Grace – The First Amigo

An Undefinable Word

Grace is a subject that is broad and deep. I could take years examining the word of God and not adequately plumb the depths of grace. If I had an unlimited vocabulary and perfect writing skills, I would not be able to adequately communicate the beauty of His grace. There just are no words for it. So I will do the best I can to share what I have learned. But to describe it accurately is to try to accurately describe a beautiful sunset painted on the canvass of the sky. To adequately communicate its affect on the human souls is more difficult than to describe in detail the joy of watching one’s child be born…or their first intentional smile!

A Theological Description

God’s grace is that perfection or attribute of God that enables Him to have mercy on us. It is that part that strives with a rebellious person like me…and you. Like every other perfection (or attribute) grace just isn’t an adjective, it isn’t even just part of God. Grace IS who God is. Just like He is love, righteous, holy, just, etc. God is grace and He sheds His grace on us. Now how He sheds grace on humanity can be different but make no mistake that all of humanity experiences God’s grace one way or another.

 

Important Distinctions

Common Grace

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.                   – Matthew 5:44-45 NASB

Common grace is shed on all mankind, not just the elect. We see it in not only the rain cited in Matthew 5, but also in the healing of diseases, feeding the hungry, withholding judgement of those who scoff at God, murder others, and commit all sorts of unrighteousness. We even saw it at the beginning of man’s rebellion when God was gracious to Adam and Eve by making them clothes and graciously allowing them to live rather than execute judgement on them immediately. God’s common grace is that grace that everyone enjoys whether they recognize it as being from God or not.

 

Saving Grace

But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.  – Acts 15:11 NASB

 

The saving grace of God is on full display during the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. In Acts 15 the Council has been convened to discuss the issue of gentiles getting saved. A question arose that centered around the issue of whether the gentiles needed to become Jewish and hold to the Law before they could be saved. It was an honest argument that later turned into a legalistic requirement by some. Anyway, the result of that discussion is the verse quoted above: ALL mankind are saved by the grace of God.

 

In Ephesians 2 Paul states

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.                                            – Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB

 

Some Questions for Thought

God’s grace is what saves us. So what does this have to do with justification and sanctification? And what about security? Can we once saved ever be not saved? Does God’s grace keep us as well?

All these questions are good ones that need straightforward answer. They all will be addressed in the next few weeks as we continue to consider the three amigos of grace, justification and sanctification. It may get a little tangled, but there are very important things to understand about these three amigos and how they apply to life. We’ll also be able to understand how each is distinct from the other but how each works with and enhances the other. I hope you stick around for the ending. It is really awesome.

And I do mean AWE-some

 

 

Built on God’s Provision

The Path Less Traveled Final

When we choose to walk the path of holiness rather than the road of mediocrity, we will have all we need to walk that path.

 

“Just keep going. This will all be worth the effort” I was told as I ran through the hills behind my base. I was in the US Marine Corps at the time and I was running with a friend in what was termed “The Hills” behind my base in California. These hills were steep – both going up and going down – and seemingly took forever to run through.

As we ran I was ready to give up. I yelled to Sgt. Ski “I’m done. I’m done.”

Sgt. Ski told me to keep going. “There is a reward at the end of this” he yelled to me. All through our run he ran with me. He didn’t run ahead of me. He didn’t run behind me. He ran with me.

When we finished our run, I was shown my reward: a job well done. It was strangely satisfying. I had ran with Sgt. Ski and followed the directives of my Commanding Officer to continue to train and be in top physical shape. Though running “The Hills” were difficult, it was well worth it. My CO provided the command. Sgt. Ski ran with me, encouraging me  to continue.

In my final article in this series and in Genesis 22, we see how God provided for Abraham. Let’s take a look and discover the way God provides for us as we walk on the path less traveled.

 

Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”                 – Genesis 22:13-14 NASB

The Unexpected Expectation Met

Remember when Abraham and Isaac were trekking up the mountain? Do you remember Issac asking his father where the lamb for the sacrifice was? Issac saw the wood, saw the fire but didn’t see the lamb needed for the sacrifice. Abraham responded that God Himself would provide the lamb.

Understanding what Abraham was thinking – or at least trying to understand – is not productive. Was he thinking that the sacrifice would be his son Isaac? Did Abraham think God would make a substitute available? We simply don’t know because the text doesn’t go any further on Abraham’s comment. And that is a good thing.

