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Current study: Spiritual Warfare

30 September 2012

Week 40 Review - Finishing the Old Testament

New Testament (except for Psalm 106 which we read tomorrow) – DONE! For those of you who have read the Old Testament in its entirety for the first time, I offer my congratulations on a job well done. You have persevered, and God has seen your diligence. If you’ve read the Old Testament in its entirety before, I’d love to hear what new insights you have gained as you reread the battles, the struggles and the praises of God’s people.

Let’s finish Nehemiah.

The temple is built. The wall is repaired. It’s time to live in the town and … few people want to. There was probably a lot to do to the town, and the people were enjoying their lives living in their camps. Why rock the boat or move on? They had it good! But God had other plans, and He wanted them to claim His city. Since few people apparently volunteered, Nehemiah records an unusual way to repopulate: he tithes the people. 10% of the people were selected by lot to populate Jerusalem. It was an honor to be selected (I know God actually picked the people although the method He used was a lottery), but I wonder how difficult it was for the selectees to march away from family and friends to take God’s city.

What would happen in YOUR church if 10% of the people were asked to move to another area and start a new ministry?

We can learn many lessons from this repopulation.

1.       We need to give ourselves to God. The people who were selected were making themselves a living sacrifice to God. Paul tells us to do the same in his letter to the Romans.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

                                Unfortunately, the people were transformed only for a little while. Nehemiah reported back to the king, then returned to Jerusalem, and he found out that the people had intermarried. This passage does not address interracial marriage. God wanted the Jews to remain a pure people so the line from David to Jesus would be pure. The people were conforming themselves to their world and marrying the local pagans. The kids of those marriages weren’t even taught the language of their fathers. These women were Ammonites and Moabites, the products of the incestuous union between Lot and his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38) – the enemies of the Jews. If that wasn’t bad enough, there was an Ammonite, Tobiah, living in the Temple – the place where God specifically said only His people were to be (Nehemiah 13:28)! And to top it off, Tobiah was using a room dedicated to God for storing the offerings used by the Levites. Sin had crept into the temple, and Nehemiah threw Tobias and his furniture out.

2.       The people gave praise to God for what He had allowed them to accomplish. They walked around and on the entire wall. It reminds us that although we are all members of the body, the part that God gives us to do does not belong to us. You have no “territorial rights” in the church.  Maybe God has something else for you to do. Your service to God is a gift, and once given, the gift is God’s to use as he wants. (There’s a story about a building program in a large church which required that a certain Sunday School class relocate to a different area of the church. The class SUED the church! How ridiculous that they thought there were squatters rights available to any group!)
Another reason that the people walked around the walls was that it symbolized stepping out in faith to receive God’s blessing (remember Joshua and Jericho?). In Nehemiah’s time, walking on a piece of property was laying claim to the property. God told Abraham to claim the land exactly that way:

Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you. Gen 13:17 (ESV)

He made a similar promise to Joshua.

Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. Josh 1:3 (ESV)

Although the walk around the walls was symbolic, it wasn’t the most important thing. The people praised God. They were excited to be back in Jerusalem with their own Temple. They were believing in God. and as a result….

3.       The people gave to the work of the church. The people knew that their blessings came from God, so they got their hearts right with Him, praised Him for His deeds, and showed Him they were serious by opening their wallets. Please note that the first thing they did was to give themselves to God. Giving money without a right heart isn’t a sacrifice or an offering – it’s an obligation. Paul underscored this when he commended the church in Macedonia.

For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 2 Cor 8:3-5 (ESV)

When we give to God, we need to remember that we must give with the right spirit. Any monetary gift is really a spiritual sacrifice to God and we want our sacrifices to be…

a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Phil 4:18 (ESV)

And finally, Nehemiah dealt with Sabbath day commerce by shutting the gates. The people weren’t honoring their Sabbath to God. It was another day full of work and shopping – and a temple service too. It’s not much different today (although there is no requirement to stop work on the Sabbath).

God is working on me with the whole Sabbath rest thing. Can I take a job where I will not be able to participate in church activities? If I do, am I telling God that I don’t trust Him to provide me with enough – or am I saying that I don’t want to be a part of His body? If I run from church to the big sale at the local mall, am I honoring His command to rest one day and work six? How about church “fellowship” at the local sports stadium? Does that honor God’s command to rest? Cooking for the entire week to make the weekdays smoother?

