The Amigo of Grace – again!

Grace delivers us from bondage to laws

and frees us to enjoy God in an enriching

and satisfying relationship

 

In order to grasp the reality of God’s grace we must first understand the reality of our own sinfulness. If we are convinced that in spite of the little vices which we all have, we are basically good people deserving of God’s favor, then we shall see no need for His grace. If we believe that God is obligated to let us enter Heaven because we have tried to keep His laws and done the best we can, then grace is totally unnecessary. The whole concept will appear absurd. But if we accept God’s assessment of our lives—that we are unrighteous, deceitful, desperately wicked, guilty, condemned sinners, incapable of measuring up to God’s standard and unworthy of His acceptance—then a deep appreciation for His grace will begin to dawn on our sin-dulled minds. We will get to know the God of all grace.

We learn a valuable lesson about grace from observing God’s gracious actions toward us in salvation. Just as the root meaning of the New Testament word involves joy and pleasantness, so we notice that God’s grace has an uncanny way of transforming the unpleasant into the pleasant. He takes an unbeliever, chained to his wretchedness and sin and bound for the bitterness of an eternal hell, freely gives him the lovely garments of Christ’s righteousness, then assures him of Heaven’s glory and beauty. What a transformation! That is God’s grace for salvation.

Then He continues to act toward us in grace. Not only does He bring delight to our drab existence by giving us the gift of eternal life, but He keeps on giving us good things to meet our needs and brighten our lives. For example, He gives us the resources to build us up and set us apart more fully to Himself, progressively replacing the ugliness of our daily sin with the attractiveness of holy living. That was Paul’s message to the Ephesian elders:

 

And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which

is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those

who are sanctified – Acts 20:32 NASB

 

That is grace for sanctification.

Sanctification is not slavishly submitting in the energy of the flesh to somebody’s man-made list of do’s and don’ts in order to enhance our own reputation or earn points with God. It is laying hold of God’s gracious plan to become more like Christ for His glory and praise. Grace delivers us from bondage to laws and frees us to enjoy God in an enriching and satisfying relationship. We will be motivated to please Him from within rather than pressured from without. We delight in pleasing someone who never stops giving good things to us.

God also provides grace for Christian service. We have a tendency to get carried away with our own abilities, and we begin to think that God is rather fortunate to have us on His team to do His work. We may feel that He is obligated to prosper us when we do serve Him. Those attitudes often lead to failure. The Apostle Paul admitted without shame that he was unworthy to serve Christ: “I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power” (Ephesians 3:7; cf. also 2 Corinthians 8:1-2).

We do not deserve to have the pleasure of serving the eternal God, but He has bestowed that privilege on us by His grace. We serve Him not to obtain His favor, but because we already have it. Any success we may enjoy will be the gift of His grace. He freely gives us the abilities and strength we need to serve Him. He transforms our feeble, bungling, embarrassing, unpleasant efforts into an effective, satisfying, and rewarding ministry that brings glory to Him. It is all part of His gracious actions toward us.

Built on Committment!

The Path Less Traveled Final

 

How do we do with knowing our commitment to God? I know we talk a good game about being committed, but are we really committed?

This  week we will consider only two verses in  Genesis 22. I chose only two verses because of the many important things that occur in these two verses. To appreciate the importance of Genesis 22 as a whole, we must understand the importance of these two small verses. So off we go into the adventure of Genesis 22:11-12.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me. Genesis 22:11-12 NASB

The strong adversative But begins this section. This means there is a contrast to be illustrated in the words following the But. To fully understand the importance of this we must look at what immediately preceded the But here. Remember just prior to this Abraham had journeyed with Isaac, walked up s  mountain, built an altar, and assembled the wood for the sacrifice. He had just bound Isaac and placed him on the wood. And then he took the knife he had and probably placed it to Isaac’s neck. Now think about this for a  moment.

Abraham had not only followed God to the mountain of sacrifice. Not only did Abraham demonstrate his faith by walking with Isaac up the mountain to the place of sacrifice, but so did Isaac when they came to the altar. Isaac, remember, is probably a late teen by this time. He could have resisted at any point and Abraham would have been powerless to stop him.

But Isaac followed his dad and God to the point of death.