What is interesting is that Abraham’s expectation was for a lamb.

 

The Hebrew word usedseh for lamb, seh, means a young sheep, or young lamb. The picture to the right is a very good representation of what Abraham expected God to provide.

 

 

The Hebrew word used for the ram here is the word ayilWhen you see that word think of one of those big-horned sheep. This wasn’t some little thing this was B-I-G BIG!

 

'ayil

Do you see the difference? The size of the sacrifice that Abraham expected and what God delivered could not be more different. God provided much more than Abraham imagined He would.

 

The Expected Sacrifice Made

So Abraham made the sacrifice he expected to make. The only difference was the subject of the sacrifice. Abraham – by all indications – expected to sacrifice his son but perhaps was hoping for a lamb instead, followed God’s instructions to the letter. God had a different idea. God supplied much more than Abraham needed for the sacrifice that God demanded. God was much more generous to Abraham (and Isaac) than either could have imagined. Hmmm.

 

The Expected Provision Remembered

Abraham made the sacrifice.He killed the ram provided by God. He named that place “The Lord will provide.” Remember that God sent Abraham to the mountain of Moriah. We saw that in v. 2. The word Moriah is a Hebrew participle meaning the place of seeing. The idea that we glean from that in this context is where God sees, God provides. So Abraham named that spot as the place where God saw and provided.

Where are you on this path less traveled? Where are you in the pursuit of holiness? Are you at a point of appointed sacrifice?

The lesson we should learn – the one we better learn – is that God’s provision for us as we follow Him on the path less traveled is often times much more than we can imagine. And that is OK. While we should expect God to provide for us as we follow Him, we should not expect that provision will be small.

When we choose to walk the path less traveled. When we choose to walk the path of holiness rather than the road of mediocrity, we will have all we need to walk that path. Often we will have much more.

Our walk on this path of holiness is built on nothing less than God’s provision. Regardless of what form it take, it is from God and we should expect that it will be more than enough for us to finish the task God has called us to complete.

When Fear Collides With Faith

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Let us unite as the whole body of Christ – regardless of our particular gifts – to glorify Him in our midst. Let us BE the body not just talk about. And when fear comes – be that fear of failure, scary times, money needs, health or anything else – let it collide with our faith.

So we come to the end of our journey through Nehemiah. These last few verses we will examine this week provide a nice summary of all that Nehemiah accomplished. God used Him in a mighty way not only to reestablish His people in His land but also His law in His people’s heart. Lets take a look and see what God does in the final verses.

The Restoration of the Sabbath

In those days I saw in Judah some who were treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sacks of grain and loading them on donkeys, as well as wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of loads, and they brought them into Jerusalem on the sabbath day. So I admonished them on the day they sold food. Also men of Tyre were living there who imported fish and all kinds of merchandise, and sold them to the sons of Judah on the sabbath, even in Jerusalem. Then I reprimanded the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing you are doing, [m]by profaning the sabbath day? Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.” Nehemiah 13:15-18 NASB

It came about that just as it grew dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and that they should not open them until after the sabbath. Then I stationed some of my servants at the gates so that no load would enter on the sabbath day. Once or twice the traders and merchants of every kind of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem. Then I warned them and said to them, “Why do you spend the night in front of the wall? If you do so again, I will use force against you.” From that time on they did not come on the sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come as gatekeepers to sanctify the sabbath day. For this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness. Nehemiah 13:19-22 NASB

 

We see in vv. 19-22 the continuation of Nehemiah’s actions from earlier in this chapter. Nehemiah is obviously concernd with the spiritual state of the people. He continues reintroducing elements of the Law to the people so that the Law can be reintegrated into the life of the nation. In these three verses we see that the Sabbath was restored. Why is this important?

Remember the Sabbath was a day of rest for the nation. They were supposed to recuperate from the previous six days of labor. This was patterned after the seventh day of creation when God chose to set the example of taking a day off after six days of labor. Though God didn’t need a day to recuperate, He intended man to take one because He knew what would happen if mankind didn’t take time off. For His people Israel, the Sabbath was a stress management tool. Evidently the nation had been neglecting this for some time. Nehemiah, determined to reestablish God’s rules for His people wasted no time in reestablishing the Sabbath.

