Nehemiah

I wonder if you have ever read Nehemiah??? I just finished reading through Nehemiah again. I have read through Nehemiah many times, but something very awesome about the Bible is that God always will show us something new. God speaks through His Word (Psalm 119:105; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Hebrews 4:12). Last week I wrote down to write about Nehemiah chapter 13, but I want to start with Nehemiah chapter 8. Nehemiah was known for his prayers. He always went to the Lord in prayer. He was very humble. One can simply look at Nehemiah 1:4 and see Nehemiah going to the Lord in prayer. Nehemiah was a cup-bearer to the king. That is a cool job. Nehemiah’s job was to mobilize the people of Jerusalem to finish rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. The wall is finished then in Nehemiah chapter 8 at the very beginning it says this:
“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.”
(New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ne 8:1). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.)
Isn’t that great? They stood for hours as Ezra read the law. They wanted to hear that. Question: are you interested in reading God’s Word? Are you interested in hearing God’s Word proclaimed and taught in a worship service? Does God’s Word convict you to worship? Now, some further questions for people like me: suppose that you love learning, suppose that you love hearing God’s Word taught and preached, are you worshiping the Lord? I can love God’s Word for the wrong reasons. I may love hearing a preacher preach. I may think, “What’s he going to say today?” Or, “Who is the preacher gonna slam today?” We may like this just like people will look at a train wreck. Okay, or we like hearing something taught. Maybe we think, “What can I learn today?” I think that is good, but God’s Word should compel us to the truth and convict us to worship. We never, never want to be like those in 2 Timothy 3 who Paul says are always learning but never coming to the knowledge of the Truth. Nehemiah 8:3 says that he read from the book of the law from early morning until midday, that is a long sermon. I think he probably taught it a little and preached it. Here is a link to an article by Dr. Albert Mohler about what is called expository preaching:
http://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/albert-mohler-al-mohler-expository-preaching-is-the-antidote-to-anemic-preaching-1741.asp?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=scnewsletter&utm_content=SC+Update+20131126
In Nehemiah 9 the people confess their sins. They do this in humility. Then we skip to chapter 13. Look at Nehemiah 13:10-11 (below):
10  I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given them, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field.
11  So I reprimanded the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” Then I gathered them together and restored them to their posts.
(New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ne 13:10–11). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.)
Something that stood out to me is that Nehemiah reprimanded the people for their sin. You see in 2 Timothy 4:1-5 Timothy is instructed to reprove and rebuke with the Word of God. God may use a pastor or lay person preaching the Scriptures to reprimand you, or me. Who is your prayer partner, accountability partner? God may use that person to reprimand you. We think of a reprimand as a negative thing, but that is the grace of God. That should be greatly encouraging because that helps you grow as a person and as a Christian. Proverbs 27:17 says “as iron sharpens iron so a man sharpens his brother.” (or a sisters sharpens her sister) Who is sharpening you? Who keeps you from getting dull. Have you ever tried to cut with a dull knife?
In Nehemiah 13:14 we once again see Nehemiah’s prayer and that is a prayer that we could pray after his example. In Nehemiah 13:17 we see Reprimand the people again. That is now twice in this chapter, but that is something God uses pastors to do, but always with the Scriptures. Then in verse 22 we see Nehemiah’s prayer, again.
“For this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness.”
(New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ne 13:22). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.)
I think I will end with that. My prayer is that we all read the Scriptures and apply them allowing God to speak to us.
blessings in Christ,
Pastor Steve

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Alcohol and Christianity

So, a few weeks ago I was picking up sticks in my yard. (This is one of my most favorite past times. It is so much fun that I don’t want to keep you from joining in, so if you are ever bored come pick up some sticks. I think Tom Sawyer did something like that.) Anyways, to what is important, I started talking with someone about church. This man does not attend my church though he has visited before. He said that when he first met me he thought I was very serious (I wonder if the Vulcan ears had anything to do with that, sorry no more distractions), but as he got to know me better he realized differently. Anyways, a few days before that, somehow in conversation I said if someone wants to drink a beer, no big deal. That stood out to my friend. By the way he is not younger guy either. He thinks of protestants as prohibiting alcohol but he thought my comment shows that I was understanding our culture. So, that is my way of introducing the topic of alcohol and culture and Christianity. 

