Pressing On

In my article last week we discovered that we are to be in, but not of the world. This means that while we live in the world, we do not adopt the world’s values, methods, or morals (or lack thereof). We are simply sojourners, passing through this age on our journey to eternity. If all this is true, what are we to do while here?

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12-14 NASB

Philippians 3 is full of wonderful truths and challenges to us – things, if we really understand them, will cause use to grow. Lets take a few moments and consider a few points Paul makes in these few verses.

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect…

Paul begins this section with a wonderful statement of humility and understanding of the human condition following conversion: a redeemed but imperfect follower of Christ.

When we read Pauls works, we quickly realize that he is a man who is acutely aware of his faults, his sin, and his struggles. We also become aware of his desire to be in closer union with Christ, having his life lost in His. Here in Philippians 3, Paul flatly states that he has not yet achieved the intimacy in Christ he desires or that he is already perfect. There are Christians who believe that after conversion, a person can achieve perfection. Paul performs an effective refutation of that view. Paul is setting up the rest of his argument by plainly stating that he isn’t where he wants to be.

I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus… 

Paul moves on to say that in spite of his imperfection, in spite of his failures, and in spite of his lack of intimacy with Christ; he continues to go forward. The phrase I press on could better be communicated with the phrase I strive. Paul is striving – pushing forward – to become more like Christ. Think of  person straining to climb a hill, refusing to give up. Paul keeps moving forward in spite of the barriers – in spite of the difficulties. All that matters is that he fulfills his destiny in Christ after Christ laid hold on him.

run uphillforgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

In this passage, Paul details how he will gain greater intimacy with Christ. Paul begins by stating he forgets all that lies behind. Paul chooses to neglect it, to forget it. But to what does he refer? It could be his life persecuting the church before he was saved. But I’m not sure he is doing that. I think he is probably forgetting the persecution he and the church have endured. The reason is simple: if we focus on the wrongs we have experienced, the persecution we have endured, we could very easily be paralyzed by fear or anger. Or both.

This section hits me particularly hard. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I was a church planting pastor whose church plant was split and destroyed by someone who I regarded at that time as a friend. Following the death of my little church, I was hurt, bitter, and angry. For quite a while I chose not to forget those things. And that paralyzed me.

Have you had a similar experience? Have you been hurt to such an extent that you found forgetting about the experience very difficult? Regardless of how difficult neglecting to remember the hurts of the past are, we must do that if we want to progress to greater intimacy with Christ and greater Christ-likeness.

Paul states that he reaches out, or presses on towards his goal. That is his entire focus – being like Christ with the greatest intimacy possible with Christ. We could very easily see this as a race where Paul is working hard to run through the finish line. That finish line is part of the goal. I really think Paul’s goal is the Bema Seat – the judgment seat of Christ where all Christians shall appear. Paul longs to be seen as one who has pursued Christ in spite of the hardships, difficulties, and persecution. Paul loved Christ with his entire being.  Paul had a short memory of wrongs done to him not because they were not important or wrong, but because his focus was on being like Christ. Boy, we could learn a thing or two in America about this.

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Often times we scream and yell about our rights and liberties in the US. We stomp our feet in protest to what we perceive is persecution. We whine and complain about every little thing done that hinders us.

I think we need to read Paul a bit more.

Imagine what the Church in America would look like if we focused on the goal of being Christlike and not so much on our freedoms, liberties, and rights. I wonder…I really, really wonder.

Instead of wondering what the Church would look like by embracing Paul’s soul focus on intimacy and Christlikeness, maybe I – and you – should wonder what I would look like if I did this. What would we look like if our soul-focus was to be Christlike.  Hmmm.

I think its time we found out.

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.

The Need

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In my previous articles I have presented grace as a necessary attribute of God and an action of God towards us. In order to fully grasp grace – at least as fully grasp it as we can – we must first understand that we are sinners in dire need of grace.

Now what do I mean by “We are sinners”? Well, we are a rebellious people who desire their own way rather than God’s way. We are bent toward evil, not good. Every perception we have, every inclination, every thought is tainted and influenced, and, if we are honest, driven by the will to do our own evil bidding rather than what is right.

