Pressing On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think we need to read Paul a bit more.

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

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

I think its time we found out.

The Amigo of Grace – again!

Grace delivers us from bondage to laws

and frees us to enjoy God in an enriching

and satisfying relationship

 

In order to grasp the reality of God’s grace we must first understand the reality of our own sinfulness. If we are convinced that in spite of the little vices which we all have, we are basically good people deserving of God’s favor, then we shall see no need for His grace. If we believe that God is obligated to let us enter Heaven because we have tried to keep His laws and done the best we can, then grace is totally unnecessary. The whole concept will appear absurd. But if we accept God’s assessment of our lives—that we are unrighteous, deceitful, desperately wicked, guilty, condemned sinners, incapable of measuring up to God’s standard and unworthy of His acceptance—then a deep appreciation for His grace will begin to dawn on our sin-dulled minds. We will get to know the God of all grace.

We learn a valuable lesson about grace from observing God’s gracious actions toward us in salvation. Just as the root meaning of the New Testament word involves joy and pleasantness, so we notice that God’s grace has an uncanny way of transforming the unpleasant into the pleasant. He takes an unbeliever, chained to his wretchedness and sin and bound for the bitterness of an eternal hell, freely gives him the lovely garments of Christ’s righteousness, then assures him of Heaven’s glory and beauty. What a transformation! That is God’s grace for salvation.

Then He continues to act toward us in grace. Not only does He bring delight to our drab existence by giving us the gift of eternal life, but He keeps on giving us good things to meet our needs and brighten our lives. For example, He gives us the resources to build us up and set us apart more fully to Himself, progressively replacing the ugliness of our daily sin with the attractiveness of holy living. That was Paul’s message to the Ephesian elders:

 

And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which

is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those

who are sanctified – Acts 20:32 NASB

 

That is grace for sanctification.

Sanctification is not slavishly submitting in the energy of the flesh to somebody’s man-made list of do’s and don’ts in order to enhance our own reputation or earn points with God. It is laying hold of God’s gracious plan to become more like Christ for His glory and praise. Grace delivers us from bondage to laws and frees us to enjoy God in an enriching and satisfying relationship. We will be motivated to please Him from within rather than pressured from without. We delight in pleasing someone who never stops giving good things to us.

God also provides grace for Christian service. We have a tendency to get carried away with our own abilities, and we begin to think that God is rather fortunate to have us on His team to do His work. We may feel that He is obligated to prosper us when we do serve Him. Those attitudes often lead to failure. The Apostle Paul admitted without shame that he was unworthy to serve Christ: “I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power” (Ephesians 3:7; cf. also 2 Corinthians 8:1-2).

We do not deserve to have the pleasure of serving the eternal God, but He has bestowed that privilege on us by His grace. We serve Him not to obtain His favor, but because we already have it. Any success we may enjoy will be the gift of His grace. He freely gives us the abilities and strength we need to serve Him. He transforms our feeble, bungling, embarrassing, unpleasant efforts into an effective, satisfying, and rewarding ministry that brings glory to Him. It is all part of His gracious actions toward us.

Roll Call

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Be ready for His call. Listen for His call. And volunteer to follow His call.

Sometimes a passage in Scripture can seem as interesting as watching grass grow or paint dry. Let’s be honest, sometimes what is in the Bible – what God considers important – is a bit confusing and, on the surface, seems a tad on the boring side. This is especially true when it comes to genealogies and lists in general. I don’t know about you but I find myself sometimes asking God why He puts this stuff in the Bible. Sometimes I miss the blessing that is there because I see only with my physical eyes.

Today’s passage in Nehemiah is like that. Sort of. On the surface this passage seems as appetizing as a bowl of hot sand. But if we take a little time and exert some effort, we will soon see that it is as tasty as a filet Mignon. Or whatever food you’d like to put in there. Let’s take a bite out of God’s word and see that it is indeed good.

