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?

Still Faithful

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God’s faithfulness is everlasting. There is no end to it. He may remove His protection from time-to-time so that we may be disciplined. But even in that act, He is faithful to us.

We come to the end of chapter nine…finally to the end of chapter nine! Have you felt like this was an unending journey? There have been times I thought that this chapter would never end. But like most things, it has an end. finding that end is a bit bittersweet though. I’m glad to be moving on but so humbled and challenged by what was here.

The ending to this chapter is as powerful – perhaps more powerful – than the rest of the chapter. Here we will see the consummation of the recounting of Israel’s up and down relationship with God. We will see the end result of that relationship. We will also see that, unlike this chapter and many other things in life, some things never end. We will discover the never-ending faithfulness of God remembered and praised.     

 

Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness, Do not let all the hardship seem insignificant before You, Which has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers and on all Your people, From the days of the kings of Assyria to this day. However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. For our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers have not kept Your law Or paid attention to Your commandments and Your admonitions with which You have admonished them. But they, in their own kingdom, With Your great goodness which You gave them, With the broad and rich land which You set before them, Did not serve You or turn from their evil deeds. Behold, we are slaves today, And as to the land which You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, Behold, we are slaves in it. Its abundant produce is for the kings Whom You have set over us because of our sins; They also rule over our bodies And over our cattle as they please, So we are in great distress. Nehemiah 9:32-37 NASB

There is so much in this section of chapter nine I could write for a few more weeks. But I won’t. I promise. The richness that we have come accustomed to is prevalent here as well. Let’s take a look at some key words and key concepts written about in these first few verses.

The first thing I notice is how the people thought about God. Look at the words used to describe God:

He is Great

In the eyes of the people, God is great. The Hebrew word used, gadol, carries with it the idea of distinguished, great in magnitude or strength, and of God Himself. In other words, this is not considered faint praise. Imagine loud trumpets announcing a very important person arriving. Think of all the pomp and circumstance  associated with someone very important arriving. Now multiply that image a million times. Actually, multiply it by infinity. That is the idea of this word when used of God. He is so great He is beyond human comprehension. Wow.

He is Mighty

God is seen also as a mighty one. This word should make us think of a brave, strong warrior type. This is used to once again describe God in an interesting way. They thought of God as their protector – mighty and strong – able to defeat all who opposed. God was seen as so strong that the people realized that there were no accidents in their lives, only incidents. If God chose to prevent anything from happening to the people, He certainly could. The opposite is also true. If God lifted His protection, things could (and did) happen to Israel. So everything came from the hand of God.

He is Awesome

The word awesome is probably one of the most overused words in the English language. This word really packs a punch. We ought not use it so often that we cheapen or lose the meaning of it or how strong a word it is. This word has the meaning of striking fear, to honor, respect, to stand in awe. To call God awesome is to call Him worthy of awe, respect and honor. This is a powerful term that we overuse. While there are many wonderful things on this earth, very few (if any) are truly awesome. Truly, God really is the only One to Whom the word awesome should be applied

Now that we have set the stage regarding how God was viewed by the people, let’s take a look at how they reviewed their situation.

In this section the people plead with God to remember that the people’s troubles are not insignificant. Now what are those troubles? Captivity of course. Even though they have rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, have re-instituted the Law and sought forgiveness, they were still a people in captivity. And they asked God not to forget about their situation.

Remember in our discussion of God being described as mighty? Remember that all came from His hand either through His actions or His removal of protection. Well we see this truth acknowledged here:

However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly.

The people recognized that God had been faithful with them while they had been unfaithful to Him. Isn’t that how it goes? God remains faithful while we rebel, stray and basically act like brats. But He is still faithful. His faithfulness should never be in doubt.

All that had come upon Israel – and us today (we are not Israel, but the principle is the same) – is the result of our unfaithfulness not His.

Again, the people recount the specific acts of unfaithfulness: they did not keep God’s Law, God’s commandments or His admonishments. They decided they knew better and went their own way. They lived in the kingdom God gave them yet did evil and refused to repent. And what was the result of their actions? You got it – captivity with a capital C. they became slaves. The kings over them ruled over their very bodies and their possessions. The people had no will of their own. They asked God not to forget them in their distress.

