In, not Of

To be IN but not OF the world is an important concept we must understand and practice. It isn’t always easy to do but it isn’t complicated. It is just difficult to put into practice.

 

Have you ever worried about the way the influence the world may be having on your family? Or you? Does thinking about this make you want to run away to an island somewhere or an isolated mountaintop? The news is bad all the time it seems. We have people all over the world fighting with each other, folks cutting off the heads of people, and Christians being compared to terrorists…geez, it is getting bad. But the answer isn’t running away. Jesus wouldn’t want us to do that.

In His High Priestly prayer, Jesus prays in John 17

But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:13-19 NASB (emphasis mine)

So how does that affect us today? Are we to be in the world but free from the evil one? And if so, how does THAT work.

When we look at the world around us with all the chaos that is happening, the easy thing to do is isolate ones self from it. You know, run away to an island or mountaintop. I’ve thought about it. But I always come back to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. I am to be IN the world, but not OF the world. That is a tough thing to do.

Isolation

bubbleThere is a mindset that looks at the world and the Christian and chooses to isolate. These professing believers are what I call Protestant monks – they think their isolation preserves them for God.

For this group of believers, isolating themselves from the influences of the world includes isolation from the world. They have effectively removed themselves from the world. This affects every facet of life and every stage of life. They may refer to the public school system as Babylon and those who have their children attend as misguided and selfish.

These folks also typically prefer to own a business and play around with the IRS. They may not like to pay taxes since taxes support Babylon and Christians shouldn’t do that. They genuinely believe that they are doing the right thing. They withdraw from every area of life, sit in their holy huddle, and summarily judge anyone who believes differently than themselves.

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“We should not be in love with the world or its priorities. But we should

be so in love with our Savior that we embrace our mission

in this world – to glorify God by preaching the

Gospel – in word and deed.”

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The sad fact is that their isolation only rejects what God has for them and preserves their reputation as being holier-than-thou types who look down their collective nose at anyone not as holy as they are. This should never be.

Distinct from the World – In not Of

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To be IN but not OF is an important concept we must understand and practice. It isn’t always easy to do but it isn’t complicated. It is just difficult to put into practice.

This approach is a bit trickier than the isolation approach. To be in but not of the world recognizes seemingly contradictory positions: we are distinct from the world yet we are in it. Think of it as being distinct from the world but not isolated from it. Christians should be different – perhaps even stand out – in a crowd. But the important thing here is that we should be in the crowd. Lets take a look at Jesus.

With whom did He dine? Sinners and tax collectors.

To whom did He grant forgiveness? Prostitutes, thrives and murderers.

With whom did He die? Convicted felons.

Clearly Jesus was in but not of the world. He definitely was a distinct individual. And it is this approach I think He was praying in John 17.

To be distinct but in the world means we don’t adopt the ways of the world. We should never be confused with a non-believer. But the reason we should be distinct is as important as being distinct.

Our distinctiveness should never be based solely on our words – though we should definitely speak boldly about Christ. No, our distinctiveness must also include our actions. The manner in which we live must reinforce what we say we believe.

We should not be in love with the world or its priorities. But we should be so in love with our Savior that we embrace our mission in this world – to glorify God by preaching the Gospel in word and deed. Are we doing that well? Are we doing that at all?

Current events (in America at least) seems to indicate that we have becomes a bit too cozy with the world. We no longer forcefully speak out about morality in our leaders. Its even worse than that – we openly embrace and defend someone who is about as immoral (perhaps amoral) as possible. But this person says the right things…he blows our dog whistle and we run to him, fawning over him.

He does so much that is right is the new mantra. So many Christians overlook behavior that is definitely not Christlike, behavior that would require a raining down of condemnations if the person was anyone but our guy. This is sad and disappointing.  Perhaps these Christians should reexamine their relationship to the world.

To live in, but not of, the world is difficult – thats the point of Jesus’ prayer. Regardless of the difficulty, may we all reevaluate how we are doing in this area and improve where necessary.

 

I’m already dead

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Only when I am free from the fear of dying can I really live and glorify God.