Nehemiah and the people he has led, have rebuilt Jerusalem. They have achieved their goal of once-again fortifying their city. Jerusalem – and her inhabitants – were once again a nation. But there was only one issue left. No one inhabited the rebuilt city! Before Nehemiah Jerusalem was a city without walls. Now, after rebuilding was completed, Jerusalem was a city without a population. Here in Nehemiah 11 we see Nehemiah’s efforts to repopulate Jerusalem.

 

The Voluntary Draft

Voluntary draft? Don’t those terms contradict themselves? Well, kind of. There are a lot of these types of contradictory terms around. Grammarians call these things oxymorons. A few examples would be military intelligence, congressional ethics and so on. I bet you can think of a few too. But I think the terms voluntary draft fit what is going to happen here in Nehemiah. Nehemiah held a voluntary draft to repopulate the City.

Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities.  And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem. Now these are the heads of the provinces who lived in Jerusalem, but in the cities of Judah each lived on his own property in their cities—the Israelites, the priests, the Levites, the temple servants and the descendants of Solomon’s servants. Some of the sons of Judah and some of the sons of Benjamin lived in Jerusalem Nehemiah 11:1-4a NASB

Think of the beautiful city of Jerusalem Newly minted, wonderfully protected and sitting high over the land of Israel. It is the capital of the nation but it has no people. Imagine how quite it was. How can one have a capital city that is uninhabited? That isn’t really possible. Nehemiah could have simply issued an order to populate the city. He was the governor and leader. I know that is how it would have worked in the Marine Corps. A group of us would have been voluntold to populate it and we would have dutifully moved in. But Nehemiah is going to take a different approach.

Nehemiah traveled through the towns where the people were located and cast lots to see who was called to live in Jerusalem. He would have expected that person and family to move in. But what is interesting is the use of the word volunteer in this section. Evidently the people could decline the invitation from God to move to Jerusalem. If someone declined, the lot was cast again and the process continued until a willing heart was found.

Many were called but only a relative few were willing. And those who were willing were blessed by the people for volunteering for this mission.

There are those reading this who have been called to a task by God. But you are either unwilling or still considering answering that call. I know what it is like to be faced with a decision like this. But let me tell you from experience that answering God’s call and volunteering to follow Him is a decision you won’t regret. It will be difficult in times like ours. But the reward – while not necessarily experienced here and now – is great. How are you doing choosing to follow God’s call on your life? Are you struggling with that decision?

Nehemiah’s List

Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, of the sons of Perez; and Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Col-hozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of the Shilonite. All the sons of Perez who lived in Jerusalem were 468 able men.

Now these are the sons of Benjamin: Sallu the son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah; and after him Gabbai and Sallai, 928. Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer, and Judah the son of Hassenuah was second in command of the city. Nehemiah 11:4b-9 NASB

Beginning with the second part of v. 4 we will go through a series of lists that seem to have little application to us today. But let’s keep our eyes opened to what God is saying through these verses, OK?

The first set of names focus on two very important groups: the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin. These tribes made up the southern kingdom of Judah. There are 468 from Judah and 928 from the tribe of Benjamin. Why are these interesting? I’m glad you asked!

Let’s take a look at the descendants of Perez. These make up a portion of the men labeled “468 able bodied men”. Now Perez had an interesting beginning. In Genesis 38 the tale of his conception through birth is told. Remember that his father Judah conceived Perez with his (Judah’s) own daughter-in-law. So Perez would be considered an illegitimate son. In fact there were twins in this birth. The first child began to emerge so the midwife tied a thread around that child’s finger to document which came first. But that arm went back in and the other child, named Perez, came out first! This is why this baby was named Perez. The meaning of the name Perez is roughly breaking out. And breaking out he did! Even though Perez had a rather difficult beginning and was regarded as illegitimate, he became one of the greatest heroes of Judah. He was so much so a hero that he was still being talked about 400 years after Judah lived. Another interesting fact is that his descendants are called the brave men of Perez.