Writing it Down

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

The final verse in this section is the codifying of their agreement. The people were under such conviction that they wrote the agreement down. This was not so much to remind God but to remind the people. It was a kind of living will. They wanted to make sure that everyone knew how serious they thought these issues were.

The word used translated in the phrase making an agreement is the word karath. This is a fairly rare word in the Old Testament. It basically means to cut. It would most fit with the idea of cutting a covenant. Now what does that mean? When a covenant was cut, the agreement was made in this manner. Animals were cut in half and placed so that there was an aisle between the various parts. The two making the covenant would then walk between the bodies symbolizing two things. One thing that was symbolized was that the covenant was sealed. The terms were to be treated as the animals – dead. That meant that the terms could not changed – they were dead. The second thing in view is that each of the covenant makers were saying that they would become like the animals – dead – if they broke the covenant. So this was a big deal to the people. They wrote it down, memorializing their commitment to God and giving it the force of a cut covenant.

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So what shall we do with all this then? We don’t have to cut covenants anymore, do we? Well I think the big takeaway from this entire chapter is that God’s faithfulness is everlasting. There is no end to it. He may remove His protection from time-to-time so that we may be disciplined. But even in that act, He is faithful to us.

Let’s learn from Israel’s examples. Let us not rebel anymore. Let us obey God. Let us rejoice in His commandments. Let us stand for His truth. Let us depend on Him and His Word rather than our own smarts. Let’s live faithfully to the One who is everlastingly faithful.

 

The Song Remains the Same

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God’s compassion was far greater than Israel’s heart. Because sadly, even after experiencing God’s great compassion and grace, the song remained the same.

This great prayer of repentance and remembrance continues here in chapter 9. As I read through the passage for this week I remembered something my brother and I used to say all the time: the song remains the same.  We said that to each other as a way of conveying the fact that nothing had changed in our lives despite a separation by our living miles apart.

In the passage today, as the people repent and remember the past, we see that in Israel’s history, the song remains the same. Let’s review last week’s article focused on some important points that I want to stress again in order to experience the gravity of this week.

One of the takeaways from last week was that God keeps His promises. We saw this in a couple of actions, first by God then in Israel’s response. The end of this was that Israel entered and possessed the land God promised to them. Israel had acted in faith and followed what God said (after a rebellious generation had passed). So this generation would be on-fire, right?

Not. So. Fast.

The Song Remains the Same

But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies. So you delivered them into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies. Nehemiah 9:26-27 NASB

This part of this prayer begins with a big  BUT. There isn’t a better word in any language to stress how significant a shift has taken place. The Israelites, who had possessed the land God promised, had victories over others as God promised and prospered in their home now decided they knew better than God. Oh boy, here we go again.

Look at what this new crop of Israelites did. First the were disobedient and rebelled against God. The next phrase sums up everything: they turned their backs on your law. You see Israel was now smarter than God – or at least they thought they were. God gave His law to Israel for their protection. He regulated their worship life so they would please Him. God was generous with them. He blessed them. He provided for them. And what did they do in return for all of God’s benevolent gifts? They rebelled. They turned their backs on Him.

But they didn’t stop there. God sent prophets to correct Israel’s path. One would think that Israel would listen to these prophets. But no, sadly Israel did just the opposite. They refused to  listen and then killed the prophets God had sent. But it didn’t end there. Look at what happened: they performed awful blasphemies. They took God’s perfect law and turned it on its head. They did the opposite of What God wanted the to do. So God took them out of the land and gave them to those who would oppress them. God disciplined His people.

But when they repented and cried out, God  heard them and had compassion on them. God sent Israel deliverers. These deliverers took Israel out of bondage and back to where they belonged.  God’s compassion was far greater than Israel’s heart. Because sadly, even after experiencing God’s great compassion and grace, the song remained the same.

 

Israel’s Heart of Disobedience

But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time. Nehemiah 9:28 NASB

I feel I should just copy and paste my first section here! Everything that happened before happened again. What  a sad commentary on their heart. They continued to rebel and refuse to follow what God prescribed for them. The last few words of v. 28 indicates the breadth of God’s compassion: you delivered them time after time.

