How Does This Scripture Apply to Me? – WRONG QUESTION

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Early in my Christian walk, I read the bible to understand what Christianity was about.  I saw it as a collection of stories & history that explained how we (gentiles) came to believe in God, who Jesus was & why the crucifixion was needed, and to understand what awaits us in the future.  In time, as I would mature in my walk, I would begin to see that this was more than just a collection of information that justified or explained my faith.  It was the true Word of God, it had an enormous amount of value.  The scriptures are filled with stories of people, just like me, who failed miserably but that God could and would redeem.  It became a book of Hope for the weary, Faith for those who love Him, and Promises of an eternal heavenly future.

Under the teaching of some very respected bible teachers, study authors, and church leaders… I began to read the scriptures differently.  I was taught to read the scriptures and ask “How does this apply to my life?”. Now, in some cases of scripture, that is a really easy question to answer.  The Proverbs are full of wisdom that can be applied to every day life.   But there would be times, when I would read a passage of scripture, that I was left scratching my head.  It just didn’t seem to apply.  I wasn’t like the person in the story, the situations I was dealing with in life were different than the point of the story.  I just couldn’t figure out how it applied to me, at all.  In those cases, I would cast it aside for the time being.  My reasoning was that it just didn’t apply at that moment.  But, I figured God revealed it to me because at one point it will.  I will recall reading it, and at that point in the future, I will know where I can return to find the wisdom and encouragement I need.

I am certain many of you who are reading this, are shaking your head in agreement.  But, what if I told you … we are totally wrong.  What if I said that is not the right question to be asking?  Hold on to your hats, if you are, because I am about to rock your socks.

I had an opportunity to attend an amazing conference that would forever change how I viewed the Bible.  I have never looked at a passage of scripture the same.  I study the Bible in an entirely different way.  It came from a group of very well known teachers, that a new question was posed.

You see, the scriptures are not about you and I.   The Bible is the collective story about God’s ultimate plan of redemption.

The Old Testament serves as a witness, or testimony, to how fallen God’s people are.  God gave us everything, perfect and in union with Him.  Man’s choice to go against God’s wills happened in the very beginning… when Eve and then Adam, took a bite of that forbidden fruit.  As the Old Testament unfolds, we illustration after illustration of a repetitive cycle of sin and redemption.

God sets rules.

Man breaks or can’t keep rules.

Man should be punished.

God ultimately saves them from themselves.

They thank God, renew promise to follow his rule.

They do for a while.

Then the cycle repeats itself… again and again…. and again.

Because man continually repeats this cycle, atonement has to be made for these sins.  The Gospels of the New Testament deliver to us a Savior, who will be the final lamb sacrificed for sins of a stiff necked people.  The New Testament continues, with the Good News spreading to new areas, the real life experiences believers faced, and leads us to the end… when Christ comes back for His church.

The Bible from start to finish, isn’t about you… or me… it is about Jesus Christ, our Savior.  The question we should be asking, first and foremost, when we study scripture is:

How does this passage reveal Jesus Christ to me?

Does it reveal the promise of his coming, his birth?

Does it parallel his life to death, on earth?

Does it reveal the need & promise of his sacrifice?

Does it reflect the call He puts on those who follow him?

Does it establish his person-hood, his divinity, his character, his love, his compassion, his mercy, his grace, his obedience… his example?

The Bible was written about Jesus Christ, for you. For you to see that you are not alone in your failures, that just like others in the scriptures you can be redeemed.  But that comes by first KNOWING HIM, and you will get to know Him best when you look for Him in God’s word, before you look for yourself.

I am not suggesting we don’t ever ask how it applies to our life, if that were the case there would be no need for the wisdom scriptures.  I am suggesting that before we can understand the wisdom & themes of scripture (as they apply to us), we have to understand the ONE whom the wisdom originates.  We have to understand how these pieces of scripture, stories and history relate reveal Jesus, first.

I understand that for a good portion of my readers, this a “DUH” moment.  Either because you already know it, or you are simply trying to figure out how you missed it.. it should be a given.  It is very easy for human beings to get so wrapped up in themselves or the situation they are seeking guidance through the scriptures for, that they forget to start with Jesus.