Let’s move on to Benjamin. This tribe volunteered more than twice the number of Perez despite being a smaller tribe. Once again the history here is quite interesting. In the Book of Judges the sordid background of Benjamin is given. To make a long story short, in the last few chapters Benjamin’s devolution into a people who practiced sexual sin culminating in the practice of homosexuality. This was seen as a stain on the nation since homosexuality was thoroughly condemned by God. But here was a tribe that was openly practicing it.

Two very important men came from this tribe. The first one was named Saul. He was the first King of Israel. He started out well but jealousy and self-centeredness reduced him to an utter failure. He had forty years of reigning over Israel as a bitter, angry man. Saul was in full rebellion against God. Saul finally kills himself on the battlefield and ends his time as king.

Another person followed almost exactly an opposite path as Saul. That person’s name was Saul! Now Saul number two began his life as a man dedicated to God’s word, slid into intolerance of God’s Messiah and the Messiah’s called out ones, persecuted them, murdered them and finally came to be one with them. Do you know about whom I speak? Yep, that Saul. He wrote a lot of the New Testament. We know him as Paul. He was from the tribe of Benjamin. Amazing.

These two men so important in God’s story had such ordinary beginnings and such a tortured tribal history. But here they are. Can you see what God is teaching? Regardless of your beginning or your family history, God isn’t finished writing your story yet. He is going to use you for His glory.

Be ready to hear His call on your life. That means that you are growing steadily toward Christlikeness, holy living and faithful dependence on Him. Be ready when He calls to volunteer to follow Him. Following God’s call on your life is not necessarily an easy thing to do. Sometimes the call can lead to heartbreak. I know all too well about that. But that heartbreak is not the end or even the purpose of His call. God is about bringing glory to Himself. He uses us in specific situations to do just that.

SO whenever you are called into a situation that seems difficult or daunting, remember that it is for God’s glory and not your comfort that He calls you.

Be ready for His call. Listen for His call. And volunteer to follow His call.

To God be the glory.

Amen.

 

Revived!

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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.

Crushed and Rejoicing

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We are holy not because we are perfect. No, we are holy because God has set us apart for a special purpose.

I remember back when I was just saved. It was in 1984. I was in the Marine Corps and had experienced things that made my salvation experience very real and emotional as well as spiritual. I decided that every Sunday I would do nothing except read my Bible and go to church. I had decided that Sunday was special and I would reserve it for the Lord out of a grateful heart.
What I didn’t realize is that I had recognized the meaning of the word holy. In both the Old Testament and New Testament, the idea of being holy is one of specialness – of being set apart from everything else – rather than the idea of being perfect. That is an idea that we, as the Church, need to remind ourselves daily.

Crushed Hearts

Here in Nehemiah 8:9-12, we see the effect of Ezra’s reading the Law to those gathered. It was devastating. And I mean devastating in a good way. The people were crushed. They were humbled. They were reminded of the true meaning of being holy.

Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Nehemiah 8:9 NASB

The first thing that leaps of the page at me is the fact that the people here were weeping. Now remember that this wasn’t just a few people. There were upwards of 50,000 folks there. And they were weeping. Imagine that for a moment. There are fifty-thousand souls gathered to hear the word of God read and explained. After that has been accomplished (and probably during the reading) the people were weeping. Fifty-thousand people weeping. Imagine the sound. It must have been beautiful to hear. Why beautiful? Yes, why beautiful indeed.

Their weeping was in response to the Law being read and explained. They had just been crushed by the beauty of God’s word and the ugliness of their sin. They more than likely understood why they had experienced the ruin and destruction of the recent past. No it wasn’t a petty god playing with them. It wasn’t the schemes of Satan hammering them. They realized that it was their own thoughts and attitudes that had brought them low. God promised them exile if they didn’t obey Him. They didn’t. God kept His promise. But God also promised them restoration if they repented. They did and God kept His promise.

 They were crushed by the beauty of God’s word and the ugliness of their sin.

The weeping here is the recognition of all that – and probably more. When we hear of God’s goodness – when we experience it – we are reminded of it – what other response can we have? And when all that is brought to our mind in spite of our own thoughts and actions…well, weeping may be too tame a word to describe what our reaction should be.