God, through the Apostle Paul, states that

There is none righteous, not even oneThere is none who understandsThere is none who seeks for GodAll have turned aside, together they have become uselessThere is none who does goodThere is not even oneTheir throat is an open graveWith their tongues they keep deceivingThe poison of asps is under their lipsWhose mouth is full of cursing and bitternessTheir feet are swift to shed bloodDestruction and misery are in their pathsAnd the path of peace they have not knownThere is no fear of God before their eyes. – Romans 3:10-18 NASB

Seems pretty clear to me. We are not righteous, we don’t understand, we don’t seek after God. We have turned from God and His ways, we steal, murder, curse and we don’t know peace, This is a pretty ugly picture of mankind, isn’t it! There is no room for pop psychology or warm fuzzy feelings for felt needs in Paul’s letter to the Romans. He paints a bleak picture of humanity. But wait, there’s more!

Just in case you were trying to figure a way of reading the previous passage without using the word sin, Paul takes care of that in just a few verses:

 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – Romans 3:23 NASB

The word All means you and me. It means every Jew and gentile. If you are human, you are included in this. Oh boy, now I’ve done it. We are actually equal. We are equally corrupt, equally sinful (though the expression may be different), equally under judgment, and equally worthy of hell for eternity.

ALL of us humans are equally under the condemnation of God.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23 NASB

Payday is coming, folks. Each of us will receive what is due. In Romans six Paul clearly and unequivocally states that death is the result of sin. The term death does not imply or mean cessation of existence. No, it simply means separation. Physical death is when the material and immaterial parts of a human are separated . When that occurs, the body ceases to function and the spirit or soul leaves.

Spiritual death occurs when we stand before God and are judged. Not one of our works – regardless of how good it may seem – is going to do anything to keep us from being separated from God for eternity. Once our soul leaves our body we cannot ever be reconciled to God, unless we experienced that reconciliation prior to that moment. We are most definitely in a pickle. All of us.

This is where grace enters into our lives. God offers His salvation by His grace. We must appropriate His grace through faith. Salvation – the freedom from sin and its consequences – is granted by God by His grace through faith

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 NASB

God’s grace changes our trajectory in eternity.

Though we were destined for eternal separation from God because of our sin, when God invades our lives and grants His salvation by His grace through our faith, our destiny is changed., Forever.

No longer are we destined for eternal separation from God. No, we are now destined to an eternity in the very presence of God. God’s grace does that. God’s grace is THAT powerful.

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.

 

Repentance, Worship and Revival O My!

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God is alive and well. He is on His throne. I belong to Him. He alone is righteous

When revival starts to spread in the land a number of things begin to happen. Here in Nehemiah 9 we will see two of the more prominent things that happen when revival hits the land.

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God. Now on the Levites’ platform stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Chenani, and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God. Nehemiah 9:1-4 NASB

Repentance

Repentance is an interesting thing to observe. The reason it is interesting is that it is more than one action but it is only one action. Have I confused you yet? Let’s see if I can clear things up a bit.

The twofold nature of biblical repentance is what sometimes gets confusing. The first aspect of repentance is a turning from action. Now what is this turning from action? It is a turning from sin and a sinful heart. Here we see the beginning of their turning from in v. 1 – sackcloth and ashes is a way to illustrate mourning. Then in v. 2 we see that they separated themselves from foreigners. Now this separation is not based on frivolous things. This separation is based on religious grounds. Do you see what is being said here? The people had recognized that the Lord had made them a special people that was distinct from all others. They turned from their inclusion of other nations. They chose to return to the way the Lord wanted things done.

Now for the turning to part of repentance. We start to see this in v. 3: they stood and read from the book of the Law. They turned to God. So not only did they turn away from their previous sin, they turned to God and the way He wanted them to do things. This turning to God led them to worship here in vv. 3-4. This worship will continue in a different form in the coming verses.

Worship

This section constitutes one of the longest prayers in the OT. It was meant not only to serve as a traditional prayer but also to instruct those who were hearing it. This occurs in some of the Psalms (78, 105, 106, 135, and 136). It is quite interesting to see the heart change from grieving to rejoicing.

