Rebuilding Our Faith Series #18
1) Commitment to the Lord (Nehemiah 9:38-10:29)
There is sign off route 65 pointing to Bellevue. For the longest time I was really puzzled about what its message. It read Live Worship Shop. The only image that came to my mind was a sign that said, Live lobsters. That meant you could buy living lobsters rather than dead and ready prepared. I know of many different churches in the Bellevue area, but it really made me wonder what they were claiming by having Live Worship. Were they disassociating themselves from all the dead worship places? Or were they more positively promoting their lively worship, more modern in approach. But there was no church name with the sign. So it seemed to describe all the Bellevue churches in this way which I knew was not true. In the end I realized that I had read the sign wrong. They listed Live, Worship, Shop as a list of three things that are good to do in Bellevue.
But the question still seems to be a good one. What is live worship? What needs to be going on in this place for things to be really living? Jerusalem was having a great revival - a re-living if you would. New life was coming back into their lives. It is like blowing up a big inflatable rabbit. Things were taking shape. When we look closely into chapter 9, we find it was a revival of the heart. Change was happening inside their lives. They now longed for Gods word and obedience.
In Mark 4 Jesus gave the parable of the sower. The last group on which the seed was sown was fertile. When the Word of God landed on such receptive hearts, it bore great fruit even to 30, 60 and 100 times the original. As we look at chapters 10-12 we find that true spiritual revival will always manifest itself in the reshaping of behavior and activities. During the big Scottish revival, all the bars went bankrupt. The police had no work so they formed quartets and went about singing in different churches. Because they readily took Gods Word into their lives, they bore much fruit that influenced generations.
Chapter 10 of Nehemiah shows the resolution of the revived Jews. They were not just saying that they regretted their unholy lifestyle but that they repented from it. Regret is when one is sorrowful just for the consequences. Repentance is when one is genuinely sorry they disobeyed and stopped doing what hurt that relationship. They finally connected the fact that true worship is when one sees God in each aspect of life. This is what fearing the Lord means. And as leaders of the people, they could testify that they were ready to change things around. Do not think these changes were easy. Do not think it is easy to commit yourself to a higher standard that pleases God. But something happened in their fundamental understanding of God that brought forth this willingness to change their behavior. Jesus referred to this change of the inner heart when He talked to Nicodemus in John 3: 3-10 saying,
Let us not despise outward reform if it comes from the heart. Let's now look at the four significant changes they made. Let us not just ask for the Spirit of God to move but to move in such a way that our lives begin swaying in tune with the will of God.
The first significant change that we find in their lives is that they signed a covenant. They made a covenant together before the Lord. Verse 9:38 says, Now because of all this We are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests. They subjected themselves to live their lives according to the words of the covenant at the risk of suffering Gods curse. If they broke the covenant, then they would be cursed by God. They were basically making themselves consciously accountable to God.
One special aspect of this covenant was that the Israelites had representatives of different groups involved in the signing. Let me read again verses 10:28-29 for the full impact of this covenant among the Israelites.
This was a group or people movement. Some people don't quite know how to handle groups when they come to know the Lord. America has a very individualistic way of interpreting the scriptures. Everything is I. Our songs are I or me. How I wish we could sing and pray the we and us. Prayer May God not just move in one or two of our hearts but the whole of our hearts!
This covenant would settle their hearts and build a framework on which they could build their new community around God. Without this seriousness and focus, it is not clear how long their zeal would last. Of course they would think the excitement would last forever, but it wouldn't. They were together willing to take the necessary steps to shape Israels future around God.
Oaths are important vows. No one is to take them lightly. Baptism is a covenant written with our bodies and marriage with our vows. We are not to take our faith lightly. When we are baptized, we state our lives will revolve around our Lords wishes. When we marry, we are saying that we will be deliberately faithful to our spouse. Our decisions in life will be shaped around these commitments. Some people ask why we should join the organizational church? The reason is that this commitment helps mold your life to a framework that you deem important for the future. You want to be held accountable for the way you serve the Lord while you are in Pittsburgh.
Live Worship for the Israelites meant commitment. They saw that if they put their heart to Gods business in a serious way, they could help mold, protect and bless their children. They were done with their games. If you were to sign a covenant today, what would you write on it? What could you commit yourself to? Would there be anything in the covenant that would set you apart from the world? This is our second point.
We just don't understand what God really expects of His worshippers. He demands a separation of our lives from the world. I believe that the greatest reasons for dead worship is because of worldliness. Our hearts are attached to the world. This shows up in our relationships and the way we are willing to compromise on issues the Lord has spoken clearly on. In 10:28-30 we find their willingness to start clean. They were to come apart from their ungodly compromises and start off clean.