He emphasized the Jerusalem would shut down commerce for one day a week. He got irritated with the merchants that would come to Jerusalem to sell their stuff. They were so desperate to sell their stuff that they camped outside of Jerusalem on the Sabbath. This served as a temptation to sin for the people. Nehemiah was having none of this. He threatened force  against these merchants if they continue to camp outside the city gates on the Sabbath. Was Nehemiah correct? I think so. Remember that the people were in captivity. They had lost their freedom at least in part for their neglect of God’s Law. Nehemiah determined to avoid that same issue coming up again. So he took extreme measures to ensure that the people not only did not sin but also that the temptation to sin was removed. Good job looking out for your people Nehemiah.

How often do we place temptation in front of ourselves and then get surprised when we give into it? Far too often in my life. How about you? Perhaps we should take extreme measures like Nehemiah in order to avoid the temptation to sin.

The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages

In those days I also saw that the Jews had [q]married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah, but the language of his own people. So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin. Do we then hear about you that you have committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women?” Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite, so I drove him away from me. Remember them, O my God, [u]because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. Nehemiah 13:23-29

Nehemiah now prohibits intermarriage. Well, actually Nehemiah reminds the nation that God had prohibited intermarrying with the nations. Why? Was Israel so special that they couldn’t marry anyone they liked? Yeah, they were. God identified with Israel. He chose to glorify Himself in this tiny nation who were surrounded by other much larger and stronger nations. So God wanted them to be totally reserved for Himself. He had set them apart. He expected them to act like the special people He made them. They were not like the nations that surrounded them. They didn’t worship idols. They didn’t trust in themselves. They didn’t act like them, believe like them or live like them. Now Nehemiah was determined to make sure that they remained pure. There were even priests who defiled the priesthood though intermarriage. Nehemiah drove all of them away.

Now while the commandment not to intermarry with other nations does not apply to us today since we are not the same as Israel, there are some things that we need to learn from this episode. We intermarry with the world when we make church about us. The gathering of the saints is for the corporate worship of God not our comfort or control. We intermarry with the world when we make their priorities our priorities.When we focus on the outward appearances of success – money, possessions and position – we intermarry.

We pollute the purity of our life of faith when we focus on these temporal things. Is it time for you – and me – to divorce ourselves from our unfaithfulness?

The Summation of Nehemiah’s Actions

Thus I purified them from everything foreign and appointed duties for the priests and the Levites, each in his task, and I arranged for the supply of wood at appointed times and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good. Nehemiah 13:30-31 NASB

The final purification has been accomplished. Israel has been restored. Pure worship in the Temple is happening, the walls surround the city. Respect for God’s commands is paramount once again. Israel is back. Nehemiah has accomplished his task and he asks that God remembers Him.

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When Nehemiah’s fear collided with his faith, he relied on God and doing what is right rather than giving into fear. Fear is a part of life. It comes and invades us. It collides with our faith. So what is our choice when face with seemingly insurmountable odds? Should we cower in fear, forgetting all that God has done for us? I don’t think I really need to answer that question.

We must remember that our priority is the glory of God, not the glory of our local Church or our own personal glory. This is hard to do sometimes. Honestly this is hard to do most times because we live in such a fallen world. But this difficulty doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility to glorify God every step of life. Let’s dedicate ourselves to glorifying God not ourselves. Let’s renew ourselves to build the kingdom of God through glorifying Him instead of building our brand. Let’s be people of the book rather than people of the bank account.

Let us unite as the whole body of Christ – regardless of our particular gifts – to glorify Him in our midst. Let us BE the body not just talk about. And when fear comes – be that fear of failure, scary times, money needs, health or anything else – let it collide with our faith.

And may our faith overcome our fear, not because of who we are, but because of who He is.

 

Remember us God, for good…

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.

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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…

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?

Company of the Committed

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Now, are we willing to take a stand against our checkered past for our future with Christ? Are we willing to stand up and say we have been unfaithful but we desire to be faithful?

I remember when I was taking one of my psychology classes in my undergraduate studies a particular statement by my professor. We were discussing why folks take very public stands on things. My professor remarked that when we vocalize what we believe internally, that act of public declaration makes backing off our private beliefs more difficult. It is a way that we make sure that we follow through with our beliefs. The same is true in this chapter of Nehemiah. The people, led by Nehemiah, are about to take a very public and very vocal stand on what they believe and what their actions will look like. These folks are serious about this change.