This past summer, I had an opportunity to do an in depth study of the book of Nehemiah.  It was conducted by a panel of biblical scholars; who worked independently on their assigned sections of Nehemiah, while making sure they stood in agreement as team under the Word of the scriptures.

On the surface, you could easily pull out some very “me centered” themes.

* It’s a story about a man who chose to make a difference in his community.

* It’s a story about a man who brings his community back together, back to God.

* It’s a historical point of time, regarding the city of Jerusalem.

* It’s a story about what we can accomplish, when we work together, for the glory of God.

On their own, none of these things are bad.  However, they do not truly reveal the point of the book of Nehemiah.  They don’t get to the heart of the story.  They don’t get to Jesus.

If you really take time to look through the scripture in Nehemiah, you will find that is parallels the ministry & purpose of Jesus.

The city is in ruin, the people are far from God.

Nehemiah leaves his comfortable position, with the king to go to the city & restore it.

While Nehemiah is present, restoration begins.

Nehemiah sets the example & standard.

Nehemiah returns to the king, leaving the people to continue on their own.

The people fail miserably in his absence.

Nehemiah must return.

When you look at the book of Nehemiah, with intention of revealing Jesus… it’s right there, plain as day.  You just have to get yourself out of the way to see it.  This is why, we must come to the scripture first, seeking to reveal Jesus.  It’s not about us, it’s about Him.  Always has been, always will be.

I challenge you to start looking for Jesus, when you study the word.  You will find him. 

In the next installment, we will address what the second question you should be asking is.

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OLD TESTAMENT LESSONS FOR OUR GOOD

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I have been taking classes with Christian Leaders Institute, and I am currently finishing up my Old Testament Survey class.  Before I took this class, I was already in love with the Old Testament.  I actually find it very relatable to the every day struggle we have to do what God has asked of us.  This class has really helped bring to the forefront some points I may have been glossing over.

In the Old Testament, God set out some very specific directions for Israel.  In fact, it couldn’t have been more clearly stated.  It was repeated over and over again.  It was even written down.  For all intents and purposes, there was absolutely NO REASON Israel should have had trouble understanding what was expected of her.  Yet, time and time again, Israel would fall away from those directions and do her own thing.

And, time and time again, God would send someone to set her straight.

To most people, today, they do not see the direction of God very clearly.  In fact, an overwhelming number of prayers revolve around people wanting to understand what God’s will is for their life.  Praying for his plans to be revealed to them, praying for His will to be done in a situation.  And, as Gentile believers, we didn’t get such a specific list of what we should and should be doing as Israel did.  This became a point of conversation at a council meeting amongst the disciples and elders.  They flat out admitted that they couldn’t expect the Gentiles to keep a law, that they couldn’t even keep as God’s chosen people.  So, they went into prayer & came up with a few chosen things.

Even Christ, himself, left us with two commandments.  Love God.  Love one another.

So… what does that mean about all of those rules?  What do we do? How do we follow God?    We are left having to work that out with God, one on one…. daily, hourly… minute by minute, at times.  Thankfully, we do have the Holy Spirit to convict us and guide us.

But, let’s go back to Israel in the Old Testament for a second.  Actually, lets go back to the beginning.

God created everything, including man and woman.  He set out some pretty simple rules.  Tend to the garden. Name the animals.  Have babies.  And, don’t eat from that tree over there… or you will die.  Adam and Eve were not bound to the rules that would eventually be placed upon Israel.  And, the serpent managed to derail them from the most simple set of rules ever given.

They had it easy.  They walked with God.  They didn’t have the weight of sin upon them yet.  They had NO REASON to disobey God.  But, they did.  And, it would cost them & forever changed their relationship with God.  He would no longer walk among them, as he once did.

Over time the burdens on God’s people would grow from this original sin.  And God would continually pick people to step up & save Israel from her own doing.

The world would become so wicked, that the only way to make it better would be to send a flood to wipe away all the evil… save a man and his family, whom God favored.  All evil was wiped away, yet sin remained and flourished, after the flood waters rescinded.