 

In August 1982 I began training to become a Marine. Having been raised in a family where being a Marine is a way of life, I thought becoming one would be easy. My dad had been a Drill Instructor in the Marine Corps, fought in Korea and Vietnam. His brother fought in Korea as a Marine. My older three brother had either served or were serving in the Marine Corps at the time of my enlistment. We are a Marine family. Becoming a Marine was anything but easy. Even though I thought I was prepared, I quickly realized that I was not. I graduated from recruit training and became a Marine. I learned quite a bit in boot camp. One thing I learned has direct application to my life as a Christian. Allow me to explain.

During one part of boot camp, we were simulating war time conditions. I had just completed what was called the infiltration course. I crawled over, under, and through various obstacles while explosions occurred near to me. There was the sound of gunfire and chaos all around. After my platoon had finished, one of our Drill Instructors decided we needed to have some extra instruction.

This Drill Instructor was a Recon Marine. Think a really mean and tough Marine. Anyway, he spoke to us about how to be successful in war. First, he said, a Marine is successful only if the mission is successful. An individual Marine’s part in the mission is inconsequential – the mission is what matters. Second, he said that for a Marine to be successful, he must lose his fear in battle. Third, he told us how to lose our fear in battle. He said “When you are going into combat, accept the fact that you are already dead. When you accept that you are already dead, your fear of death disappears and you can function with freedom, not worried about what is going to happen to you. Your only concern will be the success of the mission.”

Live as if I am already dead. Interesting.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20 NASB

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This is the way we should be living as Christians. Accept the fact that we are already dead – already crucified with Christ – and live with genuine freedom. This is not easy to do. I know I have struggled – and continue to struggle – with this idea.

I worry about how I might do something that will prematurely end my life. But that is supremely wrong. This life I live, as Paul states in Galatians 2, is not my life but it is Christ’s life. He paid for me, He owns me. I am already dead, my body just hasn’t found out yet. If I ever get this truth through my head and my heart, I may fulfill my mission on earth.

But what is my mission? My mission in life is as simple as this: I am to glorify God in all I do, say, the way I live and, yes, in the way I die.

Far too often I live my life not as freely as I should but somehow unfree. Before I was married I hesitated to long for the appearing of Christ because I wanted to experience marriage. I wanted to love someone else and be loved by someone else. I really wanted that. Sadly, I wanted that more than I wanted to see Christ return in glory.

Since I’ve been married, I’ve wanted to see all my children receive Christ as Savior. I’ve want to see them grow up, get married, have children. I’ve want them to serve Christ but I want them to do it safely. I seem so bound to this life sometimes that I hate myself.

But in reflecting on the lessons learned in the Marine Corps Boot Camp back in 1982, I am reminded that I need to accept that I am already dead. Only when I am free from the fear of dying can I really live and glorify God.

Am I really willing to do accept that? Do I really desire to live only to glorify God, or do I desire something else in my life? How about you?

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I am not advocating that we Christians need to live recklessly. I’m not saying that we need to do crazy things in service to Christ. I’m not saying that we need to hasten our death in order to glorify God. I’m not saying that we should not have savings accounts, a 401k, or take prudent steps for work and life. But what I ma saying is the those things must be secondary things – not the primary things – that define life and success for us.

So what happens when we accept that we are already dead? What would I look like if I truly lived out Galatians 2:20?

We begin to live righteously

We need to live where our supreme ambition is to glorify God, not to glorify ourselves. Our primary investment of our time, talent, and treasure should be in the accomplishment of our mission – to bring glory to God – rather than to invest in Bitcoin or increase the size of our nest egg.

We live life out loud

We should never shrink from standing for what is right, regardless of the cost. We should never stoop tot he level of the unsaved just to get ahead. We should never try to get away with something because we think everybody does it. To live in freedom – to live righteously – is to live a life restrained from pleasing ourselves and retrained to please God. Man, I’ve got a ways to go. How about you?

We pursue God with abandon – righteous abandon

We run after God in every aspect of life. We no longer live by the checkbox but by the grace He has given us. We integrate our lives – we no longer have a spiritual life, but simply a life that is spiritual. We refuse to compromise on the essentials and give grace on the non-essentials of our faith. We love freely and freely accept love.