That brings us to the But in this week’s passage. And boy it is a big But. Imagine this scene: Isaac is bound and on the altar. Abraham has his knife in hand. Abraham takes the knife, stretches his hand out to place the knife on Isaac’s throat. He is ready to slice Isaac’s throat and burn his body as a sacrifice to the Lord.

Enter God’s But.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me. Genesis 22:11-12 NASB

Before Abraham could do harm to Isaac, the angel of the Lord interrupted him. Whether this angel was the pre-incarnate Christ or not is not important. Because the angel most definitely had the authority of the Lord in order to speak the way he did. If this was merely an angel sent to speak to Abraham and not the Lord Himself, that angel carries the full authority of the Lord. So the words here carry the same weight. So what did this angel say?

Do not…

The angel said not to stretch out his (Abraham’s) hand against Isaac. The angel was calling off the sacrifice. He said “don’t cut the boy’s throat.” That is quite a statement for the angel to make. This angel had to come with the Lord’s authority for only the Lord could say stop. Abraham was now not to do anything to Isaac. Why?

For now I know….

The angel of the Lord said that he knew that Abraham would not withhold the son of promise from God in any way, shape, matter or form. So what about this: did the Lord learn something about Abraham here? Oh boy, this opens a can of theological worms!

Without spending the next few months wading through that subject, let me say that God did not learn anything about Abraham. It was Abraham who learned something about himself. The context of this passage indicates this. It was in v. 1 that God tested Abraham. God decided to test Abraham’s faith. It seems to me that if God was testing Abraham, then God already had the answer but Abraham had not yet discovered this about himself.

So through the test, God was testing Abraham so that Abraham would learn the extent of his faith in God.

Parents do this to their children all the time. We ask our children questions, place them in situations, so they will react. We already know how they’ll react but they have yet to discover this reaction. When they react the way we knew they would react, have we learned anything? Nope. But we may say something like what the angel said to Abraham.

Abraham learned the extent of his faith in God. Abraham learned that he trusted God to the uttermost. He learned that nothing would ever replace his commitment to God, not even family. Abraham learned that he really did belong to God and would follow Him at whatever the cost. that is a good thing to know.

 

How do we do with knowing our commitment to God? I know we talk a good game about being committed, but are we really committed? If God called me – or you – to a place of sacrifice, would we go? You know, we should know that answer already.

God has called us to be living sacrifices. He has called us to take up our cross and follow Him. He has called us to leave all we know to follow Him on the narrow way into heaven.

We are at the place of sacrifice. Have we – you and me – discovered the extent of our faith? Just like Abraham, have we come to lay all on the altar in worship of Him?

 

 

Mission Complete

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Return of the Priests

We begin this week’s article where we left off in the last article – taking inventory of those who returned. We have this week the priests and the Levites numbered and accounted for. Why is this important? Well these were the leaders of the Temple. Without priests and Levites, there was no Temple worship. This is especially true of the High Priest. He was THE priest. He is the guy who would enter the Holy of Holies once a year to sprinkle the mercy seat. Without him, well, it wouldn’t be good. The High Priest’s genealogy was very important. Only certain men could serve God as His High Priest. So the people of Israel had to be meticulous in their record keeping. In these first few verses of chapter seven we see 22 leaders given who returned in 537BC.

We also see in this first section the heads of the priestly families. The High Priests are listed in v. 22. The Darius mentioned as Darius the Persian was more than likely Darius II who reigned from 423 – 404 BC. And one more note to make here. The Book of Chronicles mentioned here is not the canonical book by the same name. It was probably another book that listed names and genealogies.

Dedicating the Wall

In this section we see the action taken by the people. This probably happened right after the other dedication services recorded in chapter 11. This is important. The people were dedicating everything to their God. They knew that it was because of who He is that they were back in the land and able to be a nation again. Lets look at how they prepared and what they did to dedicate this wall to their deliverer.