God would hear the cries of his people, enslaved & oppressed, and rise up a man to deliver them from the hands of their captives.  Moses would lead the nation of Israel, making a covenant with God, setting up some very clear directions and expectations.  Yet despite their deliverance from captivity, Israel couldn’t keep it together.  Every time Moses would step away to commune with God, they’d start doing their own thing again.  And even their leader wouldn’t make it to the Promised Land, because of sin.

In the time to follow, when Israel was without a leader or a king, Israel would once again go about doing her own thing.  Each man doing what was right within his own eyes, what made sense to him.  They would fall under oppression and hard times, and God would hear their cries.  He would raise up a judge to bring Israel back into the fold.  But, scripture tells us repeatedly, that as soon as the judge would die, Israel would go back to her old ways.  Doing what seemed right, in their own eyes.  Israel could only keep it together when there was a leader, headship… person of authority, in place.  And even then, they were still messing up some.

Then, when earthly kings were raised up…. sin was still abound.  Even that king, who was a man after God’s own heart, couldn’t follow the rules.  Simple rules, written out, taught by the priests, and with warnings from the prophets.

A theme here in the OT, is Israel’s inability to follow the rules.  But when you look closely, you will notice part of that theme is that they did better when they had a clearly defined leader.  But, as soon as that leader was out of the picture, they couldn’t keep it together.

Fast forward to Nehemiah.  By this point, Israel had really messed up & they were paying the price for it.  They had been taken into captivity into Babylon.  Jerusalem, the city and the temple both, were destroyed.  They were displaced and scattered.  They were breaking all sort of rules from worshiping the gods of the locals, intermarriage with people who were clearly on the “do not marry” list, they were not sacrificing for any sort of atonement, and were once again doing their own thing.  The law was forgotten.  New generations had come, and had no understanding of what God had done for Israel in the past, and what His expectations for them were.  In Ezra we learn that God softened the heart of the Persian King (who was now over Babylon) and allowed Israel to return to it’s city & rebuild it (and the temple), seeking favor from God.  They get there, come up against some opposition and everything stalls.  Then Nehemiah gets wind of what has happened, he is grieved over it, and with the permission of the king, he returns to Jerusalem and takes on the big task of putting it all back together again.  Not just the physical city, but also the people and more importantly spiritually.  They find the Book of Law and share it with the people.  Everyone is reminded of what God had done for Israel, they grieve over their sins, they renew the covenant, and everything looks great.

Then, Nehemiah goes back to the king’s house to do his job.  What happens when Nehemiah leaves?  In short order, it all falls apart.  Once again, without that leader that God raised up…. Israel can’t keep it together.

So…. after all that history lesson (LOL)… how is this relatable to us today?

While we don’t have the same Book of Law that Israel was given, there are some things we do know.

We know that were a supposed to do what is good, noble and true.  We know that we are to be honest, hard workers, ethical and moral.  We know that we are supposed to submit to God, our spouse, etc.

Yet… when the cat is away, the mice will play.

The boss is out of town?  Great, lets toss the required suits and wear jeans and tshirts all week.

Dad isn’t home?  Cool, we can bend some of his rules with the kids… right mom?

Not in church today?  No problem, go right ahead and overcharge your customer.

Teacher is absent?  No big deal, we can skip class or tell the substitute that we were going to watch a movie.

When left to our own devices, when our leadership & authority is out of sight…. we don’t follow rules.

We speed when the cops aren’t looking.

We change or relax the rules when the other parent isn’t home.

We do bare minimum work when our boss isn’t around.

And, we don’t even think twice about it.

Which is exactly why I am glad that the story didn’t end with Nehemiah.  I am so grateful for the New Testament, which gives our stiff necked, wayward selves… HOPE.  Hope that came in the form of a baby, who would walk this earth sinless, yet pay the price for the sins that had already been committed & the MANY yet to come.

When Christ left, we once again began to falter.  In fact, the two rules he left us with… Love God, love others.  We have a hard time just following those.  We are the same today, as Israel of the Old Testament.  Everyone doing their own thing, and what seems right in their own eyes.   And, just like they were waiting for a Messiah then…. we await His return now.

The truth is, we really know what we should be doing.  In many ways, it is simpler for us now (after Christ) than it was for those in the Old and New Testament during his ministry and just after.  The question is, what are you doing about it?  Are you accepting that you’ll never be perfect & making excuses and exceptions to what God wants from you?  Or, do you have an open mind, heart and soul… wholly surrendered and trying to do what God asks of you to the best of your abilities… at all times, not just when others are present?

Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference 2014- Last Installment.

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It’s here, the final installment of The Gospel Coalition 2014 Women’s Conference notes!  And here is the best part…. YOU get to be apart of all the wonderful workshops!

When you register for the conference, you actually have to PICK a handful of workshop/breakaway sessions to participate in.  It is really all that the time allows for.  The exciting thing is that the folks at TGC don’t want you to miss out, so they record a good number of the workshops.  They mostly audio recordings, but a few are video too.  All of the workshops I took are there, so instead of reading my notes… YOU CAN TAKE YOUR OWN!

Swing on over to TGC’s Resources by clicking here:  Conference Media

You will find the videos from the pre-conference, all of the Nehemiah sessions and pages of workshops.

Thank you to the folks at The Gospel Coalition for an amazing conference.  Truly touched and changed by it, God bless the work you are doing and thank you for the time you poured out onto everyone who attended!

PS:  I HIGHLY recommend the workshops Bible Tool Kit 1:  Creation to New Creation and Bible Tool Kit 2:  Rightly Handling the Word of Truth.

TGC Women’s Conference Notes, Part 6 – Nehemiah Sessions #7 (Chapter 13)

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These are my notes on the book of Nehemiah from The Gospel Coalition National Women’s Conference.  There were 7 total sessions, covering all 13 chapters.

Session 7 Notes:   Chapter 13 – Don Carson   (VIDEO: Nehemiah 13: DA Carson http://vimeo.com/100122593)

Chapter 13 –  The final chapter of Nehemiah exposes the triumph and the failure of reformation and revival.    For about 12 years Nehemiah was with the people in Jerusalem, repairing the wall, rebuilding the city and re-establishing the people.  Nehemiah returned to his duties with King Artaxerces.  While he was gone, we find once again rebellion amongst the Israelites.  They had been told, when reading the book of Moses, that they were to exclude those who were of foreign descent from the assembly.  But, while Nehemiah was gone Eliashab had allowed Tobiah (who was trying to stop the rebuild project) to live in the storerooms of the temple.   When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he found out about this, threw Tobiah and his household out, purified the rooms and returned the proper equipment to them.  The Levites were no longer being given their due portions, and had returned to their fields.  They were working on the Sabbath.  They were marrying foreign women & their children were not learning their language or customs but that of the foreigners.  Nehemiah rebuked them for breaking the law.

From Don Carson

What we learn through the final chapters of Nehemiah, is that in the end… the happy progress the Israelites were making was over.  Despite the renewed covenant, despite bringing the people together to repair the wall and city, despite restoring the tribes to their homelands, despite their promises to return to the statues of the Lord… THEY WERE INCAPABLE OF DOING SO.

What this means to us today… is that we have to learn from what went wrong.

1) There was a new legalism.  And as history has repeated itself, these people were incapable of sticking to their promises.  But since they made this covenant, their inability to keep this new covenant led them to compromise, which is sin.   On the flip side, with legalism you will have those who begin to elevate the law & their own power to abide by it.  This is arrogant and implies that you can do it on your own & don’t need God.

2) The people were valuing their relationships with people over their relationship with God.    Blood relations became more important than the blood covenant.

3) The people were not faithful to God.  They took on wives they were told not to.  They were more concerned about how they appeared to other people than to God.  They were more concerned with making money than honoring the Sabbath.  They were not taking care of their own priests like they were instructed.  They were not preserving their language and customs with their children.

In the end all Nehemiah is left with is the plea to God to remember him, his faithfulness… despite the failure of the people.

The problem today with legalism is that you have people doing godly things with the wrong motivation vs. doing for God.  People will elevate the work of the church for a time, and then later destroy it with their own hands.  Because we are incapable of following the rules, we can’t do it on our own.  We need God.

The entire point of Nehemiah is that there was sin in the beginning, sin in the middle and sin in the end.  The only way we can be saved is the arrival of Jesus in the NT.  The only way we will be delivered to the New Jerusalem is when Christ returns.