Now to observe this in context, we should remember chapter 9 verse 38:

Now because of all this we are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests. Nehemiah 9:38 NASB

So we are introducing a covenant. The people that will be listed in chapter 10 will be those who have made a contract with God because of His everlasting faithfulness to them in spite of the ever present failures.

Writing it down

Now on the sealed document were the names of: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah. These were the priests. And the Levites: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel; also their brothers Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah, Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, Hodiah, Bani, Beninu. The leaders of the people: Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, Malluch, Harim, Baanah. Now the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the law of God, their wives, their sons and their daughters, all those who had knowledge and understanding, are joining with their kinsmen, their nobles, and are taking on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, which was given through Moses, God’s servant, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of God our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes;   Nehemiah 10:1-29 NASB

Whew! Now there were some names. I recognized a few of them by honestly most of them don’t mean much to me. They could have signed with an “X” and it would mean as much. Sort of. What does mean something is the cross section of the people we see here. Let’s start with v. 1. Who’s there? Nehemiah. The big cheese here. He signed the document. He took the pledge and the public stand. Now it would seem to me that if Nehemiah had led them this far, taking another public stand for what he has been advocating for so long would be unnecessary. So why did he do it?

Its called leadership. Nehemiah led not only with his words but with his actions.

He didn’t say “Now you all sign that you are committed to change. I’ve already shown my commitment. Now you show yours.” That would have incredibly insulting to the people. They had joined Nehemiah in risking their lives to rebuild the walls and now Nehemiah joined them in a very public way. So this list begins with the governor. Who else is here?

Well we have the Levites. These were the religious leaders. We also have the nobles and leaders. These were the upper crust of society.These folks were the ones who more than likely led the rebuilding of the wall. They got their hands dirty. They engages in manual labor. They risked everything to rebuild the walls. And now they are putting their names on the covenant making some important and serious commitments.

These folks weren’t just standing by and watching things happen…they were in the middle of them.

As we continue in chapter 10, we see others involved as well. We see the everyone else, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and everyone who had decided to separate themselves. What stands out in this list to you to this point? Think about who is represented in signing this covenant for change.

We have the governor, the priests and the nobles listed. In terms of our society today, these first ones would be the white collar executive types who were first to sign. But we also have others – the gatekeepers, singers, temple servants –  to take this public stand. In essence the entire nation was taking a stand and signing this covenant. The entire nation. Every part, every social position. Big and small. Famous and not famous. They all took a very public stand in this covenant. This is an important point we can’t let escape us. The whole nation was on board with these changes. They effectively locked arms and said “We are in this together. Let’s not only keep ourselves accountable…let’s keep each other accountable.” This is a big deal.

All these folks took an oath to walk in God’s laws, keep His commandments and His ordinances and statutes. They were recommitting themselves to the Lord in a very public way.

One other thing I’d like to draw your attention to. This is the statement “a curse and an oath”. This is probably what is termed a hendiadys. What this phrase basically means is that that took an oath that came with penalties. Again, this shows the seriousness these folks had toward this commitment.

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When was the last time you took a public stand about changing your actions to be more Christlike? Are we even willing to do something like this today?I know, our society is different, the culture is different, blah, blah, blah. you know things really aren’t that different. We experience the same pressures as the people in Nehemiah’s day experienced. They’re different because of the changes in technology but they are really the same. We have idols competing for our time and loyalty. We have sin crouching at the door waiting to pounce. WE have temptations waiting to seduce us. We have our ride, our ego, position, power, etc. We’re really not all that different.

God has been just as faithful to us as He was to Israel. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we have been just as unfaithful to Him as Israel was to Him.

Now, are we willing to take a stand against our checkered past for our future with Christ? Are we willing to stand up and say we have been unfaithful but we desire to be faithful? Are we willing to write this down? Do it publicly? Perhaps this sounds weird, but I think we need to have a moment at some point where we do write down our commitment to God and pledge publicly to follow through. We need to write out what we pledge, sign our names on it, and display that so that we can be held accountable. Are you willing? How about me?

Let’s start our own Company of the Committed and commit ourselves anew to following Christ regardless of the cost.