Preparations for the Dedication

Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites from all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres. So the sons of the singers were assembled from the district around Jerusalem, and from the villages of the Netophathites, from Beth-gilgal and from their fields in Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built themselves villages around Jerusalem.The priests and the Levites purified themselves; they also purified the people, the gates and the wall. Nehemiah 12:27-30 NASB

This is a big deal folks. Look at the preparations listed here. First the Levites were sought out from all their places. They (the Levites) were hunted down and invited to take part in this celebratory dedication. Sought out. They were not an after-thought. They were foremost in the mind of the people. It was almost as if the people were saying “we can’t dedicate without the Levites.” This was for good reason. The Levites were the priestly tribe. These were the guys who dedicated themselves to a life serving God in and around the Temple and providing the spiritual needs of the people. Since the whole city of Jerusalem was being dedicated to God, logic would dictate that the Levites would be involved,

But not only were they to be involved, the nature of their involvement was to be one of gladness. Look at the plan that was set in motion. There were to be hymns of thanksgiving, songs, cymbals, harps and lyres. The singers were surrounding Jerusalem so the songs would be heard throughout the city. Wow, this is perhaps the first surround sound system in history! Finally everyone was ritually purified.

So we see here this wasn’t just a party. This was a deeply meaningful spiritual event in the life of the people.

The Dedication Ceremonies

Then I had the leaders of Judah come up on top of the wall, and I appointed two great choirs, the first proceeding to the right on top of the wall toward the Refuse Gate. Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah followed them, with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, and some of the sons of the priests with trumpets; and Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, and his kinsmen, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them. At the Fountain Gate they went directly up the steps of the city of David by the stairway of the wall above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east.The second choir proceeded to the left, while I followed them with half of the people on the wall,above the Tower of Furnaces, to the Broad Wall, and above the Gate of Ephraim, by the Old Gate, by the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate; and they stopped at the Gate of the Guard. Then the two choirs took their stand in the house of God. So did I and half of the officials with me; and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah, with the trumpets;  and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam and Ezer. And the singers sang, with Jezrahiah their leader, and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar.On that day men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who served. For they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification, together with the singers and the gatekeepers in accordance with the command of David and of his son Solomon. For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God. So all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah gave the portions due the singers and the gatekeepers as each day required, and set apart the consecrated portion for the Levites, and the Levites set apart the consecrated portion for the sons of Aaron. Nehemiah 12:21-47 NASB

 

What a sight this must have been. We have one large choir on the city wall walking around it in a counterclockwise direction. Then there was another choir on the same wall walking in the opposite direction. Both these choirs were probably singing as they walked around the city. Imagine the spectacle! What joy and happiness was evident in the re-dedication of their city to God. The celebration continued with the meeting at the Temple and sacrifices being made. All these folks on a wall that Tobiah said would fall down if a tiny fox had run on it. How do you feel now Mr. Helper? Singing, sacrifices, rejoicing. Oh the spectacle.

Nehemiah’s work – his vision and burden – had been completed. The city was restored, the wall rebuilt. The Temple was once again offering sacrifices. Israel was a nation again. Nehemiah and the people that returned reestablished themselves as a people once again, not just slaves of another nation. The feeling must have been wonderful.

______________________________________

How often do we enter into worship with expectations that God will restore us? Or that He will even be present? How joyful are we to gather in whatever building you gather in as a church? I know in the United States there is a certain routine to it all. We sing a song or two, have announcements, sing another song or two or three, have a sermon, sing a song, take an offering and say goodbye. Oh yeah, we pray a couple times too. It all seems so routine.

I wonder what it would be like to just have a time together that was filled with rejoicing and praising God in song and testimonies of His goodness. You know, get out of the routine and cut loose with praise and rejoicing? I wonder what would happen if we left our bulletins behind, our order of service put away, and simply praised God in song, prayer and testimonies. I wonder, I really wonder…

Stocking the Cupboard

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Take a long look around you. Look at the Church and your local Church. Are there a variety of ministries being performed? Yes. Are there a wide variety of Christians performing them? Yes.

From the priests: Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin, Seraiah the son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, the leader of the house of God, and their kinsmen who performed the work of the temple, 822; and Adaiah the son of Jeroham, the son of Pelaliah, the son of Amzi, the son of Zechariah, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malchijah, and his kinsmen, heads of fathers’ households, 242; and Amashsai the son of Azarel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer, and their brothers, valiant warriors, 128. And their overseer was Zabdiel, the son of Haggedolim.