The more we increase the focus on legalism, the more disobedient we become because legalism is an impossibility.  For God’s own chosen people, those with whom He had direct relationship with… those whom He made the covenant with … COULD NOT DO IT.  It isn’t within our own strength or power.

The more we increase the focus on legalism, the more we are looking for the experience itself (the feeling of doing it) than the actual real relationship with God.

Christ is the only recipe…  God is GOOD & RIGHT … We are wicked…. Which is why we need Him, to turn our face toward Him.

We follow the same patterns as the Israelites.     We struggle.  We examine ourselves.  We confess our sins.  We ask for mercy.  God brings judgement and revival.  Until Christ returns, we will struggle.  So, we PRESS ON… BEING CONSTANTLY AWARE OF OUR NEED FOR GOD, CONFIDENCE IN HIM DESPITE OUR UNCERTAINTY.

The overall point of Nehemiah is to point us toward the need of Jesus.  The Israelites were incapable of following God’s statutes.  They rebelled with Moses.  They rebelled with Nehemiah.  Despite our best intentions, we are people who are incapable of following the law.  Because God is righteous, and allowed His people to be spared from his wrath over and over again, Jesus had to come.  It was the only way to atone for the sin, to save God’s people.  The book of Nehemiah is not about the people, or what they are capable of doing on their own or even as a community, but a reminder of what we are incapable of doing & our need for a Savior…. which ultimately reveals the righteousness of God.

Previous Related Posts:

Pre-Conference Part 1 – Male and Female, He Created Them – Speaker Panels

Pre-Conference Part 2 – Male and Female, He Created Them – Don Carson

Conference Part 3 – Nehemiah:  Sessions 1 &  2 (Chapters 1-4)

Conference Part 4 – Nehemiah: Sessions 3 & 4 (Chapters 5-8)

 

 

The Gospel Coalition, Women’s Conference:  NEHEMIAH VIDEOS

Nehemiah 1-2 Kathy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99765572

Nehemiah 3-4 Timothy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99790975

Nehemiah 5-6 Paige Brown: http://vimeo.com/99776947

Nehemiah 7-8 Nancy Guthrie: http://vimeo.com/99775551

Nehemiah 9-10: John Piper http://vimeo.com/99775552

Nehemiah 11-12 Sandom/Salt/Neilsen http://vimeo.com/100122592

Nehemiah 13: DA Carson http://vimeo.com/100122593

TGC Women’s Conference Notes, Part 5 – Nehemiah Sessions #5-6 (Ch 9-12)

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These are my notes on the book of Nehemiah from The Gospel Coalition National Women’s Conference.  There were 7 total sessions, covering all 13 chapters.

Session #5– John Piper,  Nehemiah Chapters 9 & 10   (VIDEO: Nehemiah 9-10: John Piper http://vimeo.com/99775552)

In Chapter 9 of Nehemiah we see the Israelites, those of Jewish descent, have separated themselves from the foreigners.  They read from the book of law, they confessed their sins.  First we see their humility and their reverence for God.  They acknowledge God for who He is and what He has done for them.  They recognized that God was clear and straightforward with what He asked of them.  Then they literally begin to detail out all of the times that their people, the previous generations, have rebelled against God; and also the mercy of God in each of those situations.  They acknowledged that in each instance that discipline was given, that it was just and they deserved it.  They didn’t point the fingers at others, but assumed the blame as a community.  They wanted to make binding agreement with God.

In Chapter 10 of Nehemiah there is another detailed list of everyone who signed this agreement, and what they were promising.  Reality was that this wasn’t exactly a new covenant, but instead a new generation who was agreeing to the covenant established with the forefathers.

From John Piper

The stories that are in the bible are not their for our enjoyment, like an entertaining story to share with our kids.  Instead they are there for our enjoyment of the Lord, so that we can remember and acknowledge Him, give him the glory, and truly appreciate the gift of grace we are given.  The entire point of any and every story in the Bible is to point toward Jesus.  It is the foundation, the groundwork, the steps that take place to lead us to the time of Jesus’ arrival, and the foretelling of that arrival.  It all points toward Jesus.  It’s not about Adam and Eve, it’s about Jesus.  It’s not about King David, it’s about Jesus.  It’s not about doubting Thomas, it’s about Jesus.