We become true disciples of Jesus Christ

When we accept that we are already dead, we become true disciples of Christ. We are able to listen to His voice better because we listen to other voices less. We act on what He commands because we fear the repercussions less. We are willing to both live and die for Him – for his glory – because we are already dead.

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As this year progresses, I want to remind myself of the lesson of Galatians 2:20 and from my Drill Instructor. I’m crucified already. I don’t live. Christ lives in me. He bought me, He owns me. I want to live with righteous abandon in servicing Him, never worrying about what I might miss. I want to live freely in the battle before me. After all, I’m already dead.

Now that I have accepted I’m already dead, I can finally live.

 

 

 

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.

Comfort for the Afflicted

‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure;

Lately I have been reading quite a few messages, emails, and stories about the trials and tribulations of life. Some are quite sad. Some make me want to run out and fix something or someone. Mix in with this the silly season of politics and we have plenty of reasons to fret. We hear accusations and counter accusations from the candidates. We see bullying that I thought was left on the playground in 5th grade. And the language. Oh, the language. All this can lead to despair. Life these days can be trying.

The issues in life today can seem out of control. We feel helpless. We feel afflicted. We despair.

Are you afflicted with physical pain?

There are times – almost all the time – that my back hurts.  My knees ache, I have bone chips in my left ankle. I hurt continually somewhere. But hey, I’m 52 years old and did stupid stuff when I was younger. I should feel some pain now. But sometimes the pain gets the best of me. The pain make me want to have a pity party and say to myself (and others) “woe is me! I’m in such pain.” But you know what? I shouldn’t do that. I have good reason not to focus on my physical pain.

I have good reason not to despair. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with chronic illness?

I have diabetes. I also have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I have high blood pressure, high bad cholesterol, low good cholesterol, an arrhythmic heartbeat, and an immune dysfunction that cause my immune system to attack my own body from time-to-time. I’m a wreck! If I was a car, I’d be recalled for being a lemon.  I have these chronic illnesses. I won’t get rid in this life of them unless God intervenes and performs a miracle. I take nine pills each day. Nine pills just so I have a chance at a slightly less abnormal life. In looking at these many chronic problems I have, I could despair. I could give up knowing that I have no realistic hope that I’ll ever be rid of them, the pills or the pain they cause me on a daily basis.

But I have good reason not to despair, not to focus on my chronic illnesses. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with depression?

Do you have clinical depression? I do. Having it is a beast. Feelings of worthlessness, overwhelming powerlessness come up over and over. I have even contemplated suicide. My past won’t leave me alone and at times my future – at least the one I thought I was going to have – eludes me. I get bummed. I start to focus on the issues that surround me and not where I should focus. Then I think I’ll never climb out of this pit. I’ll never have a day where I genuinely feel good.

But I have good reason not to despair, not to focus on my depression. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with unfulfilled dreams?

I love to preach. I love sharing God’s word and encouraging those listening to do something with what they learn. The greatest compliment i ever received was when someone told me they acted on an issue because of what I said from the pulpit. But, sadly for me, I feel my preaching days are over. I’ve taken some hits – some stinging criticisms.  The person(s) who feel this way haven’t talked to me about their perception of me, but they have talked to others.  I have become a stumbling block to that person (or persons) learning when I preach. So I would rather not preach than to cause someone to stumble. And that fact – that I am a stumbling block – saddens me. My love for preaching goes unfulfilled now.  Perhaps you have yet to find your place in the Body of Christ. Maybe you’re looking for a job – any job – and can’ seem to find one. Maybe you’ve been laid off or fired and your heart aches. Maybe, like me, you focus on your loss and you begin to despair.

But I have reason not to despair. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with financial struggle?

I have a wonderful wife and seven – soon to be eight – children living under one roof. My house can be loud, messy, and dirty. It can also be a madhouse. But it is my house – the house God has given to me.