God’s Abounding Grace and Mercy

You warned them in order to turn them back to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, of which you said, ‘The person who obeys them will live by them.’ Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. Nehemiah 9:29-31 NASB

In these last few verses we see an important indication of God’s character: He pursued Israel, He wanted them to turn back to Him. Look at the time in view – for many years…” This wasn’t a one time ordeal. This went on for years. And years. And years. Still God pursued them. Still God loved them. Still God had compassion on them. God’s abounding grace and mercy is on display here. Look at v. 31:

But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

What else could I possibly say about God? He is gracious and merciful. Even with all the disobedience, arrogance, stiff-neckedness that Israel has displayed throughout the years, God still – STILL – showed them mercy. How’s that for a giving God!

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So what does this mean to us? This is all about Israel, right? Well, no it isn’t all about Israel. This is all about God. God reveals Himself as a compassionate, long-suffering and patient God. Regardless of how many times we fail to do what is right – regardless of how many times we fail to obey – if we truly belong to Him He will never – NEVER – abandon us or turn His back on us.

That truth should not encourage us to sin more but to sin less. Because He is so compassionate and willing to endure our up and down behavior, we should be more sensitive to when we fall short. We should want to obey Him more because of who He is. God’s compassion should make us more willing to obey, not less.

How are you doing with that?

True Compassion

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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.

 

Mad About You

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While we may face adversity, persecution and even death because of Him, He has not and will not abandon us. So lift up your head Christian and remember God is faithful, God cares and God is taking action.

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Years ago there was a sitcom on TV titled Mad About You. It was about  man and his wife and the challenges a married couple faced in New York as newlyweds. One of the stars was Helen hunt. I don’t remember who played her husband. Anyway, the show documented the struggles of newlyweds, with some of the things quite humorous. Both the husband and wife, though sometimes at odds, were mad(ly in love) about each other.

In this week’s section in Nehemiah 9 we see that Israel is mad about You as well. The You being God. lets see what we can glean from this passage this week.

 

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, And heard their cry by the Red Sea. “Then You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, Against all his servants and all the people of his land; For You knew that they acted arrogantly toward them, And made a name for Yourself as it is this day. “You divided the sea before them, So they passed through the midst of the sea on dry ground; And their pursuers You hurled into the depths, Like a stone into raging waters. Nehemiah 9:9-11 NASB

 

The first section – actually all the verses today – remembers how God led Israel out of Egypt. Now why do you think this is so? Well, if we look at this section through the eyes of those who are returning to Jerusalem and all they have experienced, the reason may become clearer. Think about this for a moment: the returnees to Jerusalem experienced similar events as their forefathers. They had been slaves, then they had been led out by God and then they reoccupied the land. I think that is a wonderful thing to begin with – remembering God’s faithfulness to previous generations as they experienced it firsthand.

The exodus from Egypt was a big event in the history of Israel. There are about forty Hebrew words that are used to describe God’s miracles. These forty words are used about five hundred times in the Old Testament. Now here is the interesting thing: about half of these five hundred uses were descriptions of the exodus. So the exodus is a seminal event in Israel’s history. Here they begin with the fact that God saw the affliction of their forefathers in Egypt and their cry by the Red Sea.

They saw God not as some far off deity but as a very personal God who was concerned with His people, Israel.

Boy, could we learn a thing or two. How often do you start your prayers with a listing of God’s faithfulness to you, the  saints that have gone before and the events of history that demonstrated God’s faithfulness to the church? I need to work on that too.

This section continues by not only recalling God’s faithfulness but also His actions that demonstrated His faithfulness. Then you performed… is a remembrance directed to God. Did God need to be reminded of what He did?  Of course He didn’t. But this type of remembrance is a wonderful type of praise. God demonstrated His power to pharaoh and all the people of Egypt. God made sure that they knew that Israel’s God is the only true God.

 

Remembering  God Cares

Israel recounts how much God cared for them next. You knew…begins this short section detailing God’s care for His chosen people. Though the arrogance of the people of Egypt and especially of their pharaoh (who fancied himself a god) permeated all levels of their society, God was not napping during the difficulties Israel faced. God knew how the Israelites were treated by Egypt. God knew about it, He did not learn about it. God knew – He knew. That must have brought great comfort to them considering what this generation had just experienced.