The first thing I want you to notice is God is praised as the Creator and maker of everything:

Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah, said, “Arise, bless the Lord your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed And exalted above all blessing and praise! “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens…” Nehemiah 9:5-6b NASB

This is always a good way to start a time of intense prayer. How often have you begun your prayers with a simple praising of God for who He is and what He has done? Regardless of what Mr. Darwin thinks or theorizes, we did not arise from a bubbling sea of cosmic ooze to then evolve into man through a number of random mutations (all of which were positive). No, we were specially created by God to reflect His image in His creation.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Think of what is happening in your body right now. You are breathing, your heart is beating. You are reading this blog and comprehending the thoughts I have written. You do all this with very little effort. Just think of what you would need to to if you had to think “breathe in lungs, heart beat again, think brain!” I doubt much else could be accomplished if we had to will ourselves to continue to perform  basic functions.

In the next section we see the Lord as the all-sovereign one. He is the one who chooses man, not the other way around.

“You are the Lord God, Who chose Abram And brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, And gave him the name Abraham. “You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give him the land of the Canaanite, Of the Hittite and the Amorite, Of the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite— To give it to his descendants. And You have fulfilled Your promise,
For You are righteous. Nehemiah 9:7-8 NASB

I love these verses in Nehemiah – they are theologically rich and so challenging to me. I hope they are challenging you to take a look at your life and how you are conducting yourself in this world.

Look how this section begins: You are the Lord God…. The declaration that their God, known by His covenant name YHWH, is THE sovereign one is quite the statement. these folks were not worried to say their way was the only way. Seems like we could learn a thing or two from them. Standing for what we believe is all good. But standing for truth is better. Are you ready to say that our God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – is the ONLY God in the universe worthy of our worship? I hope so.

Continuing through this section we also  see that His sovereignty is affirmed when they state that He chose Abram and called him to leave Ur of the Chaldees. Notice it doesn’t end with the call of Abram. God made a covenant with Abram to give him the land of the various “ites” that lived in the promised land. But God’s covenant didn’t end there. He swore to give the land not only to Abram but also to Abram’s descendants. So who are these descendants? Israel of course. It doesn’t matter what others think – the land known as “Palestine” belongs to Israel. Period. They will inherit it. They will possess it. Why? Because God promised it to them.

The final observation I want to make about this section is the final few words: You are Righteous. Now we may not think much of those words but they are heavy. To be righteous means to be without sin. Who could make such a claim? Only God can. He is the only one who is, by nature, without sin.

Revival

I don’t care what society thinks. Whether they recognize this truth or not, God is not dead. God is on His throne. And I don’t care if I am a laughingstock, a backwards man, or anything else. I will continue to say “God is alive and well. He is on His throne. I belong to Him. He alone is righteous.

How is your revival going? Are you reviving your relationship with God every day? If you know about your sin and repent of it – like the Israelite’s did here in Nehemiah – you’re on your way.

But you also need to work on your worship. Recognizing God’s worth, recognizing who He is, is key to revival and worship. One very important way of worshiping God is how we pray. How are you in your prayer life? This one in Nehemiah sets the bar pretty high. But learning from it this week (and in the coming weeks) can only help you and me be better at praising God when we begin our prayer time. It will help us stay focused on this important truth:

God is still God, and I am not.

Revived!

nehemiah wall_final

We must make doing the word of God a habit we embrace

 

When revival sweeps the land, it creates a hunger and thirst for knowing what the Bible states, not just reading it. To know the Bible we must spend time in it studying it. We must take time in this study to consult those who have studied it much more deeply than we have.

I have written before about progressive sanctification. In fact, that is one of my favorite subjects! While the Holy Spirit is primarily in charge of our progressive sanctification, we have a responsibility in this too. Our responsibility includes knowing the Bible. Notice i didn’t say reading the Bible. We must know what the Bible states not just read it once in awhile.

In our section this week we’ll see what happens when those who once rejected God’s Word embrace it with joy.