Have you ever been brought to tears after hearing the word of God preached? Have you ever been brought to tears after hearing how God restored you (or a loved one) to a right relationship? Or how about watching a brother or sister in Christ being sanctified before your very eyes? Have you ever wept over the effect of God’s word on you and others? I hope so.

When we see the culture crumble around us and it defy God’s holy word we should be brought to tears. But we should also be brought to tears as we see God working miracles in spite of the crumbling culture.

Celebration Day

Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 NASB

Nehemiah, who had already declared that the day was holy – completely set apart for the Lord – once again instructed the assembly not to weep or grieve but to celebrate. Let’s consider this for a moment in our own lives.

When we are confronted by our own sin – when we understand the gravity of our rebellion – we should weep. And celebrate. We should celebrate because we are aware of the sin and shame of our thoughts and actions. We should celebrate because God obviously is working on us still. He hasn’t (and won’t) abandon us to our own devices and vices. This is a great reason to celebrate.

 Joy is independent of circumstances while happiness is totally dependent on circumstances.

Nehemiah ends this verse with the oft-quoted “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Our strength is found in the Lord not ourselves. His joy – which He is eager to give us – is beyond our comprehension. Now joy must not be confused with happiness. Joy is independent of circumstances while happiness is totally dependent on circumstances. So if we experience the joy of our Lord, no matter the situation we find ourselves, we can be joyful. After nearly thirty years as a Christian – and fifty-on years of life – I may be on the brink of understanding this. How about you? Have you found that living in the joy of the Lord is where your strength exists. Please, don’t look at your circumstances to be encouraged. Look at the Lord. Look at what He has done on your behalf. Your sin is gone. Regardless of what happens in your life, if you’re a Christian your destination is sure. You will live an eternity with Him as His friend.

Comfort Offered

So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them. Nehemiah 8:11-12 NASB

The Levites, who were the priests in God’s Temple, came to comfort the people. They reiterated the need to rejoice and not grieve. This was the most important thing the Levites could do in order to give comfort to the people.

The people had been confronted with their sinful thoughts and actions through the reading of the Law. They were obviously cut to the heart. They wept, they grieved. They responded this way because of the illumination of their sin when the Law was read and explained to them. The Priest come on the scene and tell them to go forward and celebrate, share food and rejoice. The reason the Levites said do this is because the people had understood the Law as it was read and explained to them. This is important for us.

If we ever want to be moved along in the process of progressive sanctification, we not only need to hear the word of God taught, preached and explained but also we must understand it. Reading and hearing isn’t enough.

But how?

Well the first thing we can do is study. We must be diligent in seeking to understand what the word of God actually says. To do this we must be part of a Bible believing fellowship that teaches the word of God. There are plenty of churches around us. Some are liberal and some are conservative. Those are easy to find. The hardest church to find is one that teaches what the Bible is rather than a pet interpretation of it. When you find a church that does that, stay there.

Next we need to submit to those who have gone before us. Yes I know that takes humility. We need to get over ourselves and realize not one of us has all the answers. We need to look toward those who have more experience, knowledge and wisdom to help us understand.

Third, and most importantly, we need to actively seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This is so often neglected. We must – MUST – seek His help in moving towards Christlikeness.

Seeing our sin as sin is not a curse. It is a blessing of the highest order. Because when we are taught and understand the word of God and we are grieved by what grieves God, we will move a step closer to being more like Him. And then rejoicing can begin.

Standing Firm

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The wall workers were initially excited. They began the work with great anticipation and joy. In fact, in v. 6 the workers were described as having a “heart” to work (translated “mind” by NASB and others) Everything was going well. The work was going on, the wall was going up. Progress – glorious progress – was being made. Then something happened.

Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders. So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. Nehemiah 4:1-8 NASB

 

Have you ever led a ministry? Have you ever been in a ministry that received negative attention from others? If you have ever led anyone or any ministry, I’m guessing you have received criticism. Criticism goes with leadership – and especially when that leadership concerns kingdom work. In this section of Nehemiah, we’re going to see what happens when Nehemiah and his workers receive some taunts, verbal jabs and some veiled threats. Lets take a look at this and learn some important things about leadership and handling the discouragement that comes into our lives.