Though they were exiled, God knew what was happening. And He cared about it.

Once again we should sense the conviction of God here. We (at least in the United States) have not experienced anything like what Israel experienced in Egypt or Babylon. Yet it seems that we doubt God knows about the various challenges we face. We feel all alone even though we (in the US) are still relatively free. We should be ashamed of ourselves! God is not ignorant of how the world and its agents are treating the Church. We feel surrounded by ungodliness and betrayal. Yet God knows all about this and is working through these events to sanctify us and bring about His will. We should find great solace in that.

 

Remembering God’s Actions and Provisions

The final section of this weeks section demonstrates what God did and the provisions He made for Israel during the exodus. This section has three very important phrases: [You] made a name for Yourself, You divided the waters, You hurled. Clearly Israel was mad about Him. They are recounting His actions which ensured the survival of the nation of Israel. Lets look at these three actions.

 

You made a name for Yourself

God’s actions were so radical – so awesome – that He established His name in the land of Egypt.

The Egyptians never forgot about the God of Israel and how He humbled their pharaoh, his magicians and their nation. God certainly made a name for Himself there. How did He do it? Well remember the miracles? The plagues? The Nile turned to blood. Frogs, flies, dead cattle. You’d think that the Egyptians would eventually get a clue…well they did but only after the angel of death swept through and killed every first born.

You divided the sea

So God took Israel out of Egypt and led them to the Red Sea. We don’t know exactly where they went but we do know that the Israelites felt they were cornered. Add what happened? Did God abandon them? Nope. He did what seemed impossible: He parted the Red Sea so Israel could walk over to the other side on dry land. But He didn’t stop there.

You hurled into the depths

This is a clear indication of what happened once Israel passed through the waters. God didn’t just get Israel across the sea. No, He then threw pharaoh’s pursuing Army into the sea like a stone into raging waters. Have you ever seen what happens when a stone is thrown into raging waters? It disappears almost immediately beneath the  turbulence. And  that is what happened to pharaoh’s army. God hurled them into the raging waters of the Red Sea and they disappeared.   Now that is a great protection plan!

 

So what about us? Well we should take some very important lessons away from this passage. First we should always remember and recount how God has remained faithful to the Church in spite of our own wanderings. Second, let us not forget that God does care about what we are experiencing here on earth. If He is sovereign and omniscient (and He is those things and much more) then He is not surprised or overwhelmed by the events we face. Third, we must realize that in spite of the way our world wants to isolate and ignore God, He has already made a name for Himself. We need not be discouraged by the constant drumbeat against God. God isn’t dead. He isn’t even sick. He is on His throne. He is reigning from on high and He is coming back for us. Just like He was faithful to Israel in Egypt and in Babylon, He is faithful to His Church.

While we may face adversity, persecution and even death because of Him, He has not and will not abandon us. So lift up your head Christian and remember God is faithful, God cares and God is taking action.

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.

New Day, Same Routine

nehemiah wall_final

 

The wall has been completed. The work was done. Or was it? Did the work continue after the wall was built? Did the completion of the wall signal only the beginning of the work Nehemiah had to do?

Now when the wall was rebuilt and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed, then I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem, for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many. Then I said to them, “Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot, and while they are standing guard, let them shut and bolt the doors. Also appoint guards from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, each at his post, and each in front of his own house.” Nehemiah 7:1-3 NASB

Nehemiah continued to take precautions and be aware of the situation he and his fellow workers were in. They were still surrounded by adversaries who were bent of destroying them. These enemies, while suffering the set back of the wall built were nonetheless still opposing the Israelites moving back into Jerusalem. These enemies had enjoyed their ruling of the area when Israel had been sent into exile by God. Now they are losing their grip on this land. And they are angry.

You know when we do the work God has called us to accomplish, our enemy Satan is the same way. He gets mad. He gets violent. He never forgets that we are doing something to his kingdom of darkness. We must be ever vigilant to be on our guard as we work. Even when there is a victory, we must stand alert, ready and able to stand firm on God’s word regardless of the attack of the enemy.