A few years ago I listened to a sermon by Mark Driscoll on this subject. One thing he said was: “The question is not “is the thing pure?” the question is “Is the person doing the thing pure?” If you are married and have sex than it is pure. if you are an adult having a glass of wine with a dinner than it is pure.” (http://www.marshillchurch.org/media/proverbs/good-wine-glad-hearts March 24th 2002) But I come from a background of churches that expected pastors and church leaders to abstain from alcohol and would encourage everyone to do the same. The first few denominations that I applied for church license with I actually had to sign that I abstained from alcohol. But is that what the Bible teaches? No, not at all. So, when I came to my last church I studied this issue. I studied what the Bible says and I studied it more and more. In addition I asked Christian counselors what they thought as they have to deal with the ramifications of the abuse of alcohol. I wanted to know if as a counselor they thought it helps if Christians prohibit alcohol.

Turns out the opposite is true. According to Gary Collins’ Christian Counseling book the Southern Baptist have the highest rate of alcoholics whereas the Orthodox Jews have the lowest rate of alcoholics. Usually Southern Baptist prohibit alcohol and orthodox Jews use alcohol as part of their religious services.

I talked with one pastor whom I respect and he said that he drinks a beer in front of his kids intentionally so they know that alcohol is not the bad thing. He doesn’t want that to be what they rebel with. So, after my personal study I made a personal policy that I would not have more than one alcoholic drink, as in a serving size during a sitting. Sometimes I have jokingly said that I will not have more than one drink at a time, in each hand. But really, I know that one beer, or glass of wine will not get me intoxicated, nor even close. I have followed that policy for about six years now. But what does the Bible say about alcohol?

Observe the following:

Psalm 104:15 praises God for the wine that gladdens men’s hearts. 

Proverbs 31:4-7
It is not for kings, Lemuel—
    it is not for kings to drink wine,
    not for rulers to crave beer,
5 lest they drink and forget what has been decreed,
    and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
6 Let beer be for those who are perishing,
    wine for those who are in anguish!
7 Let them drink and forget their poverty
    and remember their misery no more.

Here this Proverb is recognizing that alcohol causes the mind to alter. Here the Proverb is saying, “Kings you have a lot of responsibility, don’t drink! You’ll mess everything up!” By the way the later kings did mess everything up causing Israel to divide and later fall.

Application: We must recognize that God created things good, yet we must control these substances. Alcohol is a controlled substance and we must recognize its dangers. If you cannot control it, don’t touch it!

Know that Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine. (John 2)

1 Tim 5:23
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
(from New International Version)

    Oh, but notice that Paul still gives Timothy a purpose for the wine which is that it is good for the stomach and Timothy has an illness. What illness? I don’t know. Chuck Swindoll made a joke about the stress Timothy might have been under. 
    Either way clearly alcohol had a purpose in their society. However, the alcohol was watered down. Nevertheless, it was real alcohol. This is more of an American problem. Do you know that C.S. Lewis met with his group called the Inklings in a pub? 
    One is in grave danger to try to make a Biblical argument against the drinking of alcohol. We can’t use the “don’t make your brother stumble argument.” We can use an extreme caution argument. 
    Now, having said all that, think about this: a few years ago I was reading statistics while preparing for a youth message, skim through below:
This is from Focus on the Families website: Troubledwith.com
Alcohol causes more deaths among adolescents than any other substance. Alcohol is involved in one third of all traffic deaths for young people aged 15 through 19. Overall, driving under the influence is the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24. Alcohol also frequently plays a role in adolescent deaths from other causes: homicides, suicides, drownings and motorcycle and bicycle accidents.

In addition, alcohol plays an important role in adolescent crime, sexual promiscuity and date rape. According to research compiled by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), 95 percent of violent crime on college campuses is alcohol related, and 90 percent of reported campus rapes involve alcohol use by the assailant, the victim or both. In one study cited by MADD, 60 percent of college women diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection were drunk when they became infected.

Another sobering reality about drinking is the early age at which it frequently begins.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, about one in five fifth-graders has already experienced alcohol intoxication. Four out of ten sixth-graders say they feel pressure from other students to drink. More than 50 percent of eighth-graders and eight out of ten twelfth-graders have tried alcohol at least once. One in four eighth-graders and half of all twelfth-graders have used alcohol within a given month.”
More alcoholic products that specifically appeal to kids are hitting the marketplace. Wine coolers are increasingly popular with younger drinkers, as are a new wave of alcoholic concoctions billed as “thirst quenchers,” often containing lemon or other fruit flavors.

    Now, say I were to abstain from alcohol, which I am not, would that solve the above problems? NO! Would it help, maybe, but probably not. We are called to be stewards of our bodies as God has created us in His image and He is the owner. (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 139) We must guard against the abuse of substances that must include alcohol. Drunkenness is nothing to joke about. But we also must guard against the abuse of coffee; french fries or donuts.