We need to understand a few things about discouragement. First, it is universal. No one is immune to discouragement. Every one of us has been discouraged at one time or another. Second, it can be recurring. Getting this disease of your soul does not impart immunity to it. If anything, when one contracts this, one can expect that it will occur again. Third, it is contagious. If you are discouraged, chances are that you are infecting others.

Here in Nehemiah, there are some verbal stones that are thrown at him and the workers on the wall. These verbal stones can – and usually does – cause discouragement. In fact, the type of these stones indicates to me they were intended to cause discouragement. Lets take a look at these verbal stones and how they affected the workers.

Stones being thrown 

Where God is at work, the enemy is also at work. Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem was certainly no exception to this. When people take kingdom priorities seriously, Satan stirs up agitators to block the work of God. These enemies used two types of external forces.

verses 1-2: “Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews.”

Rocks of Mocking

This is the third time in the book that we come across Sanballat, who was Nehemiah’s stiffest opposition. Every time we read about him he is standing against the work of God, rejecting and mocking everything that Nehemiah is trying to accomplish. This is nothing new. Satan often mocks those who do the work of God. Remember how the soldiers mocked Jesus when He was on the Cross? How about Goliath mocking David (and all Israel)? What about Satan (as personified by the snake) wryly mocking God in the garden? Satan mocks, that is what he does when he is confronted with folks serving God. Mocking is a powerful weapon too. Often the bravest person in the face of bullets flying past him in battle will fold oh-so-quickly when mocked.

Sanballat calls the workers feeble. The word used means miserable and withered.  Think of a person about to die. Think of a person who has lived long and lived hard. You know what I’m talking abut, right? Someone whose life is spent – one who is empty. That is what Sanballant called the workers. Now the evidence is that they were not feeble. They are building a rock wall with no construction equipment other than their hands, back and feet. This was his attack on their physical appearance. But it doesn’t stop there.

Rocks of Undermining

Sanballat then asks some mocking questions designed to impugn their character and intentions. They were also intended to undermine their confidence. The first question was Will they offer sacrifices? This is to undermine their confidence that what they are doing will be blessed by God and will result in the offering of sacrifices in the Temple. He moves on to ask Can they finish in a day? designed to attack their perseverance. You see, Sanballat knows if he can get them to focus on how long they have to go, they may never finish.

Then Sanballat asks Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones? Sanballat attacks their building materials. It is as if he is saying Geez guys, your building material is old and decrepit. This will never stand. Why even try?

Sanballat’s friend Tobiah joins in v. 3 and says “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Ouch! So now Tobiah joins and says their wall is so weak and decrepit that a little fox jumping on it would cause it to tumble. Tobiah was working hard to undermine their confidence. The workers were the punchline to these jokes. They were on the receiving end of these stones thrown at them by Sanballat and Tobiah. These stones hit there mark. And they undoubtedly hurt.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you engaged in kingdom work only to be criticized? Ridiculed? Mocked? Steel your resolve Christian, these things are to be expected when we engage in work that is ordained by God.

If the work we do meant nothing, then Satan would have no reason to attack and try to discourage us.

 

Take heart Christian if you have been attacked by those who oppose the work of God. Take heart that God has counted you trustworthy enough to undertake this type of work. Take heart because our labor for the Lord – doing what He has called us to do – is not useless, void, worthless or unrewarding. Stand firm and remember that He has prepared you for this.

Working Together for God’s Glory

nehemiah wall_final

 

They consecrated the wall…Nehemiah 3:1b NASB

 

When we first read through chapter three it seems pretty dry, doesn’t it? There are lists of names and assignments. For some I’m sure it appears to be nothing more than a list of jobs and those who do those jobs. Not very exciting stuff. But there are some beautiful nuggets here if we’ll just take the time to mine them.