Moving In, Looking Up

Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogies. Then I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up first in which I found the following record: Nehemiah 7:4-5 NASB

In listing all the people in Jerusalem, Nehemiah is accomplishing a few things. First he is giving credit to all who helped build the wall. Remember that not all were actual builders. Some built the wall, some guarded, some ran errands. Everyone had their job. Nehemiah gives everyone credit for their part in securing the city. Second, Nehemiah indicates that they must continue on doing what they have begun. Now most of these folks came back under Ezra to rebuild the Temple. They did that and helped rebuild the wall. Nehemiah reminds them that there is still more work yet to be accomplished. He sets in motion a line of succession. He appoints godly men to carry on the work when he is gone.

Let’s not let this be lost on us. A good – no, a great – leader always trains someone to take his place. He always knows that the work is more important than himself and makes sure that when he is gone through moving, death or something else happening the work will continue. Although Nehemiah led the wall rebuilding project, he knew that the project belonged to God. Nehemiah was simply a steward for a time. He made sure someone else would be the steward of the on-going project of rebuilding Jerusalem.

  A good – no, a great – leader always trains someone to take his place. He always knows that the work is more important than himself. 

Checking the Books

Now from here on through verse 60 there seems to be an endless list of folks and their ancestry. Why include it here? Quite simply, Nehemiah wanted to make sure that only those who belonged to God entered Jerusalem. Nehemiah took seriously the fact that only those who belonged to God could reside in God’s city of Jerusalem.

The Church needs to learn a lesson here. We are far too quick to accept anyone into the fellowship of the saints. But do we really believe that everyone belongs with us? We can’t know for sure who truly believes in Christ as their Savior but we can take some steps to be reasonably confident. We need to ask hard questions of those who profess faith in Christ. We need to take a look at the person’s life to see if his walk matches his talk.
While we’re at it, have you taken a hard look at your faith? Do you belong to God or are you a foreigner trying to fake your relationship with God? I ask these questions not to make you doubt or waver but so that you may be sure of your ancestry – that you belong to God through faith in Christ. 

In vv. 61 through 65 we see some who could not prove their ancestry and the consequences of that.

These were they who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon and Immer; but they could not show their fathers’ houses or their descendants, whether they were of Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai, the Gileadite, and was named after them. These searched among their ancestral registration, but it could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood. The governor said to them that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest arose with Urim and Thummim. Nehemiah 7:61-65 NASB

So here we are. A number of folks can’t prove their ancestry – that they truly belong to God. Some of these were even among the priests! So Nehemiah says that they were excluded from performing the functions of the priesthood and considered unclean. Notice that they were considered unclean. Nehemiah does not declare them unclean.

Nehemiah excluded those who were priests from performing the functions of a priest for their own protection. If someone who was not a priest tried to perform the functions of a priest (like offering a sacrifice) a severe penalty was enforced. Out of an abundance of caution, Nehemiah tells these folks that since they can’t prove they are a priest, they can’t do the work of a priest.

This is a very important point for us. Those who may be wavering in their faith in Christ need not be rejected by those confident in their position. No, when someone wavers we should consider them as not Christians so that we can love them either into a friendship with Christ or back into an intimate relationship with Christ.

The whole assembly together was 42,360, besides their male and their female servants, of whom there were 7,337; and they had 245 male and female singers. Their horses were 736; their mules, 245; their camels, 435; their donkeys, 6,720. Some from among the heads of fathers’ households gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 gold drachmas, 50 basins, 530 priests’ garments. Some of the heads of fathers’ households gave into the treasury of the work 20,000 gold drachmas and 2,200 silver minas. That which the rest of the people gave was 20,000 gold drachmas and 2,000 silver minas and 67 priests’ garments. Now the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants and all Israel, lived in their cities. And when the seventh month came, the sons of Israel were in their cities. Nehemiah 7:66-73 NASB

The closing verses of the chapter give the number of people who returned to Jerusalem. Then there is an account of a great offering that was taken for the rebuilding of the walls. Finally, a note on how the suburbs of the city were settled.