I can’t answer any of those questions for you. As part of the New Covenant, God didn’t give us specific Sabbath instructions as He did to the Jews. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says:

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Heb 8:13 (ESV)

As you meditate on the final words in Nehemiah, I pray that you will have a talk with God about your Sabbath activities. I pray that you truly desire to worship as He would have you worship – and I pray that if He asks you to change some aspect of your Sundays (or any other part of your life, of course), you take Him seriously and ask for His help as you grow closer to Him.

Tomorrow we begin the New Testament and we will see the fulfillment of the Old Covenant in the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord.

I really want to know what reading the Old Testament has done for your walk with Christ. What areas have been strengthened? Was the reading what you expected? What were the good parts? What were the boring parts? Will you continue this habit in 2013 and continue to read the Bible through every year? I know that I will do so next year – again – and will use a different method of reading, perhaps straight through, or maybe a little of the Old and New Testament every day.

See you at the end of the week!

Week 40 Readings

October 1 Nehemiah 11-13; Psalm 126
October 2 Psalm 106; John 1:4-14
October 3 Matthew 1; Luke 1:1-2:38
October  4 Matthew 2; Luke 2:39-52
October 5 Matthew 3; Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3; John 1:15-34
October 6 Matthew 4:1-22; Mark 1:12-20; Luke 4:1-30; 5:1-11; John 1:35-2:12;  Matthew 13:54-58; Mark 6:1-6; 

29 September 2012

Week 39 Review

September 23 Esther 6-10
September 24 Malachi 1-4; Psalm 50
September 25 Ezra 7-10
September 26 Nehemiah 1-4
September 27 Nehemiah 5-7
September 28 Nehemiah 8-10

We started the week by finishing Esther. What a wonderful story. Can you imagine how Haman must have felt when he was required to pay homage to Mordecai? How Esther must have felt to be able to play such a pivotal role in the history of the Jewish people? God can take any situation and turn it to good. It’s an important thing to remember when we wonder why God allows bad things to happen to good people.

The prophet Malachi was given a difficult task. He had to tell the people they were sinning and call them back to repentance and a wholehearted walk with God. The sins Malachi mentioned then are the same sins that afflict us today: lack of love for God, dishonoring His Name, ignoring His covenants, questioning His justice, robbing His storehouse, hating His service.

LACK OF LOVE FOR GOD. Do we love God wholeheartedly? Jesus didn’t think so. John records letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, and the first sin mentioned is lack of love. Could that be because lack of love is the source of all other sins against God?

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Rev 2:4 (ESV)

Do you still love God? We want our relationship to grow deeper, but can you honestly say that you love God now as much as the day you were saved? Or, like most people, have you become complacent in your love for Him? What do you need to change to come back to your first love?

DISHONORING HIS NAME.  Do you swear? Use God’s Name in vain? That’s not what God is talking about here. Back then, the priests were offering defiled sacrifices (imperfect, animals with blemishes). The sacrifice had to be perfect, which pointed to Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. Instead, the priests were slaughtering substandard animals. It was not a true sacrifice. Don’t we do that today when we give from the end of our paycheck rather than the beginning? When we donate stuff to Christian charities that we don’t want – because it’s in such pathetic shape? Remember God’s words:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Mark 12:28-33 (ESV)

Do you give your best to God, or do you give him substandard service? When you don’t wholeheartedly give to God (not just money but service), you are dishonoring Him. Your job as a servant to God is serious. Whether you’re a pastor or a janitor or something in between, your service must be the best you can give.

IGNORING HIS COVENANTS.  The Jews had a covenant to keep. We have a new covenant with God.  Back then, the Jews were divorcing the Jewish (covenant) wives to marry pagan women. That profaned God’s commandment for marriage: between one man and one woman. After they divorced their wives, they came to His altar asking for blessing and forgiveness. They had broken His law and were not truly repentant – they just wanted God to bless their improper union. Divorce grieves God.

QUESTIONING HIS JUSTICE.  The people were living in blatant sin. They were offering improper sacrifices. But they still wanted to know why God wasn’t good to them. We’ve all been at that place where we’ve done and done and done and done and still it seems that “justice” isn’t coming our way. Job struggled with the same issues. Malachi didn’t try to appease them. He just reminded them that their problem wasn’t with an unjust God, it was with their personal uncleanliness.