Now from the Levites: Shemaiah the son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni; and Shabbethai and Jozabad, from the leaders of the Levites, who were in charge of the outside work of the house of God;  and Mattaniah the son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, who was the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer, and Bakbukiah, the second among his brethren; and Abda the son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun. All the Levites in the holy city were 284. Also the gatekeepers, Akkub, Talmon and their brethren who kept watch at the gates, were 172.The rest of Israel, of the priests and of the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, each on his own inheritance. But the temple servants were living in Ophel, and Ziha and Gishpa were in charge of the temple servants.Now the overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Mica, from the sons of Asaph, who were the singers for the service of the house of God. For there was a commandment from the king concerning them and a firm regulation for the song leaders day by day. Pethahiah the son of Meshezabel, of the sons of Zerah the son of Judah, was the king’s representative in all matters concerning the people. Nehemiah 11:10-24 NASB

 

In vv. 10 through 24, we see God stocking the cupboard of the city of Jerusalem. He was making provision for the various needs of the city. Let’s take a look at the various ministries established for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

First we have the priests. There were about 1200 of them. Within this group there were three groups. A kind of group within a group. The first subgroup of the priests were the ones who worked in the temple. These would be the ones who toiled inside the temple, the ones who carried on the traditional role of priest. Then there was the heads of the father’s households. Their role isn’t really described here but I imagine their ministry was to families in trouble. Perhaps they were arbiters of some sort, a set of counselors for families if you will. Finally we have the mean described as valiant warriors. These were fighters. These were the ones who defended the city when it was attacked. They indeed were brave ones who stood up and faced down threats from Israel’s enemies.

Second we have the Levites. The first subgroup of Levites were those who had charge over the work in the outside area of the temple. Now remember that the temple wasn’t just the temple proper but the entire area of the temple mount. That was a large area that needed constant care. This first subgroup of Levites were given that charge.

The next subgroup were the musicians. These were the ones who provided for the music ministry of the nation. How hollow their worship time would have been without the beautiful music that was performed by these talented musicians. If you wonder what they sang, take a look through the psalms.
Then we have gatekeepers who were stationed at the gates. They took care of those who passed through these gates. They probably directed traffic, gave directions and provided a friendly face as one entered.

There were more ministries listed in vv. 20 – 24. The point I think that is being made is that there was a ministry for everyone. Throughout the verses we have examined we see that God had a job for everyone. The cupboard of jobs was indeed full.

Regardless of where you started in life, God has a reason for your life.

So what!

So what, God used a bunch of people in and around Jerusalem. So what, He had His temple taken care of. So what, He put defenders around the wall. So what! What does that mean to us?
Take a long look around you. Look at the Church and your local Church. Are there a variety of ministries being performed? Yes. Are there a wide variety of Christians performing them? Yes. Those individuals performing ministry in your local church come from various backgrounds. Some come from very rough backgrounds. But God is still using them.

Regardless of where you started in life, God has a reason for your life. You may think that because of your past you have no future. When you think that way, think about Saul of Tarsus. He became Paul the Apostle. When you think your actions as a Christian will forever disqualify you from ministering in God’s church, think of Peter denying Christ and then being used mightily by God.

It matters not where you have been. God can use you. It matters not where God uses you. It matters that God uses you. Bring glory to God through a heart that responds to God’s call on your life, regardless of where you receive that call.

Roll Call

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Be ready for His call. Listen for His call. And volunteer to follow His call.

Sometimes a passage in Scripture can seem as interesting as watching grass grow or paint dry. Let’s be honest, sometimes what is in the Bible – what God considers important – is a bit confusing and, on the surface, seems a tad on the boring side. This is especially true when it comes to genealogies and lists in general. I don’t know about you but I find myself sometimes asking God why He puts this stuff in the Bible. Sometimes I miss the blessing that is there because I see only with my physical eyes.

Today’s passage in Nehemiah is like that. Sort of. On the surface this passage seems as appetizing as a bowl of hot sand. But if we take a little time and exert some effort, we will soon see that it is as tasty as a filet Mignon. Or whatever food you’d like to put in there. Let’s take a bite out of God’s word and see that it is indeed good.

Nehemiah and the people he has led, have rebuilt Jerusalem. They have achieved their goal of once-again fortifying their city. Jerusalem – and her inhabitants – were once again a nation. But there was only one issue left. No one inhabited the rebuilt city! Before Nehemiah Jerusalem was a city without walls. Now, after rebuilding was completed, Jerusalem was a city without a population. Here in Nehemiah 11 we see Nehemiah’s efforts to repopulate Jerusalem.