Yes we each need God active in our life. But we also need each other. We need to realize that each project God gives us to accomplish takes many different skills, talents and gifts.

Let us never forget that while we may accomplish a goal God has for us, the work continues. As that work continues we need to be vigilant to be on guard for the attack of God’s enemy Satan. And while we work and while there are some victories, let’s remember that we can’t accomplish a thing alone. Yes we each need God active in our life. But we also need each other. We need to realize that each project God gives us to accomplish takes many different skills, talents and gifts. When the task is completed and we move onto another one, share the credit. Recognize those who contributed to the success of the project. Most of all let us give God the glory for what He has accomplished in and through us.

Charles Edward Montague, an English essayist who lived from 1867 to 1928 said “There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit for it.” -Disenchantment, ch. 15 (1922)

I’d like to change that to “there is no limit to what the Church can accomplish for God’s kingdom when we recognize that God gets all the credit” Let’s go out and live for God, not looking for credit but looking for ways to serve.

His Blood

“It is OK. It is His blood, not mine.” Chaim Engel

I am fascinated by World War II. I have been interested in it since I was in junior high school. I’m not sure why I am fascinated by it. Perhaps it was the dark charisma that Hitler possessed that fascinates me. Perhaps its how a charismatic demagogue like Hitler led a cultured people to either do or ignore the savage things that happened during that war. Whatever it is, I just cant’ get enough of history regarding that time period and what happened in Europe during that time.

Back in the 1990’s a co-worker of mine let me borrow a movie of his. It was about a revolt in one of the death camps in Poland. That movie’s title was Escape from Sobibor. It was about the largest and most successful revolt of Jewish prisoners in a death camp. Since that time I have looked high and low for information about it.

Recently there was a documentary on Public Broadcast System about the revolt at Sobibor. It had a few of the survivors in it sharing their experiences and the how the actual plan to revolt had progressed. One particular scene in that documentary got me thinking about the Christian life and how often we mess it up because we don’t see properly.

At one point of the documentary,there is the story of one of the Jewish prisoners killing a Nazi in an area filled with other guards and such. The man who performed this grisly task was named Chaim. His girlfriend (and later his wife) Selma went looking for him. She heard screams coming from the Administration Block where the killing was taking place. She was sure it was Chaim. When Chaim emerged from the building looking dazed and confused, he was covered in blood. When she noticed the blood she was certain that Chaim had been injured. Replying to her, Chaim said “It is OK. It is his blood, not mine.” That statement stuck with me.

How many times do we forget whose blood covers and cleanses us. 

Do you doubt?

Living in a fallen world with our battle with our old nature, we oftentimes focus on the battle that rages and not the war that has already been won. In other words we focus on our battle and not His blood. This focus problem can cause us to doubt our position in Christ. Paul writes concerning this battle within himself

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?  -Romans 7:24 NASB

Paul recognizes his wretchedness in performing the very things he really does not want to do. Have you ever felt this way? Have you been this broken by your sin? Have I? I sure hope so because being broken over my sin shows that the war rages…which means I am sensitive to the evil that I still do. But one thing I must remember in this struggle agains the sin that resides in me is that I do not gain victory through my efforts or strivings.

The longer I live the life God has given me the more I realize that I still sin. The more I walk this pilgrims path the more I hate my sin. I know that I’m saved but there are doubts that creep in every now and again. When the doubts do come, I need  not turn to others for comfort (though my close friends are a source of comfort). I need only to look in my mirror and realize that I am covered by His blood, not mine. It is His blood that cleanses me. It is His blood that was spent to buy me. It is His blood that secures me. My blood and effort mean nothing. The only thing that matters is that His blood was spilled to redeem me.

 

When the sea billows of sin roll – when the thunder of accusation boom in your life – when trials come and we fail once again – all we must remember is that it is not by our effort that we are saved or stay saved. It is only through Christ that we have victory over sin.

After all, it is OK. It is His blood not mine.

 

Christmas on the Couch

Though the time was not a happy one, it was joyful.

 

Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays tucked in my least favorite season of winter, So it is always kind of an oasis for me in the midst of cold, blustery weather. But this year was just wow. It was THAT good.