ROBBING HIS STOREHOUSE.   We have no command from Jesus to bring a tithe like the Jews had. But we still rob His storehouse when we don’t give sacrificially. We aren’t given a dollar amount of our tithe, or a percentage to give, but we are told:

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.  1 Cor 16:1-2 (ESV)

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  2 Cor 8:1-2 (ESV)

2 Corinthians chapter 8-9 have further instructions for giving.

Why do we rob God? When we do, we lose spiritual blessings, and really…does that extra money do more good in your pocket or in God’s? I know how hard it can be to not give. When we don’t follow God’s commands we are really telling God that we don’t trust Him with that area of our lives. Is that the message you want to send to God?

HATING HIS SERVICE. The people thought serving God was drudgery – another task to add to their overloaded and busy schedules. When you serve, whether it’s changing toilet paper rolls or singing a magnificent hymn on Sunday, are you doing it for the love of God, or is it for the paycheck or because it’s just … what you do?

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! 2  Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 3 Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4  Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalms 100:1-5 (ESV)

We finished Ezra this week and saw God’s hand in the letters that Ezra received. He was to take all the willing men (there were about 50,000), silver and gold from Babylonia, and freewill offerings. There were to be no taxes placed on the servants of the temple.

I saw two important points in this reading:

1.       Ezra studied the Word, put it into practice and taught others (Ezra 7:10; James 1:22-25).
2.       Ezra dealt with sin. He didn’t try to whitewash it or hide it.

I loved reading Nehemiah this week. I was particularly taken by his prayer. It’s short (we don’t have to belabor stuff with God) and shows us that praying isn’t about quantity of time you spend talking – it’s about the quality of your conversation with God. We know that Jesus spent whole days communing with His father, so we know that prayers can take a long time. It’s also nice to know that God looks at our hearts when we pray and listens to the prayers of righteous men and women, no matter how long they are.

As Nehemiah led the rebuilding of the walls and the gates, I was struck by the fact that each family/group was assigned a specific portion of the work. That reminds me that we are all part of the body of Christ and we are each assigned a specific function. Don’t worry about whether your part is big or small, seen or unseen. Every act of service you do for Christ matters.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,[5] yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Cor 12:12-27 (ESV)

Remember the short prayer at the beginning of Nehemiah? That all changed after the treachery of Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem. The wall was completed and what did the Jews do?  They repented.

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. 2  And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3  And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God. Neh 9:1-3 (ESV)

How would you like it if your pastor announced on Sunday that the service would be twelve hours long? The first six hours would be reading/expounding from the Word, and the second six hours would be a prayer meeting/revival/worship service? Oh, one more thing… you have to STAND!

That’s just what Israel did. They finally got it and decided to reject their ways. They turned back to God and made a firm covenant with Him. They promised to separate themselves and walk in the law. And they also promised…

We will not neglect the house of our God.  Neh 10:39 (ESV)

Through all our readings this week we see the theme of God providing just what was needed in the most unexpected ways. How has God provided for you unexpectedly this week? Did you receive that extra couple dollars to pay a bill? Maybe someone noticed the work you are doing at church and said “thank you”. Or you may have seen a beautiful flower and been blessed by thinking of how God created that flower just for you. Whether God does something spectacular for you this week, or even if His work is unseen by anyone, know that if you are His child, He is moving mountains for you!

Every time I read the Bible through, something new pops out at me. This reading really reinforced that God planned for Jesus to come and die for each human being from before the foundations of the world. Every word, every covenant, every law was put in place to point to Jesus Christ. Every act of love took us one step closer to Jesus’ birth. God used prostitutes, warriors, thieves, liars, murderers, and the unrepentant – as well as faithful saints who tried to follow God with every breath, word, and gesture. God never said “you’re not good enough for My kingdom” or “you can’t help me”. He used everyone who was willing! Are you willing to be used by Him?

We have one more day of Old Testament reading, plus a couple Psalms. Have you ever read the entire Old Testament? If you have not, what did you think? What stories most touched your heart? What was the most confusing, or boring, or difficult part of the Old Testament? Email me or send me a comment!