My wife is the most wonderful woman in the world. She manages everything so well, home schools our children and gets more beautiful by the day. She is wonderful. More than wonderful. I don’t have a word for her she is so wonderful. She is my heartbeat, she is my life.   My children are great as well. They are growing so fast. My oldest is nearly 13(!) and my youngest is about to be born in May or June. They are generally loud, running, jumping, active kids. And I love each one of them more and more each day.

But we struggle financially. We are a single income family. That is a choice my wife and I made before we got married. You may have made a different choice and that is OK. Maybe you struggle too. There are some months we don’t have two nickles to rub together. Other months we are better. But whether we have plenty or not, we have each other. Sometimes though I wonder. I wonder about the future, our paltry savings. I see the economy in the US faltering and wonder when I’ll be out of a job. I worry. I start to despair. You probably do too.

But I have good reason not to despair, not to worry about our finances or future. And so do you.

The Reason?

My Good Reason is simple: God is sovereign. Period.

 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.       Psalm 115:3 NASB

God does what God pleases to do. Since God is holy and makes no mistakes, I should take comfort in that fact. And so should you.

In Isaiah 46:10 God says

Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;

You see God will accomplish all He plans to accomplish. I take comfort in that. And so should you.

I mess up every day. I sin. I fight against God. I struggle through His grace. Then I get frustrated that I’m not as holy as I’d like to be and should be. I wonder sometimes if I have crossed some line in the sand that causes God to have had enough of me. Then I read John 10, Jesus says

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-20 NASB

Jesus claims to be God here. He claims sovereignty over my life. If you are a Christian he claims sovereignty over your life too. You can’t be lost once you are found. And neither can I. I take comfort in that. And so should you.

Finally, in Romans, Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:28-30 NASB

There is plenty in these few verses but I want you to focus in the first one. Everything in life is worked together for good by God for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. That means you Christian. Whether you are afflicted by physical pain, emotional strain or financial stress,

God is working it out for good in your life.   And we – WE – should take comfort in that.   No, we MUST take comfort in that.

Since God is sovereign in my life and in your life, we need not fret about those things that so easily distract us and stress us. Whether those things are temporary or chronic; whether they are physical or emotional; whether they are tangible or intangible; we should – we MUST – reject the control they desire over us and rely on on God.

 

We must find comfort in the absolute sovereignty of God for it cannot be found anywhere else.

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.

Every Good Gift

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Throughout the history of Israel we see a series of interactions between God and Israel. God would do something and then Israel would react – good or bad – to God’s actions. Here in Nehemiah the people are remembering their history with God through a prayer. The section I am addressing today is somewhat short but no doubt evoked powerful memories and emotions in the people as they remembered God’s actions. Let’s continue to step our way through this wonderful prayer with more memories of God’s actions and Israel’s reactions.

What God Did

You also gave them kingdoms and peoples, And allotted them to them as a boundary. Nehemiah 9:22 NASB

This section of this prayer begins with an action of God. Now notice carefully what happened: God gave Israel something. Now that something was kingdoms and nations. Don’t rush through this. What does this gift mean? Is there anything we can draw out of this that is not on the surface? I think so.

If God gave kingdoms and nations to Israel, that means God owns those kingdoms and nations. He has the right to do with them what He pleases. And it pleased Him to give them to Israel. Now what nations and kingdoms did God give Israel? Ultimately it was Canaan for they were in the land God gave Israel. Was Canaan a righteous nation? Not by a mile! So what does this say about God?

He is sovereign over all nations, not just Israel. He can do whatever he wants with whomever He chooses. It is God who raises up rulers and puts them down (see Daniel 2:21). This should be a sobering thought.This should remind us of just Who is in charge. This should remind us of our place as the created ones, not the Creator. The fact of God’s sovereignty over everyone should give us comfort.

But does it? I hope so.

 Israel’s response

They took possession of the land of Sihon the king of Heshbon And the land of Og the king of Bashan.Nehemiah 9:22 NASB

Sihon was a king of the Amorites and Heshbon was a city east of the Jordan. In Number 21:21-32 the story of the encounter with this king is given. Israel wanted to pass through his land on their way to the promised land. He didn’t want them to pass. Lets just say it didn’t end well for good ol’ Sihon! God gave Israel Sihon’s land and the Israelites took it.