 

The Voluntary Draft

Voluntary draft? Don’t those terms contradict themselves? Well, kind of. There are a lot of these types of contradictory terms around. Grammarians call these things oxymorons. A few examples would be military intelligence, congressional ethics and so on. I bet you can think of a few too. But I think the terms voluntary draft fit what is going to happen here in Nehemiah. Nehemiah held a voluntary draft to repopulate the City.

Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities.  And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem. Now these are the heads of the provinces who lived in Jerusalem, but in the cities of Judah each lived on his own property in their cities—the Israelites, the priests, the Levites, the temple servants and the descendants of Solomon’s servants. Some of the sons of Judah and some of the sons of Benjamin lived in Jerusalem Nehemiah 11:1-4a NASB

Think of the beautiful city of Jerusalem Newly minted, wonderfully protected and sitting high over the land of Israel. It is the capital of the nation but it has no people. Imagine how quite it was. How can one have a capital city that is uninhabited? That isn’t really possible. Nehemiah could have simply issued an order to populate the city. He was the governor and leader. I know that is how it would have worked in the Marine Corps. A group of us would have been voluntold to populate it and we would have dutifully moved in. But Nehemiah is going to take a different approach.

Nehemiah traveled through the towns where the people were located and cast lots to see who was called to live in Jerusalem. He would have expected that person and family to move in. But what is interesting is the use of the word volunteer in this section. Evidently the people could decline the invitation from God to move to Jerusalem. If someone declined, the lot was cast again and the process continued until a willing heart was found.

Many were called but only a relative few were willing. And those who were willing were blessed by the people for volunteering for this mission.

There are those reading this who have been called to a task by God. But you are either unwilling or still considering answering that call. I know what it is like to be faced with a decision like this. But let me tell you from experience that answering God’s call and volunteering to follow Him is a decision you won’t regret. It will be difficult in times like ours. But the reward – while not necessarily experienced here and now – is great. How are you doing choosing to follow God’s call on your life? Are you struggling with that decision?

Nehemiah’s List

Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, of the sons of Perez; and Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Col-hozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of the Shilonite. All the sons of Perez who lived in Jerusalem were 468 able men.

Now these are the sons of Benjamin: Sallu the son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah; and after him Gabbai and Sallai, 928. Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer, and Judah the son of Hassenuah was second in command of the city. Nehemiah 11:4b-9 NASB

Beginning with the second part of v. 4 we will go through a series of lists that seem to have little application to us today. But let’s keep our eyes opened to what God is saying through these verses, OK?

The first set of names focus on two very important groups: the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin. These tribes made up the southern kingdom of Judah. There are 468 from Judah and 928 from the tribe of Benjamin. Why are these interesting? I’m glad you asked!

Let’s take a look at the descendants of Perez. These make up a portion of the men labeled “468 able bodied men”. Now Perez had an interesting beginning. In Genesis 38 the tale of his conception through birth is told. Remember that his father Judah conceived Perez with his (Judah’s) own daughter-in-law. So Perez would be considered an illegitimate son. In fact there were twins in this birth. The first child began to emerge so the midwife tied a thread around that child’s finger to document which came first. But that arm went back in and the other child, named Perez, came out first! This is why this baby was named Perez. The meaning of the name Perez is roughly breaking out. And breaking out he did! Even though Perez had a rather difficult beginning and was regarded as illegitimate, he became one of the greatest heroes of Judah. He was so much so a hero that he was still being talked about 400 years after Judah lived. Another interesting fact is that his descendants are called the brave men of Perez.

Let’s move on to Benjamin. This tribe volunteered more than twice the number of Perez despite being a smaller tribe. Once again the history here is quite interesting. In the Book of Judges the sordid background of Benjamin is given. To make a long story short, in the last few chapters Benjamin’s devolution into a people who practiced sexual sin culminating in the practice of homosexuality. This was seen as a stain on the nation since homosexuality was thoroughly condemned by God. But here was a tribe that was openly practicing it.

Two very important men came from this tribe. The first one was named Saul. He was the first King of Israel. He started out well but jealousy and self-centeredness reduced him to an utter failure. He had forty years of reigning over Israel as a bitter, angry man. Saul was in full rebellion against God. Saul finally kills himself on the battlefield and ends his time as king.