For many an ideal Christmas would include snow, plenty of presents, family, food and friends. A Christmas would include a trip to grandmother’s house, a cracking fire, hot chocolate, special coffee. The smell of mincemeat pie wafting through the air while Nat King Cole plays over our speakers would make things perfect.

So was this the kind of Christmas I just experienced? Not quite. In fact, it wasn’t even close. But still, this year was the best Christmas ever.

My family got sick the Sunday before Christmas. It was a particularly ugly bug. There was throwing up, fevers, chills, stomach aches, sore throats…the whole shebang! This bug decided it liked us so much that it hung around through Christmas (and beyond). Just when we thought it was over, we would have someone throw up again. Couple this with a severe lack of sleep and the recipe was there for a horrible Christmas.

We were on couches with blankets and buckets around. We were physically miserable. But my was this a magnificent day. We looked like a quarantine area for a deadly virus but we had a wonderful day. How did THAT happen?

We re-discovered joy.

Make no mistake, we were not happy. Our circumstances stunk. We were sick and could not do the many things that we normally would do on Christmas. I think that was the point God was driving home to me and my family. Because we were not slowing down, God put the brakes on and stopped us. And it was wonderful.

So how do we rediscover joy when we are struggling? Here are some hints I hope are helpful.

 

Always remember your position in Christ is unshakeable

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NASB

In Paul’s closing of his dissertation on our deliverance from bondage and our victory in Christ, Paul minces no words, leaves no doubt that our eternal destiny is secure. When you are sick on the couch and the pressure of the now closes in and makes you wonder of God’s goodness, think about your security in Christ, Regardless of what you or I experience, knowing that when this life is done I have an eternity in the presence of God guaranteed makes me rediscover joy though I may not be happy.

 

Always remember the trial here now is not always going to be around

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 NASB

Here James centers us on some very important truths. First, trials are a part of the Christian life. Second, trials have a divine purpose. Third, that divine purpose is competed in us. Our sanctification is accomplished through these trials. Fourth, trials come in various shapes and sizes. Each trial is custom made to give us a missing part.

Trials come and go. How they affect us though, remains forever. For our Christmas on the couch, we learned through the trial of sickness that we did not need our traditions or preferences. We needed only to focus on Christ.

 

Always remember that others can help you bear the burdens that come up

 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 NASB

During our weeklong illness we had a number of co-laborers in Christ encourage us and offer to help us. We also had a few who braved our infectious house to drop by and say hello and drop off some yummy treats for when we were feeling better. We received encouragement from our Pastor as well. A final bit of advice about having your unexpected burden shared – be humble enough to joyfully accept the help. Don’t rob those who offer to help of a blessing. Though the time was not a happy one, it was joyful.

So how was your Christmas?

I hope you were well, experienced a wonderful Christmas, shared Christ with others and, most of all, had a joyful time. This is my prayer for you for the coming year – that you will grow closer to Christ, become more like Him and experience life-altering joy all year long.

My prayer is for you to have the best year ever.

Guard Duty

Stand your ground, fear no man, and guard the truth with enthusiasm, vigor, and humility.

While I was stationed in California during my time in the Marine Corps, I once had to perform guard duty on the flight line. Now the flight line is where the aircraft for the squadrons would park in the evening. I was on guard duty because I was substituting for a friend. When I took my post, I was instructed to enforce all general orders as well as some special orders for the area I was guarding. I was told I was in a “deadly use of force” area. That meant that if I felt the situation warranted it, I could kill someone. Hmmm, not really what I want to do but I understand that it may be required.

Not long into my time on duty I noticed a person waking towards me. He was an older guy in jeans, white Nike shoes, and a plaid (!) shirt. As he approached my area, I yelled “Halt! Who goes there?”

He answered “General Important”. (his name is changed here but he did claim to be a General)

I replied “Step forward to be recognized.” He took a few steps forward. I then said “Halt! Where is your ID card?”

He answered “In my right breast pocket.”