The same thing happened to Og. He too was an Amorite king who decided he’d take on Israel and Israel’s God. As with Sihon, it didn’t end well for Og. He was purported to be a giant, mighty in his own sight. He ruled a kingdom of 70 walled cities and was quite impressed with himself. But God was not impressed. He gave him and his kingdom to Israel and they possessed it.

We should learn a valuable lesson here. Just because a nation appears ferocious and invincible, does not mean that they actually are that. God owns everything. As He said in Daniel 2, He decides who is on the throne. Again we should find comfort in this statement. No matter how ungodly and anti-Christian a leader of a nation may appear to be, God owns him and will do what He pleases with him. But God will accomplish His work in His time. So let’s be patient with His plan for the world. He owns it and He will accomplish His purpose.

What God Did

“You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven, and You brought them into the land Which You had told their fathers to enter and possess. Nehemiah 9:23 NASB

God chose to prosper the nation of Israel. How many stars are there in the sky? That is how many descendants of the original nation there are. God did that. God is not sovereign over the land of the world – not only is He sovereign over kings and kingdoms – but He is also sovereign over descendants. Now I realize there are a number of views regarding family size. But regardless of what we think, God is sovereign over the conception and birth of a child.

Well God not only prospered the descendants in a numerical way bit He also prospered them in a land sort of way. Notice that it was God who brought them to the land He had promised their parents. They eventually possessed the land. God kept His promise and fulfilled that promise through these children.

God keeps His promises. Take comfort from that.

 

So God brought Israel to the land. What did they do? The parents of the descendants who entered the land refused to take it. So God took them on a forty year journey through the desert. And then He brought the descendants back to the land. So what happened this time?

Israel’s Response

So their sons entered and possessed the land. And You subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, And You gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, To do with them as they desired. They captured fortified cities and a fertile land. They took possession of houses full of every good thing, Hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, Fruit trees in abundance. So they ate, were filled and grew fat, And reveled in Your great goodness.Nehemiah 9:24-25

Israel took the land. They possessed it. They took over and conquered all who lived in the land that God had given them. It didn’t matter if they cities were fortified (with walls and defenses) or not. Israel simply followed God and took possession of the land God had promised to them. This land – filled with cisterns for water, fruit trees for food and every good thing. This was a sweet place to live. And they had it because God had given it to them. But though the gift was made many years before, it was theirs when they took it.

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We need to be careful with this but far too often we don’t possess the promises God has made to us. He has promised not to abandon us. He has promised that we would one day be dwelling with Him.  He made these promises. He will keep them. But will we posses them? Do we live like folks whose destiny is settled?

I’m not saying we should with reckless abandon but with righteous abandon. Since we have the promise of God that He will keep us until the end of time on earth, we should never fear death, torture or anything else.

Today is the anniversary of the martyrdom of William Tyndale. He was strangled then burned at he stake on this date in 1536 for the great crime of translating the Bible into English. His work provided the basis for the majority of the King James version of 1611. He died doing what was right. Evidently he valued his possession of the promises of God rather than his possession of physical life. We should not seek martyrdom. But we should not shrink from it. God has made very real promises to the Church. Just as He kept His promises to Israel as recounted here in Nehemiah 9, He will keep His promises to the Church.

Let’s live like those who possess the promise of heaven and eternity with the One True God.

True Compassion

nehemiah wall_final

 

Being loving to the lovable isn’t anything special. Be compassionate on those who are nice is nothing great. But to love the unlovable and be compassionate on the rebellious ones…Wow. Just. Wow.

 

When we remember all that God did to deliver His people from Egypt we should be amazed. God performed miracle upon miracle to get His people out of that place and to glorify His name. One would think that the ones who were delivered would never forget about the wonderful things God did. But they did forget. Boy, did they ever forget!

But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery.  -Nehemiah 9:16-17

Just as the people recalled God’s goodness, they also remembered their ancestor’s rebellion. Look at how they are referred to in this passage. They are called arrogant, stiff-necked and disobedient. They did not listen and did not remember. They chose to go in a different direction than God had for them. They sure were kind of “out there”. Lets look at a few things in this description.