 

Investigating the Word of God

If you truly want change, you must study the Bible

Have you ever been around a Christian whose only desire is to know the Word of God? I know such a man. The joy his intense interest in knowing the Bible brings to those around him in overflowing! This man has this figured out. For you and I we must be serious about the Word of God if we truly desire life-change. Reading it isn’t enough: We must investigate it.

Here in Nehemiah 8, revival is sweeping the land. The people, who had completed the wall in spite of much opposition, have now turned their attention to rebuilding the spiritual life of the Nation. Let’s take a look at what we can glean from this newest rebuilding effort here in Nehemiah 8.

Then on the second day the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law. They found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. Nehemiah 8:13-14 NASB

The first important thing we need to recognize is the fact that the representatives of the people and the priests came to Ezra to learn what the Word of God was teaching them. They recognized the need to seek out the expert in the Law to learn. That would be nice to happen today. Whenever anyone wants to know something about the Bible, instead of seeking out someone who has studied the Bible intensely at the feet of  theological giants, most simply use the internet and their favorite search engine. Sadly, the internet has made everyone an expert. But is was different here in Nehemiah. They sought out THE expert of the Law. And not only did they come to Ezra, they listened and learned.

They learned that they had been neglecting an important festival that the Lord had commanded. Look at verse 14: “They found written…” Have you ever discovered an important truth in the Bible? How did that make you feel? What did that encourage you to do? Well here they learned that the Lord had commanded them t  live in booths in the seventh month. Now what is that about?

The feast of tabernacles (or booths) was a feast that the Lord instituted in Leviticus 23:40-43. It was a feast that served as a reminder to future generations of how the Lord had brought the Nation out of Egypt. During this time they were out of Egypt and int he desert, they lived in booths. This feast served as a reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness. So they learned this but it didn’t end there.

 

Initiating the Word of God

Once you know the Bible, you must act on it

So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and [h]wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. Nehemiah 8:15-16 NASB

The leaders of the people and the priests didn’t just learn about what the Lord required, they acted on it: they initiated the Word of God in their daily lives. In verses 15 through 16, the people sent out a proclamation to everyone to go out and gather the necessary parts for these booths. And everyone did. Each family built their own booth and lived in it on the roof of each person’s own house.

These folks, who had built the wall, built their homes, now chose – they CHOSE – to follow the instruction of the Word of God and live in a booth made of branches. That could not have been comfortable. But once they knew that the Lord had commanded them to do this, there was no question that they would follow through. It was as if there was no choice in the matter. And in a real way, there wasn’t a choice. Sure they could have ignored the command but the choice to follow was so clear – so necessary – that they really didn’t have any other choice than to follow through.

 

Installing the Word of God

Knowing the Bible and acting on the requirements leads us to making it our habit

In this final section, we see the effects of following the Lord’s commands. Notice in v. 17 that there was great rejoicing. Think of this for a moment. The Nation had not done what the Lord had commanded for generations. But when they followed the command, there was rejoicing. Following the Lord’s commands doesn’t kill the joy we experience in life. No, following the Lord’s commands enables us to experience true joy in this life. This lesson should not be lost on us. WE must follow the word of God like the Nation did following the end of their exile.

The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing. He read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance. Nehemiah 8:17-18 NASB

 

In v. 18 we see that the Nation celebrated this feast for seven days and read from the  Law as well. They began to make some  muscle memory. They weren’t satisfied with just reading the word of God, they had to investigate it – they had to look deeply into it. But they didn’t stop there. Once they investigated the Word of God, they initiated it in their life as a Nation. Just knowing wasn’t good enough. They observed the feast of booths for the first time in many years. But it didn’t end there! They then installed the Word in their life as a Nation. They made it a part of their routine. They made it a part of their National life. They developed a habit.

So how are we doing? Are we satisfied to just know the word of God? Or maybe we’re satisfied to simply know about the word of God. It seems that the Christian world is satisfied with doing the least possible amount of study…we seem to want to just get by.

But that must not be enough for us. We must look deeply into the word of God. We must begin or initiate the word into our life. And finally – WE MUST – make doing the word of God a habit. When we do this, then we will have real change. We will really have progress in our sanctification. Perhaps we will finally become the unified body that Christ so wants us to be.