Now this is the most difficult point to follow through with. We can easily sign our name, but it is hard to break the alliances we have formed with the ungodly. These associations have become part of life, with whom you talk, with whom you live. It is the hardest to modify because this is the one area so crucial to their future. They could make some changes but without a clean break, if they did not separate themselves from the ungodly now in these compromises of life, then they would lose their identity within one generation. They were committing themselves to separate themselves from these relationships meant that they were quite common. One cannot make a commitment to walk in the law of God (28) unless they have separated themselves from the world. For the Jews, this was very much an issue of relating only with other Jews. For Christians, it is simply to find other devout Christians to covenant with in issues of marriage and business. II Corinthians 6:14 says, Do not be unequally yoked. The image is to have two different kinds of animals sharing a yoke pulling the plow along. They walk at different speeds and no doubt do not relate very well with each other. The pulling of the yoke will be greatly affected by being joined with another of not common faith.
Besides our faith, marriage is the most important relationship that is established in our lives. These Israelite parents were finally getting their act together to preserve what was good and holy. They were determined not to give their daughters to those who did not commit themselves to a like faith and lifestyle. Nor were they willing to take a woman that has not a similar conviction. If you have not clearly stated in your lives that you would not marry a non-Christian, then you are making great trouble for your lives. Make the commitments now while your mind is clear. This is the value of oaths. They stand as a loud confirming voice during our confusing moments. It doesn't matter whether you are in love. You have made a promise to love God first. Unless you are clearly committed to marrying a godly Christian of great zeal, then you will be baited. You will be sucked in by the clever devices of the evil one. You will have no one but yourself to blame.
They were to separate from the ungodly in business partnerships too. They decided to stop trading on the sabbath just as God had told them. This is another bold step. They had to take a risk that their normal customers who regularly went to them would go and find another seller. The advantage of everyone playing by the same rules make it much easier for everyone and helps maintain the high moral standard. The issue is that the evil one controls non-Christians. Jesus said that the evil one is their father. We are greatly subjecting ourselves to the evil one's temptations and frustrations when we sign on with these non Christians. We are becoming unequally yoked. It is like inserting a needle in your skin and leaving it there so that whenever the evil one wants to bring trouble into your lives, all he has to do is squeeze.
In verse 31 they were separating themselves unto the Word of the Lord. They would no longer sell and buy on the sabbath, not pick the harvest on the seventh year or push people into sin by exacting every debt. They were putting Gods desires above their own preferences.
We normally think of worship of God as only happening on Sunday morning but in fact God has called us as a people to live out our life separate unto Him. Some people reject this kind of thinking with one or more of the following lines of reasoning:
He was helping them to step out of their desperate and disobedient state. They as a community had clearly compromised Gods law and the financial, spiritual and emotional burdens were very obvious. Some people think they can easily separate their spiritual lives from other aspects of their lives. I tried to show you last time that this is simply impossible. Real worship is when we come bringing our whole lives under the reigns of the Holy Spirit. A Christian is one who follows Christ in all of his life.
Before I go on, let me make few applications. Our Sunday is not the sabbath. We must understand that there is a fundamental calendar change. There are principles that go on regarding the sabbath such as breaking from work once a week. We work to live not live to work. We are not machines nor materialistic garbage cans preoccupied on buying and selling. When I studied, busy as I was, I took off Sunday from my studies. As a pastor I take off Monday. Some might criticize me, but I believe that it is not having a weekend off but a special time stating that I am more important than my occupation. I am not the center of the universe but God is. His command is enough to rotate my life around.
Some people use the principle of stewardship to get away with sins like grabbing the last penny of interest. Clearly there are principles that override so-called good stewardship. They would not shop on the sabbath. They would rest their bodies rather than maximize them. They would forego the seventh year crop. What a waste! But God says it is normal and good. Nor should we love to get back our loans more than care for the needs of others. Money must not rule us. Capitalism can be a sin. Materialism is sin. Our lives are not ours nor is our money. We are stewards of what God has given us and must use it in a way that pleases our Lord; our pleasures and comforts only follow this priority. Each year I wrestle with giving more and more to missions. It doesn't come easily, but it is clearly our Lords priority.
Religious worship is not free. In order to preserve the order that delights God, we will find that again and again it will cost us time, effort and money. I appreciate our recent presentation of the church's budget before the congregation. The connection between our offerings and our ministries was clearly shown. Without the offerings, the ministries would not go on. Any area that we are not willing to provide the resources, whether personnel or financial, will become an area of need rather than strength. As we look at their commitment to serve the Lord, let us see what their undermining goal was. It is found in 10:39, We will not neglect the house of our God.