First they became arrogant. Have you ever seen this type of transformation take place? It is a sight to behold. But it is a sad thing to witness too. To see a previous humble servant of Christ get full of himself and believe that everything is all about him is sad indeed. Politicians, singers, bands and writers have suffered through this type of transformation.

Next they became stiff-necked.  Now what does this mean? Well, the best way I can explain it is that they rebelled and rebelled obstinately. So think of someone so set on rebellion that they have no other course of conduct available. That is sad isn’t it?

They disobeyed, didn’t listen and didn’t remember. They were a mess.They chose their path and walked down it. They left God and His precepts. This rebellion led them to their destination. And that destination wasn’t freedom. No, that destination was slavery.

Before we get all full of ourselves and criticize Israel for doing this lets consider how many times we have done the exact same things. Have you ever wandered? Ever refused listen to the Holy Spirit and either doing something or not doing something He is prompting? Me too. Too many times in fact. But we should be encouraged by the person we know as God. Look at the next verse or two:

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.Therefore you did not desert them,   -Nehemiah 9:17

Grace and compassion

God shows His graciousness towards Israel. Notice how God is described: forgiving, gracious and compassionate. Are you known by those words? When I ask myself that question, I’m not too pleased with the answer. I often can be one of those three once in  awhile but I have a difficult time being all three all of the time. Maybe this is true of you too. But thankfully God is not mankind. He is all these things.

The final sentence here is spellbinding to me: Therefore you did not desert them. Think about the statement being made. God had every right to desert Israel. Hey, for that matter, they had already deserted Him! God would have been fully justified in leaving them behind. But He didn’t.

Similarly we wander from God, We don’t listen or obey. We judge, hurt and become proud. God has every reason to desert us – we have already deserted Him. But, just like God’s actions towards Israel, He doesn’t desert us. What a loving and compassionate God we serve!

And what’s more there seems to be no limit to what God endured with the Israelites.

When there were idols

even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies.    -Nehemiah 9:18

The Israelites, I’m sure you remember, decided to have an idol. When Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the people below cast themselves an idol and gave the credit for their deliverance from Egypt to this newly-minted golden idol. That had to hurt.

When they wandered

Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them.   -Nehemiah 9:19

Remember the wandering in the desert? That would have been a great place for God to say “I’ve had enough of you. I’m leaving. Figure everything out for yourselves.” But God did not do that. He lovingly and compassionately led them through their sojourn in the desert. He used a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Interestingly, in the Temple, there was smoke or cloud in the most holy place where the glory of God would reside. Finally, He gave His Spirit to guide them.

These folks had it all. Boy, I wished we had this type of guidance today. But you know, we do. We have it even better. We have the Holy Spirit – God Himself – dwelling inside our mortal body. He guides. He instructs. He leads. Think about that. God Almighty lives in us so that He can guide us. Do we listen and follow like we should?

When they complained

You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.    -Nehemiah 9:20

The Israelites complained while wandering in the desert. They complained about the heat. They complained about the food (the Hebrew word Manna means What is it!) It seems they were always upset about something and never thankful for anything. What a bunch of whiners! I bet God really taught them a lesson for all their whining. He did. Just not the lesson that may have popped into your head.

God kept feeding them. God kept giving them water. God sustained them for forty years. An entire generation of people were sustained by God. Their clothes remained in good condition as did their shoes. Their feet never swelled up in spite of all the walking they did. Yeah, God taught them a lesson alright. He taught them  a lesson about love and compassion. How we need that lesson today.

Being loving to the lovable isn’t anything special. Be compassionate on those who are nice is nothing great. But to love the unlovable and be compassionate on the rebellious ones…Wow. Just. Wow.

 

So how are you doing showing compassion and love to everyone around you? Don’t make the mistake thinking loving someone means you never disagree or even rebuke their conduct. Love will be present in those situations. Compassion will be there too. Perhaps God is tugging at your heart as you are reading these words like He is tugging at mine as I write these words. Maybe we need to redouble our efforts to show compassion and others to others in spite of how others are…or how they act.