Another person followed almost exactly an opposite path as Saul. That person’s name was Saul! Now Saul number two began his life as a man dedicated to God’s word, slid into intolerance of God’s Messiah and the Messiah’s called out ones, persecuted them, murdered them and finally came to be one with them. Do you know about whom I speak? Yep, that Saul. He wrote a lot of the New Testament. We know him as Paul. He was from the tribe of Benjamin. Amazing.

These two men so important in God’s story had such ordinary beginnings and such a tortured tribal history. But here they are. Can you see what God is teaching? Regardless of your beginning or your family history, God isn’t finished writing your story yet. He is going to use you for His glory.

Be ready to hear His call on your life. That means that you are growing steadily toward Christlikeness, holy living and faithful dependence on Him. Be ready when He calls to volunteer to follow Him. Following God’s call on your life is not necessarily an easy thing to do. Sometimes the call can lead to heartbreak. I know all too well about that. But that heartbreak is not the end or even the purpose of His call. God is about bringing glory to Himself. He uses us in specific situations to do just that.

SO whenever you are called into a situation that seems difficult or daunting, remember that it is for God’s glory and not your comfort that He calls you.

Be ready for His call. Listen for His call. And volunteer to follow His call.

To God be the glory.

Amen.

 

A Six Pack of Promises

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If we place God first in our romantic life, financial life, and spiritual life, we will reap rewards that are enormously more that what we could ever imagine.

I remember when I was growing up that I wanted to have what is termed “six pack abs”. Do you know what I mean? That term refers to one’s ab muscles being so well developed that they look similar to six individual muscle groups – a six pack if you will. Well needless to say, I’ve never quite developed those abs. I have 2 liter abs right now. My abs look like a couple of liters of soda rather than anything that resembles a six pack. But oh well.

We continue in chapter ten experiencing a number of promises the nation made to God. Now remember that they have committed in writing to these promises. Actually, they committed to keep these promises to God. And boy are they serious. These folks have had enough of wishy-washy thinking. They not only said they would keep the Law in general terms but now they are spelling out exactly what they mean. And these terms are specific. These promises, unlike my abs, were well developed and stood out from their previous behavior. These promises would definitely qualify as a six pack…a six pack of promises to God! (All verses are taken from the New American Standard Bible)

 

Promise to be Pure

and that we will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons.

Now on the surface this looks kind of odd. And I guess it really is. In the Law, Israel was forbidden to intermarry with any of the nations, regardless of the physical beauty of their people or the standing in society. This was done to keep the nation’s blood pure and dedicated to the Lord. Here the nation recommits to keep that alive. They are refusing to allow daughters or sons to be given to (or take) a husband or wife from any of the nations around them. This was a heavy promise to make. There was a limited number of brides available in the nation. But these folks decided their promise to marital purity was more important than convenience.

Promise to Keep the Sabbath Holy

As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego the crops the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.

Every seventh day, the nation was supposed to cease from labor and take a day off. They weren’t supposed to work at all but take time from their labor. Likewise, every seventh year they were supposed to allow the land to take a rest from it’s labor of producing crops. So the people had to trust that the sixth year would yield enough food to last them for two years. They had to trust. They needed to have faith that God would meet their needs.

Evidently they had been neglecting these commands. They were not trusting, they were not believing that God would provide for them. But now, after God so magnificently provided all they needed to rebuild their wall and the Temple,  they made a promise to show the faith in God they should have been demonstrating all along.

Promise to Tithe

We also placed ourselves under obligation to contribute yearly one third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the continual grain offering, for the continual burnt offering, the sabbaths, the new moon, for the appointed times, for the holy things and for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God. Likewise we cast lots for the supply of wood among the priests, the Levites and the people so that they might bring it to the house of our God, according to our fathers’ households, at fixed times annually, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law;

Now this is a big bite of verses to cover. But the gist of it is that they decided they wold renew their pledge to give as the Lord demanded, not how they felt like doing. Now look what they are promising to do. They promise to give for the showbread, the continual grain offering, the burnt offering and so on. They were pledging to take care of the Temple and the needs for the sacrifices that were deemed necessary. Now understand this; this promise wasn’t cheap. This was an expensive promise. I’m sure they intended to make good on it.