I commanded “With your left hand, slowly reach into your left breast pocket and remove your ID card. When you remove your card, you will show it to me.” He did as I had told him. After he showed me his ID card, I said “Slowly place your ID card on the deck in front of you, picture side up. After you do this, you shall take ten steps to the rear while facing me.” The man did exactly as I told him. When he had finished taking his ten steps to the rear I said “Remain there. Do not move one inch.” I walked to where he had paced his ID card. I bent down to pick up and inspect his ID card. As I began to pick up his card he began to walk toward me. I stood up and barked “Halt!” I think the fact that I was pointing a loaded shotgun at him helped stress the importance of obeying me. He stopped. I continued “Place yourself on the deck, face down.” He complied. I came up to him and said “Sir, I have chambered two slugs. I am pointing this weapon at your head. If you try to get up, deadly force has been authorized and I will exercise it. Please don’t move.”

“OK. I won’t” he replied.

I notified the head of the guard detail that I had a problem at my post and waited. The head of the guard, a Lieutenant, arrived and assessed the situation. I told him where the ID card was located. The Lieutenant retrieved the card. He ordered me to allow the General to stand. I obeyed the order, stood at attention and rendered a salute. When the General stood up, he looked to me. “Good evening, sir” I said. The Lieutenant started apologizing to the General. The General looked at the Lieutenant, looked at me and acknowledged my salute.

He turned to the Lieutenant, who was still apologizing and hyperventilating, and said “Lieutenant, this Marine did his job. He performed the duty that was demanded of him. Stop apologizing.” The General turned to me and said “Good evening, Marine.”  He turned and walked away.

So why the long story? What does this have to do with anything spiritual? Actually a lot. Let me explain.

 

“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowedge’ – which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” 

In 1st Timothy 6 Paul gives Timothy some orders that sum up what he has tried to address in his letter. The first thing he says to Timothy is in v. 21a “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you”(NASB)  Paul is telling Timothy to take charge of all Paul had taught him and committed to him. This would include this epistle, the gospel and his ministry in general (see 4:12-14; 6:2; 2 Tim 2:2). In other words Paul puts Timothy on guard duty. Timothy’s responsibilities would also include opposing the false teachers that had infiltrated the church while keeping his own life pure. In the verses that follow here, Paul tells Timothy to specifically avoid the controversies and false teaching that Paul had  taught Timothy about,  as well as the other characteristics of the the world system. These controversies have no value, says Paul, as well as those who espouse them.

Basically Paul told Timothy to guard the gospel and his ministry from those who would try to pervert it.  Those same words have meaning for us today.

False teachers existed not only in the first century when Timothy was living, but also in every time since then…and yes, even today there are false teachers. These false teachers may teach various other things but one thing they all seem to have in common is that they teach a perverted grace. They make grace something we earn, work for, or deserve. None of those things are true. I wonder sometimes if the false teachers are more plentiful than genuine Christians. They are all over the place, are generally charismatic, and are ruthless in their approach.

We hear sometimes that we need to “show grace” or “give a grace card” to those who are false teachers, or legalists. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

We need to be willing not only to guard what has been entrusted to us – the gospel, Scripture, the true meaning of God’s grace – but also oppose those who teach these false teachings. Now that isn’t easy. Not at all. I’ve been through the battles with legalists and those who pervert God’s grace into some type of human effort. The struggle eventually led to a split in the church I pastored which in turn led to the death of that church. But if I take God’s word seriously, I had no other choice. I had to stand my ground, challenge the false teacher and his teaching, regardless the cost to me personally. And you know what, you need to do this too.

When you hear something that changes who God is or changes the essentials of the Christian faith, you need to oppose them. You need to fight them. You need to draw you weapon and command them to stop. Just like I did all those years ago in California when I made a General lay face down in a tarmac, I must be ready, willing and able to do the same when a false teacher approaches those I have been entrusted with. The cost may be very high. But the cost of failing to “guard what has beed entrusted” to me is much higher. And so it is the same with you.

Take time to get prepared to defend truth. Know what the Bible teaches about the essentials of our faith. Learn how to effectively wield the “sword of the Spirit” which is the Word of God. And then get posted on guard duty.  Do what you’ve been commanded to do by Paul here in 1 Timothy 6.

 Stand your ground, fear no man, and guard the truth with enthusiasm, vigor, and humiity.