them to honor all people, to walk in love, to fear God, and to submit to the king—or the government. Why? “For this is the will of God” (1 Peter 2:15).
Again, this is exactly what Jeremiah and Paul said. Live a sanctified and honorable life among the nations, for God’s will is that you would be a godly citizen in the middle of an ungodly world. They are all saying the same thing.
But… why? Why is this God’s will? Why does He want us to live sanctified and godly lives? Well, there’s a reference we mentioned before that you may have picked up on. Paul told the Thessalonians that when they walked in love toward others, they’d be able to “lead a quiet life” (1 Thess. 4:11). That’s the same phrase Paul wrote to Timothy, where he also addressed the subject of God’s will.
He told Timothy to pray and give thanks for all men—just like he wrote to the Thessalonians—and specifically to pray for kings and the governing officials—just like Jeremiah and Peter said—that we may lead quiet, peaceful, and godly lives. And then he tells us why: because God wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
Everything we’ve talked about is ultimately about one thing: bringing people into God’s family and teaching them the truth of God’s Word. That’s God’s will. That’s God’s plan for your life. To increase His Kingdom and His glory. Peter said our godly lives would cause the nations to glorify God. Paul said our love would cause the Church to abound more and more. Jeremiah said God’s plan was for His people to be increased.
And that Hebrew word for “increase” is the same word that God used in His commands all the way back in Genesis, the same word He used when talking to Jacob, to Isaac, to Abraham, to Noah, and to Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful, and MULTIPLY.”
God’s will has always been the same, from the very first words He ever spoke to mankind: multiply God’s Kingdom. Increase God’s Church. Expand God’s family. That is God’s plan for your life.
When you live honorably in the midst of an immoral society, you’re fulfilling God’s plan for your life. When you don’t look at porn or have sex outside of marriage, you’re fulfilling God’s plan for your life. When you pray for your president and for your governor and for your mayor and for your neighbors, you’re fulfilling God’s plan for your life. Because when God’s people live godly lives in the middle of an ungodly world, it will ultimately draw people into God’s family.
Now I can hear you asking, “But does God have a specific plan for my life, like to be an astronaut or a dentist?” Yes He does, but honestly, if you’re not living a sanctified life, it doesn’t really matter if you go to dental school or walk on the moon, because God isn’t getting the glory. No matter how successful you become, it won’t be God’s will because God’s kingdom won’t be increased.
So instead of focusing your attention on what God may want you to do in twenty years, focus on what God wants you to do today. Because really, God doesn’t have one plan for your life; He has hundreds of plans for your every day. Focus on what God wants you to do right now. Live a sanctified life right now. Obey God’s Word right now. Be led by the Spirit right now. And keep doing that all day long.
Do the same thing tomorrow, and the day after that. Keep following God. Keep living right. Every day, every week, every month, every year. And if you walk in God’s plans every day, in twenty years you’ll be in dental school, or on the moon. You’ll be exactly where you’re supposed to be. You’ll be expanding His kingdom and increasing His glory. You’ll be living out God’s plan for your life.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
The Great Commission (Church Basement)
Welcome to the Church Basement. My name is Garrett, and today I want to talk about “The Great Commission.”
The Great Commission. You know, that thing your youth pastor is always going on and on about. To refresh your memory, the Great Commission is the last instruction Jesus gave to His disciples after His resurrection and before ascending into heaven. Recorded in Matthew chapter 28, Jesus said:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even to the ends of the age. Amen.”
Now here’s an easy question: What was the first thing Jesus commanded His disciples to do in the Great Commission?
That’s right, GO… is the wrong answer. I know I know, it says “go” right there at the beginning of the verse. But this wasn’t written in English. It was written in Greek, and if you read it in the original Greek, the word “go” is actually in the passive tense. In fact, if you read this in Young’s Literal Translation (which, as the name suggests, is a literal translation), it actually reads, “Having gone, then, make disciples.” Today we might translate it, “As you go, make disciples.”
You see, Jesus wasn’t telling His disciples to go anywhere… because He already knew they would go to plenty of different places. Jesus probably gave the Great Commission on a mountain (I mean, He did loved preaching on mountains). He didn’t think His disciples were going to live on that mountain forever. No, they would eventually go home.
Same with you. You’re probably watching this video at your house. In your bedroom, in your kitchen, hopefully not in your bathroom. And when this video is over, you’re going to go to school, or go to work, or go to the gym, or go to church. And Jesus tells us that as we go, we are to make disciples.
The problem is that we’ve put so much focus on going that we’ve forgotten to do what Jesus actually told us to do, which is make disciples. We think we have to go somewhere special to fulfill the Great Commission. We need to go to Mexico or Haiti or Africa. We need to go witnessing at the food court or the pier. So we delegate the command to “make disciples” to those special times in those special places, instead of making disciples in our own communities every day.
Jesus wasn’t telling us to go somewhere special and then make disciples. He was telling us to make disciples wherever we go. At school, at work, at home, at church. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are all saving up for mission trips.
Now don’t get me wrong. Going on mission trips and going witnessing is awesome. But if you’re only making disciples one week a year in a foreign country or every other Tuesday at the food court between 6 and 8pm, then you’re not really making disciples. You’re trying to make converts. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the same thing. It’s not the Great Commission.
Look at Jesus. He had twelve disciples. He didn’t spend a week with them in Egypt and call it discipleship. No, these guys lived in His community, and He saw them on a daily basis for over three years. He prayed with them, ate with them, did Bible studies with them, answered all of their stupid questions. He taught them how to live a Christian life. And after three years, He told them to go make disciples of their own.
So Jesus started with just twelve. Well, eleven, because Judas kind of sucked. And then those eleven went and made disciples. And then those disciples went and made disciples. And then those disciples went and made disciples. They followed this simple pattern that Jesus laid out. They started in their own community first, and then eventually started to branch out.
And after a few generations, half the civilized world had become disciples of Jesus. Who woulda thunk?!? They did what Jesus said, and they transformed the entire world.
But somewhere along the road, we lost sight of what Jesus told us to do. Instead of all of us making disciples wherever we go, we decided that a small number of us should make converts every now and then. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but it’s not really working.
Now again, there’s nothing wrong with street witnessing or mission trips or anything like that. But when you’re not doing those things, I want to challenge you to give the Great Commission a try.
Make just one disciple this year. Pray for him, pray with him, spend time with him, answer his questions, read the Bible together. Show him what a godly life looks like. Teach him everything you know. Teach him how to make disciples of his own. Make this a daily practice. And after a year, send him out to make a disciple of his own.
That’s the Great Commission. So go. And wherever you go, make disciples.
And remember, you’re greater than you realize.
Have a great day.