Now why do all this? They were obviously convicted about their past conduct. They knew that the Temple needed these things. Instead of withholding them or simply ignoring them, they decided to to explicitly state that they would fulfill the needs as required by the Law. These folks were serious, weren’t they.

 

Promise to Keep the Sacrifices

and that they might bring the first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of all the fruit of every tree to the house of the Lord annually, and bring to the house of our God the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks as it is written in the law, for the priests who are ministering in the house of our God. We will also bring the first of our dough, our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the new wine and the oil to the priests at the chambers of the house of our God

Again, here is another very expensive promise. The nation is promising to bring the first of everything to the Temple. There are no leftovers here! They are bringing the first fruits of the field, their herds, their flocks and every bit of what they have. They are bringing the first of it all, not what is left over.

God is serious about being first in everything – and rightly so. The nation, in their rebellion, had decided to make Him somewhere down the list of priorities. He didn’t like that much…actually He didn’t like it at all. So the nation learned a hard lesson. And now they are pledging the first of everything. The best. The very best for God.

 

Promise to Provide

the tithe of our ground to the Levites, for the Levites are they who receive the tithes in all the rural towns. The priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers.

These promises have to do directly with the Levites. Now the Levites, in case you don’t know, were the priestly class of people. Their only job was to minister in the Temple. In fact they could not do anything else. The people of the nation were to provide for them. This didn’t always happen and the Levites were challenged to either starve or break the Law. Guess which one they did? But it should have never been that way. If the people had taken things seriously, the Levites would have always had their needs met. There would have been no conflict.

But the people didn’t always provide as they should. This caused a domino effect to happen. The nation’s adherence to the Law crumbled and so did the nation. Now  the people appear to be serious about providing for those who minister in the Temple of God.

Promise to be a Steward

Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.

This promise looks small in comparison tot he other ones made in this passage. Perhaps this is the biggest one. It is at least the one that encompasses all the others. The people simply stated “We aren’t going to ignore Your house anymore, God.” And by not ignoring His house, they pledge not to ignore Him. How refreshing that must have been for God to hear these words. His people have decided to return to Him.

They decided that He did know best. They decided that He is right – all the time. They decided that His way is the only way to live.

 

So what does this have to do with us, the Church? While we are definitely not under the Law, we can learn a few things about living for God instead of ourselves. When we place God first in our lives, all other things pale in comparison. Money, position, future wives or husbands don’t really matter. All that matters is our commitment to God. Oh sure other things still occur, but their relative importance is in proper perspective.

If we place God first in our romantic life, financial life, and spiritual life, we will reap rewards that are enormously more that what we could ever imagine.

How are you doing with this? Is God first and foremost in your life or is He somewhere else on your list of priorities? How is your commitment to supporting your Pastor? Helping at church? Are you willing to do some work around the building and give money so your Pastor can dedicate himself to studying and preaching the Word of God?

Revival at the Gate

nehemiah wall_final

 

The wall has been finished. Jerusalem has been occupied again. The job is finished, right? Well not really. The reconstruction of the wall and gates is done that is for sure. But there remains work to be accomplished. In some ways this task will be more difficult than the reconstruction of the wall. This task is the reinstruction of the people.

 

The Desire for the Law

And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.         Nehemiah 8:1-2 NASB

This chapter begins with a marvelous statement – “all the people gathered as one man” – at a certain place. As I read this I come to the conclusion that this was a spontaneous meeting. They gathered at this place because they were of one mind, one purpose. They were not ordered there by Nehemiah or someone else. They chose to gather together. And I don’t think the place was a mistake. Ezra, who had led the effort to rebuild the Temple, was there.
The first lesson we need to understand was that the people were hungry – they desired – the Law of Moses. They wanted to hear what was expected of them. They wanted to know the rules and regulations they were expected to follow. In short, their desire for the Law of Moses indicates their desire for God to lead them.

They wanted their relationship with God restored.