Those are some thoughts.

Blessings in Christ! 

Pastor Steve
   

radical Christianity

I recently came across a blog post:
http://kyledonn.com/blog/sexy-christianity

my initial response is:
Interesting article. There certainly could be and probably are those that are into some type of pop culture Christianity, but I think that Christianity is not at all popular anymore. He shares true Scriptures about giving it all to Jesus, but I think he is questioning motivations. It is really hard to know motivations, I always pray mine are pure, but God only knows. I believe that Francis Chan, David Platt, Kyle Idleman and others have pure motivations, but there have to be people who agree with them but have the wrong motivations. No one can question the Scriptures Idleman uses such as Luke 9:23. With respect to motivations in Philippians 1 Paul talked about those that preach Christ selfishly and he said that at least Christ is preached. (Philippians 1:15-18)

Looking into this blog and who he is, it appears he leads a missions organization. I think he is right to be frustrated with the pop culture 1 week mission trips. I have read articles about how much harm those trips can actually do. Mission trips should never be a popular thing to do. A way to weed those out is to have steep requirements to serve on a youth mission team. When I was in youth group we were required 18 weeks of discipleship, to take sermon notes, to do service projects and read some books about missionaries. I have, unfortunately known other youth groups that take over 100 students over seas for what they call a mission trip. But it becomes a fad. These same groups have had students smoking pot on the mission trips.

I think time will tell about the radical Christianity, but for the most part it really isn’t radical, it is really going back to the Bible.

Rev. Dr. Jeff Johnson said it well: “We have many believers but not many disciples.” By the way, I have tons of respect for Billy Graham, but with all those who supposedly gave their lives to Jesus at his crusades, why within a generation has America lost its Christian base? I think a lack of discipleship and a lack of clear teaching of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus actually turned people away from following Him. (see Luke 14:26; 21:17; Matthew 19:16-26)  In John 6 Jesus lost about 5000 people from following Him. (John 6:60-66)

So, following Jesus is not the easy way. Jesus called His way the narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14), but following Jesus is the eternal way.

Below are some of my notes from a 9 Marks conference I attended. They are long but I think very valuable. These come from Greg Gilbert:

Session 6:

Six temptations for this generation:

It is not good enough as a leader to start out well. We have to finish well too.

1)      We are tempted to think we can proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ without words.

  1. “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.” (St. Francis of Assisi) Our churches like this quote. We can be cool and hip, but we lose that when we start using words talking about a crucified Man who rose from the dead. You cannot do that while being hip.
  2. The English word Gospel means “good word.” We get our English word spelling from that.
  3. The main point of a message is that it has to be spoken. It has to be communicated. There has to be words.
  4. There are a lot of people in the world who do a lot of good, kind, nice things.
  5. The people in our pews are likely tempted to think that they can get away with just doing good things.
    1. If they love their co-workers they cannot stop short.
    2. We must not let them think that they can share the Gospel without words.

2)      We are tempted to soften Divine wrath. The Bible talks about God’s wrath as terrifying. Unquenchable fire. If the Bible uses phrase after phrase to talk about hell as so horrible. Why do some evangelicals go out of their way to say that hell won’t really be that bad?

3)      We are tempted redefine sin.

  1. We want to believe that we are mostly good.
  2. The idea that we are hopeless, helpless sinners is hard to think about.
  3. Sometimes we just redefine sin as being a simple brokenness relationship between us and God.
  4. We define sin as a lover’s quarrel.
  5. The Bible defines sin as a broken relationship, but of a certain type.
  6. The relationship that has been broken is not between two peers.
  7. The relationship that has been broken is between King and Subject, between creator and subject.
  8. Some try to redefine sin, not as rebellion against God, but the effects of sin.
    1. Purposeless
    2. Meaninglessness
    3. Brokenness
    4. But the issue is that we are rebels. We have rebelled against God. We have rebelled against the King.
    5. Sins are the little things that we do. Sin is the heart rebellion against God. We don’t know what to do with these deep running heart issues of sin.
    6. Our sin nature means that we are cracked all the way down the middle. We cannot be simply cleaned up. We would need a whole new being. Jesus does that in the Gospel.
      1. Image of a sphere at the Smithsonian with grease, etc all over it. We think we can just clean that up and we could clean ourselves up. But we cannot. We would need a new sphere. If we were the sphere, we are cracked all the way down the middle.