We will get into specifics in a moment, but I want you to think about one good improvement that has been going on here in this congregation of Gods people. I have seen a great improvement on our worship teams. I have been very encouraged and blessed. I think we are finally beginning to see the glory of worshiping God! But in order for this to happen, you must prepare your hearts behind the scenes. You might take drum lessons. You take time practicing with each other. You think of keeping a pure heart so to protect your music offerings. You sometimes are even here before I get here at 9:00. Maintaining decor and glory about Gods house, which is us His people as we assemble together, is our priority in life. We must make it our goal of excellence in serving the Lord wherever He has called us . The welfare of the house of God is dependent upon us. We are the house of God. Let me read two references confirming this.
I would like to outline three areas mentioned. They are broad but crucial areas. We will speak of financial offerings, faith offerings, and personal offerings.
The Israelites put themselves under pledge to provide 1/3 of a shekel a year for the main worship supplies. What did the law require? Exodus 30:13 says,
Accountants will notice that 1/3 and 1/2 shekel are differing amounts. I believe with some commentators that this is to be seen beyond the regular 1/2 shekel required in the Law. They were trying to build up the treasury that has been in shambles. The other possible interpretation is that because of their dire poverty they were giving only 1/3 of a shekel which is better than none. The problem with this interpretation is that their other covenant commitments were very strong. What sense does it make to covenant something short of what the law demanded? It only makes sense if they were covenanting something equal or more.
Some people ask me about the necessity of offering a tithe which is 10% of our income. It is clear from this passage that these impoverished Jews were giving more than a tithe. They had many more offerings that added up to more than 10%. The point of this matter is why are we willing to secure better houses, clothes and cars and accommodations then they and let the tithe be the last of our commitments. They made giving to God their highest priority. They covenanted their money to God. They understood that God is not only interested in getting a good portion of what He has given to you, but that He wants His part given before you give others their portion. This is referred to as the first fruits which is the next point.
Starting in verse 35 and right on down to verse 37 we find that the word first or first-fruits is repeatedly used. Listen to these offerings they were committing themselves to give as first fruits.
By the way, you might be wondering how to offer your sons. Substitutes are welcome. One would redeem or pay for in exchange for the donkey or son.
On the one hand these first fruits are the easiest to commit to; on the other hand they are the hardest.
They are easy to commit to because unlike the above shekel, they were proportional. In other words, they only could give what they got. First-fruits of nothing is nothing. If one is real poor, they would not be obligated to give much at all. Students do not get much personal money so they don't need to pay much.
On the other hand, this is a very difficult commitment to make because it required faith. Faith is needed because you would take the first portion and give it away. You might be very hungry waiting for the first supply of grain to appear after the winter. By giving the first-fruits, you might be going another week without food. Or who knows whether you will have enough? What if a storm comes or you get sick? Faith is required to give the first-fruits to the Lord. It takes commitment. Our lives must revolve around the Lord. Basically, this commitment to bring the first of all requires a full recognition that everything you have is given to you by Gods grace. You are confessing this is true by the offering. By offering you are stating that it is not the money that cares for you but God Himself.
Have you learned to live by faith in your giving? This requires us to give to God before we pay our other bills. Some think that utilities and mortgages are first payments. I strongly disagree. God does not want leftovers of doubt and selfishness. He wants you to think of first offerings unto Himself and to anticipate how He will provide for your other needs. Once we switch our way of looking at our finances, dead worship finally comes alive. Our dependence or trust upon the Lord becomes very relevant to our lives.
In Nehemiah 12, we find a clear description of which priests and Levites came to the land of Israel. They were easy to track because they were families, not just individuals. One could not volunteer to be a Levite or priest. You were called by God by virtue of who your father was. This might sound terribly undemocratic, but God wasn't worried about this. He called them. They were expected to serve in His designated way. Through their forefathers they would pass one different traits of loyalty that were important to God.
The people could not just walk into the Lords sanctuary. They had to have priests to make offerings, care for the temple, and do many other things. Money was not just needed to provide for the actual worship materials. Many things had to be done to maintain this worship.
The priests were to maintain the worship of God in a holy and proper manner. They were to be supplied financially by the public, that is, the Israelite community. They were then in turn set apart to serve God in whatever way God had designated them to serve. It is wrong to think of the pastor as the only priest. This is a distortion. He indeed is a priest, but if you are Gods people, so are you. If you really are going to understand this, then you will see that the financial role is minor compared to the time, energy and effort put into the priestly role you are to serve. The welfare of the house of God depends upon you.