Before we find those nuggets, I’d like to make a couple of observations.

First this chapter reveals that Nehemiah was both an extraordinary administrator and leader. He was able to not only mobilize a large group of people but also he led them to undertake an enormous task with vigor. Achieving that requires great vision, organization and motivational skills. So Nehemiah demonstrated that he could both organize and lead.

The second observation I’d like to make here is this passage demonstrates what a group of folks can do when working together for a common goal. While their goal – rebuilding the wall – the particular job that they performed varied. Not everyone did the same thing. But they all worked together and in working together they achieved more than they could have working alone. I am reminded of a truth I learned in the Marine Corps: my part of a mission – be it big or small, visible or not-so-visible, attention getting or forgettable – did not matter. What mattered was that we accomplished the mission. If we accomplished the mission, then my contribution – no matter what it was – was significant.

This concept we see at work in Nehemiah is so very important for the Church to learn and practice today. Whether your particular gift puts you in front of people or behind the scenes, it is important to achieving the goal we have been called to accomplish.

For the rest of today’s article, I’d like to view the purpose of the work we see taking pace here in chapter three.

Man’s Ultimate Purpose

The big question is why am I here? What is my purpose in life? To those who reject Christ, their purpose has to be self-fulfillment. We see it all around us. The various acts of selfishness – from selfish acts of hoarding resources to the selfish act of abortion-on-demand – mankind is just so “ME” oriented. Some in the church have bought into the empty philosophy of the world and created little social cubs called a “church”. Sadly this will always fail because it builds on the shifting foundation of man.

What we need to do is build on the rock foundation of Christ.

But what does that mean for man’s purpose in life. What should we do?

If we truly are God oriented then we will seek to bring Him glory rather than serve our appetites. Instead of being “ME” oriented, I need to be “HE” oriented. If I am oriented towards God, then I will seek to glorify Him and not me. Understanding this is of paramount importance if we are to serve God with a pure heart and pure motives. If my ultimate aim is to glorify God, then the way that comes about – my job or your job – isn’t as important as the goal.

 If I am focused on glorifying God, then I can see my part – whether big or small – as integral to the mission.

So what the purpose of Nehemiah’s work? Lets take a look.

 

The Purpose of the Work

Nehemiah was able to build his team around a central rallying point. He pointed them to the purpose of the work – the glory of God. They weren’t just working on walls, they were worshipping their worthy God. The workers were discourage about the conditions of the city and disgraced in the presence of their enemies. It was difficult for them to sing out the truth of Psalm 48:2, which describes Jerusalem as “beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth.” They probably longed to see God’s city regain its splendor and be a showplace for God for all the nations to see. They were concerned with God’s glory, not the nature of their work.

We can easily see the rallying cry of Nehemiah – the central purpose of the work at hand – was to glorify God. The priority was on God, not them.

Take a look at verse 1:

Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel Nehemiah 3:1 NASB

We could easily classify this as placing the priority on God and not themselves. Why? Well, close to the wall’s northeast corner, the Sheep Gate provided easy access to the Temple. The reason for the name of this gate is because the sheep used in the worship of God entered through this gate. do you see their priority? It was as if they were saying “Take care of God first, then we’ll think of ourselves. They established that God is central to their mission and their life together as a people. It’s another way of saying, “Put God first.” Close to the wall’s northeast corner, this gate provided easy access to the Temple, and was given this name because of all the sheep that entered through it to be sacrificed. By beginning here, Nehemiah is establishing that their relationship with God was central. This was the most important place to start.

The purpose of all ministry, and really of life itself is the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 puts it succinctly: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” In your life, are you doing everything to the glory of God? Are you looking to draw attention to Him or to yourself? Do you see your part of kingdom work important to be viewed and approved of by others or do you seek to bring glory to God?

God is not so interested in your part of ministry – your part in kingdom work as much as He is interested in the learning of your heart to bring glory to Him.

Next week we’ll continue in chapter three and see some important principles we must follow as we work together to bring Glory to God.