How wonderful this attitude would be if the Church had it! I sometimes wonder how many folks who attend Sunday services at a church are there out of duty. I wonder how many are there for a show. I know some who are. I even know some who sit in the place of a pastor because they think that will earn them points with God. How sad.
You see when we go to church out of duty, guilt or selfish motives we miss the blessing of gathering to gather to hear God’s word and be drawn closer to Him. When we gather together to appear to be holy, we demonstrate we have no real desire to be holy. When we gather together to be seen of men, we demonstrate that we do not want to be seen of God. When we gather to soothe our conscience, we demonstrate that our heart is in need of repair. Our motives for gathering together say everything about our condition before God. Here in the first verses of chapter 8, the motives are clear: they want to hear from God. What are your motives for attending church?

Purposed from the heart

He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Nehemiah 8:3-5 NASB

Ezra read the Law at the square or plaza in front of the Water gate.This was one of the gates that were in the wall that surrounded the Temple.Interesting, huh. The people flocked to the Temple. I mean they FLOCKED there. They acted as if they had one mind. And it wasn’t for a sermonette. I remember my first Pastor saying that sermonettes (short sermons) were for Christianettes! Anyway, these folks came prepared to hear a message that would last a bit longer than most of our messages today. Do you notice the phrase “from early morning until midday”? I wish NASB had translated this “from first light until noon”. The Hebrew is clear that the people gathered when they first had light and remained until noon. With that in mind, this gathering was probably five or six hours long. And we gripe if our pastors exceed their time limit of 45 minutes.

But they weren’t just standing there. Notice the phrase “were attentive”. The Hebrew here is quite colorful. In the Hebrew, this phrase means “the ears of the people were toward…” Can you picture that in your mind. Imagine a group of people, gathered to hear what God wants them to do, how to conduct their lives, all with their ears toward the speaker so they wouldn’t miss a thing. Could we learn a thing or two?

I’m sometimes discourage when I see folks in church playing on their smart phones or just doodilng away instead of listening intently to what our Pastor is saying. Have you ever experienced that? I admit, sometimes my mind wanders as well. In the hustle and bustle of a harried life, I sometimes don’t pay attention to what is being said. What a mistake that is! We should strain to hear what is said. This is God’s word being preached. Let’s listen to it!

We see that Ezra was on a wooden platform to address the crowd. This platform was constructed for this very purpose. This was probably quite large given the literal translation of this would be something like “wooden tower” or “tower of wood”. This was not to elevate Ezra. This was so that his voice could be heard throughout the crowd. It gives us another view of just how many had gathered. I tend to think it was the entire population of Jerusalem at the time. Remember that in chapter seven we learned that everyone in Jerusalem at that time was right around 50,000. Can you imagine that? There were fifty thousand people straining to hear God’s word that day. Wow. I mean….WOW!

Response from the heart

The last thing I want you to notice this week in our passage is the reaction of the people when the Law of Moses was opened. What did they do? In verse five, they all stood up. So what is that significance? Well, if we think about it, standing when someone enters a room is a sign of respect. The people, when the Law of Moses was opened, stood up out of respect for it. Notice that this occurred when it was opened, not just when it was read. Now that is some kind of respect!

How wonderful it would be if people had that kind of respect for the Word of God. Sadly though I think that is long gone. We have become too familiar with it. Not that we actually know it. No, we know just enough to be dangerous. Everyone has their view and feels their view has equal authority as the ones who have dedicated their lives to studying the Bible in the original languages, submitting to instruction from men who have demonstrated faithfulness to the Bible, knowledge of the Bile and wisdom from the Bible. No, the Internet has made everyone an expert. Only that it hasn’t.

Our respect for the word of God – and the ones who preach it – is not what it used to be. In fact, I’m not sure it will ever be what it used to be. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did see the Bible the way these folks in Nehemiah saw the Law of Moses? Wouldn’t it be wonderful each Sunday morning the people gathered in the churches throughout the world were straining to hear it preached and explained? If we had that attitude, would we be in the pickle we are in today? I doubt it.

But here we are. Good is called evil and evil is called good. Everyone seemingly does what is right in their own eyes. There seems to be no standard. Many churches, in an effort not to offend, have adopted a view of “live and let live”. But this is so wrong.

The Bible is THE Authority for life. There are standards for the conduct of life regardless if one wants to believe them or not. It is God’s message to man. We cannot expect others to listen if we, the Church, don’t listen to the Bible’s instructions to us.  O how we need the wisdom in the Bible to permeate our souls today.