4)      We are tempted to de-center the cross.

  1. The cross in the Roman world was loathed.
  2. Yet the cross was centralized in the New Testament.
  3. Going into a city in the Roman empire we would see crosses lining the roads with crucified bodies on them.
  4. Romans wanted to send an image, don’t mess with the Romans. They would even time their crucifixions so that people would be terrified into submission to the Roman empire.
  5. Ancient writers when they mention the crucifixion would not tell us much about it. They would not give much detail. They would basically be saying, “You just wouldn’t want to know.” It was so loathsome. The most information we get about the cross comes from the New Testament.
  6. People would put their cloaks over their children’s eyes so they don’t need to see that. You hanging on a cross are a loathsome thing, hanging on a loathsome thing.
  7. That is what Paul meant when he said that the cross was an offense.
  8. The Romans even drew cartoons and ridiculed the Christians after Jesus was crucified.
    1. There was this ridicule of the cross, yet Paul dealt with that all the time in the New Testament.
    2. We must proclaim the cross. The cross is what makes the good news good in the first place.  

5)      We are tempted to redefine the cross.

  1. We make it about something other than Jesus absorbing the wrath of the Father in our place, in our sin
  2. In His love He covenants with His Son to save us.
  3. This is revolting to the world.
  4. This is anathema to the world around us.
  5. Jesus understood His own death this way. The apostles knew that. Jesus talked about His blood of the covenant. The apostles talked about the covenant.
  6. Page after page of the O.T. is pointing forward about the penal substitution of the cross. Exodus 17:1ff;  In 1 Corinthians 10:1ff Paul writes about this story and connects it with the New Testament. Paul says that the rock was Christ. Some may think Paul was just primitive. That would be a bad excuse. The nation of Israel had come to another place and they decide that they are going to put God on trial. It may look like Moses was on trial. But in reality, Moses says, “Why do you test the Lord.” There are markers that any Israelite would have known were them putting God on trial. Moses stood for God and they were going to stone Moses, which means they were going to stone God. God says, “Bring it one.” Starting in verse Exodus 17:5: God tells Moses to take the staff and go before the elders of Israel. The staff is a staff of judgment. The Nile, the curses on Egypt, etc. This is ominous on many accounts as the staff is judgment on the nation of Israel. Exodus 17 Verse 5ff: the staff of judgment falls on a rock and water will come out of it and the people will drink. God is taking the punishment for His people’s sin. The judgment that the people deserve is falling on Him. Life comes out of the rock, water, and the people are saved. This is amazing. That is how Christ was the rock. The staff of judgment strikes the rock. Interesting that God tells Moses that He will stand before them on the Rock. It is not right for us to pick and choose what parts of penal substitution to preach about. Substitution: reconciliation between me and God is only made effective through the wrath of God being poured out on someone else, other than me. Someone has to die in my place. God is mad at me in His wrath.

6)      We are tempted to think that the main thing the Gospel calls to do is to make our neighborhood and our cities and our world better places to love.

  1. Greg wrote a book alongside someone else titled: “What Is the Mission of the Church,” and they get into this a lot.
  2. Good deeds are good and are commanded.
  3. The Bible presents the main purpose, or aim, or goal of the good works to affirm and confirm and adorn the Gospel of Jesus Christ whom we preach. Sometimes the world becomes a better place. The Lord is gracious and He allows that to happen.
  4. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds  and glorify your Father who is Heaven. (Matthew)
  5. You will not find a promise in Scripture that our good works will make the world around us a better place. You can work for that and pray for that.
  6. If you preach that God has promised that we can live good lives and our neighborhood will change and in 15-20 years sex trafficking is still there, there is still corruption in the government, etc. They will blame God.
  7. The tenor of the New Testament is that the church will be preaching the Gospel, etc. and this will give us the staying power that we can do this for 80- years of my life. This because I know that Jesus never promised that the world will get better.
  8. Acts 1:8 the marching orders to the apostles (every Gospel and then in Acts 1:8).
    1. Acts 1:8 is an expanding set of concentric circles. The book of Acts is structured, its’ skeleton is of breaking through from that verse.
    2.  The New Testament is not structured around teaching sustainable agricultural practices to the Galatians. They may have done that, but the New Testament is structured around the cross, around the saving message of Jesus Christ.
    3.  Why is the cross the shorthand for the church? Why not a tomb that is opened?
    4. Why is Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians called the Word of the Cross?
    5. Even death is not our greatest problem. The cross deals with that problem once and for all. We must preach the cross.