This is probably the most radical of all the life changes mentioned above. God has called us His priests. We are to maintain His house. I Peter 2:9-10 says, But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.
Think about your volunteer hours for Gods service. Maybe we can deduct some of our travel from our taxes as we travel back and forth to meetings we lead. But this does nothing to determine your worth before God. Just think of the time and hard work that you put in as servants of the Lord. If we on average got $10./hour for our volunteer work, our budget would explode to over million dollars. Think of the tremendous team of priests at work. The business world can't understand the church. They use money to get their workers to work. The church on the other hand lives on volunteers. We cook, clean, watch children, teach, prepare materials, play instruments, lead, preach, sing, pray, etc. I hope you take part in maintaining the House of God; it must not be neglected.
Note in 12:27 at the dedication of the wall, Nehemiah got together a great praise time. He remembered it was God who built the wall. Nehemiah was faithful but it was only God that got all the work done safely. They had two choirs who proceeded on the wall from both directions and met up at the temple. Everyone had a special duty. In verse 30 we read of the Levites, And the priests and the Levites purified themselves; they also purified the people, the gates, and the wall. We do not only have material matters to deal with like money and wealth, but we have spiritual duties. The Spirit of God has given each of His people a spiritual gift to use for the building up of the House of God.
What part are you taking? Some things require money. But God really wants you. God is expecting for you to use your time in different aspects of service. Both the OT and NT help us get a general understanding of worship. It requires all of us to be faithful so that it is not neglected. Let me read a passage from Ephesians 4 reminding you of the critical place each one of us take in this place where God resides. If you are not faithful, everyone will be affected. Positively, if everyone does their part as the Israelis covenanted, the House of God will not be neglected. Everyone will know that we put God as the priority in life. The invisible One shapes our visible lives. Ephesians 4:10-13 says,
Again, what is God asking of you in your service? Are you doing it? Is God the priority in your life or are you giving second or third place rather than first fruits?
From chapters 11-12 we see a strong emphasis on infrastructure changes. They were deluded if they thought that this great rally would in and of itself bring great change. God was interested in life changes. This is just what discipleship means - changes in our life resulting in being more like Jesus Christ. We have learned that just building a wall to maintain life was not enough. We then learned that just having a spiritual encounter is not enough. We must go on and secure that spiritual change with changes in our priorities and lifestyles.
It makes sense that God would want to reposition us to best suit His purposes. Missions is this redistributing of the wealth and vibrancy of Gods glorious church. We export not American culture but Gods people to other parts of the world. Note in the first verses of chapter 11 that the Israelites made big sacrifices to move ahead to where God wanted them to be. They saw a great need of repopulating Jerusalem, the holy city. They cast lots to see who would go and live there. The houses were in horrible shape. Were you going to take your family to live there? Corruption still lingered on. They decided however, that they would do as God pleased. Everyone risked their family's future because of Gods design. They would take lots. One out of ten families would be chosen by lot. If they were chosen, they would listen to Gods call and go live in Jerusalem.
If you want a strong house of God, then you and I are going to need to make some sacrifices. We talk about consolidation. It will take our money. It will take our volunteer hours. It will necessitate our prayers. Will you come out to our late night prayer meeting this Friday night? We want to train our young people to be like Jesus. Are you spending time with God to know how best to do this, whether it be your own children or those in your Sunday School class.
Nehemiah 12:30 speaks of the need of purification. It is insufficient to just have some past spiritual highs. These great close times with God enable us to see what real changes must be made in our lives to maintain those blessings. We must be dedicated to do a great job for the Lord all the time. We need to set our lives apart for Him as well as those things that protect us, support us, or even our service. God wants to build up His house of Worship so that He will manifest His glory. If we are sloppy or lazy, we would but insult Him. But if each of us dedicated ourselves to Him and as a whole purified ourselves for Him, I think He would be delighted in revealing more of His glorious person to us. This is what live worship is. We as Gods people, prepared and dedicated so that the glory of God appears in His home. We have seen improvement, but let us all get ready for a greater revealing of God. Let us do a sort of spring cleaning in the House of God that pleases Him, a housecleaning that affects our lifestyle.
One million Promise Keepers prayed in Washington D.C. for four hours, but they neglected to set up an apparatus by which they would take rule there through prayers. The evil one came in and has caused great harm since that time.
Book of Nehemiah Index: Rebuilding Your Faith
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