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.

 

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.

Revival at the Gate

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

 

The Desire for the Law

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

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

They wanted their relationship with God restored.

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

Purposed from the heart

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

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

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

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

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

Response from the heart

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Your Conduct Reflects Your Heart

I love the way Jesus taught. He didn’t try to impress others with His knowledge. He didn’t try to impress others by using big words hoping that others would think He is super-intelligent. When Jesus taught He usually used every day examples to reinforce His point. He used experiences that His students knew so that they would be able to relate the teaching to everyday life. I really want to teach as Jesus taught. I want my conduct as a writer and teacher of God’s Word to demonstrate humiity. I don’t need to impress anyone…I need to serve Christ. After all, my conduct reflects my heart. And if I am being sanctified by Christ, my heart should be humble.

In my last article I introduced the idea that humility is a necessary part of the Christian life. I introduced it through discussing Matthew 6:1. In this article I want to continue through that passage but use some examples from my life that I think everyone recognizes. But before we meet these two men from my life, lets observe what Jesus said in Matthew 6.

  “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:1-8 NASB

Since we already discussed verse one, let’s start this article with verse two and continue through the examples Jesus gives.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” 

In these verses Jesus is specifically speaking about giving to the poor among us. But I think we can take a general approach to this and include al types of service to others. We sometimes get caught up serving others while making it known that we’re serving others. That really isn’t the type of giving or serving that Jesus desires from us. The stress in this passage is on quiet giving. Jesus wants us to give to the poor without making a fuss about it. He wants us to give without receiving any attention from others or accolades from others for what we give. This can also be applied to serving others as well.

Don’t be like the hypocrites

A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another. The Greek word was used of actors who hid behind a mask as they payed their part in a play. That is an excellent image of a hypocrite as used here by Jesus. A hypocrite is an actor. He isn’t truthful about who he is or what he does. Everything – or at east nearly everything – he says and does doesn’t match with WHO he is.

During Jesus’ day, the Pharisees made a show of their giving. They made sure that everyone saw them give to the poor. They were so concerned with looking concerned about the plight of the poor. But that is where it ended. They only wanted to look concerned…they didn’t really care about anyone except themselves.

The Pharisees were masters of looking holy and righteous. They were great actors. They could put on a show that could win an award for the best actor category. We have some of these guys around today, we just don’t call them Pharisees. I bet you have met some of these modern-day Pharisees. As a Pastor I had a few in the flock I shepherded. I’ll call one of them George (not his real name).

Communication with God

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Prayer is intimate communication with God. We should be willing to bare our souls to God in prayer. We need to be totally honest wit God. After all He already knows what you’re going to say before you say it. An important aspect of prayer is the effect it has on us. It should humble us. When we call out to God we acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient. We acknowledge that we do not have all the answers. Prayer humbles us. Or at least it should.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day and George from my own life experiences loved to pray for a show. They would stand up, project their prayers so everyone around them would see how holy and righteous they were. But that is just their problem. They only look to be holy. It is all an act. But not everybody acts this way.

But just like we have folks like the Pharisees, we have folks who imitate Christ today. A person like this in my life is a young man named Jerry (not his real name). When the church I pastored was split and we found ourselves without someone to lead the singing part of our worship, I turned to Jerry since he is a gifted singer and worship leader. I asked if he knew anyone in our area that could help us out. After a few days of looking for someone, he texted me and said “I’m coming up with nothing…I guess you’re stuck with me.” At first I couldn’t believe what I read. I confirmed he was serious. wow, what a blessing this was. Jerry led singing for us for a number of months. He travelled about 90 minutes one-way to get to us and serve Christ in our small, dying congregation. He was faithful and humble. He wouldn’t accept money from us for even his expense in driving up to us. He was – and is – a servant of Christ.

So who do you resemble more, Jerry or George? I know both these men and I can tell you without hesitation that I want to be like Jerry. There are many Georges in the world…and the church. We need more Jerrys. We need more Christians like Jerry who simply want to serve Christ. They care more about the Church than about themselves.

So, are you a Jerry or George? Do you want to be seen or do you want to serve? Do you want to serve or beserved? What kind of heart do you have? Your conduct reflects the state of your heart.

Is your heart proud or humble?