And, the point of the entire universe is to tell the glory of God.  History glorifies God, because it is His story.  God wrote it, produced it, directed it, acted in it… to make Himself known.  And He is known!  (Neh. 9:10)

As speakers, writers, witnesses, pastors, leaders, etc… ALL OF OUR MESSAGES ARE TO AID GOD IN MAKING A NAME FOR HIMSELF.

It is not my story or your story, it is His story.  When I am sharing my story… it isn’t about me at all. Not about myself, or my situation.  Our story is the means in which we tell others of how the hands of the Holy Spirit can change the heart of man to know God, love God and enjoy God for who He really is.

Nehemiah was in distress.  Those who love God’s people are often in distress.   Nehemiah’s people were in distress, over how they have failed to live up to God’s statues, rebelled against Him, forgot Him.  How did they handle it? They cried out to God in prayer, over 30 times.

To often when people find themselves in distress they think God put them there as discipline, some ask for help out of the situation without acknowledging they brought themselves there in the first place, some won’t cry out to God because they feel like the deserve to be in that bad place because of their actions.  BUT NONE MAY ESCAPE THE GOOD NEWS!  Jesus died for all of our sins.  We cry out to God because of who He is, no who we are or what we have done… because we all fall short.

When people feel guilt & refuse to cry out to God in prayer…. they don’t want help, because they feel the deserve the consequences of sin in their life… THEY DIMINISH THE CROSS & EXALT THEMSELVES IN THEIR SIN.

Here the Israelites are praying back to God a full retelling of everything that God has done for them.  Why? Because they needed to know that there was hope for them, and the answer was found in the history, in the stories.  It was a reminder to them not just of what God did… but reinforced the promise of what God would do.   And God keeps his promises because He is RIGHTEOUS.

In their prayers the people praised God, humbled themselves, accepted God as the standard of their living – we are image bearers, seek pity from God because they fail, reestablish the covenant & establish consequences.  Should we pray like this?  NO!  Why?  Because 1) they had the odds stacked against them already, a history of failing to live up to their promises to God.  2) They point to his righteousness & promises as a protection for their lives.   They own their faults, but they forget that God doesn’t need them in order to keep His righteousness.  He could wipe all of these people off the face of the earth & raise Abraham from the dead, create a new lineage…. and still keep His promise.

There is going to be a cycle of failure amongst God’s people until His work is done.  At the end of the OT, God has not acted to end sin or taken payment of the wages of sin.  If the OT ended at Malachi, what a terrible ending, it’s a perpetual cycle of failure, sin and rebellion.   It also illustrates God passing over the past sins of his people without holding them accountable, in order for God to be righteous he can’t allow their sins to go unpunished.  There must be atonement.  God must do something.

And, God does… in the New Testament, when Jesus Christ was sent … a Savior, a Redeemer.  He was, and is, HOPE for a stiff necked rebellious people.  At the Last Supper, Jesus creates a new covenant… bought with His blood ending the external law that demanded obedience and creating an internal spirit that moves our desires toward obedience.  Through this God made Himself known again, proving Himself true to His Word, character and very being.

Session #6- Kathleen Nielson, Jenny Salt & Carrie Sandom, Nehemiah Chapters 11 & 12   (VIDEO:  Nehemiah 11-12  http://vimeo.com/100122592)

Chapter 11 –  The Israelite leaders settled in to Jerusalem, the holy city.  Everyone else was in the surrounding towns (their ancestral property).  In order to populate the rest of Jerusalem, of these surrounding towns they began to cast lots (lottery).  One out of every ten would move into the city.  A detailed list is given of the new residents in Jerusalem from their descended tribes, through to the gatekeepers and officers.

Chapter 12 – We are given a complete list of the Priests and Levites within the community.  When the wall was completed they were called to the city to dedicate the wall.  They ceremonially cleansed themselves and then purified the people, the gates and the wall.  There was a celebration of singing (choirs giving thanks), musical instruments (as David prescribed),  made sacrifices to the Lord.  The sound of the celebration could be heard from far away.  Appointments were made for the keeping of the storehouse, tithes were taken from the people & given to the priests, who tithed from their portion to the descendants of Aaron.

From Carrie Sandom:

Again, we need to recognize that the list of names was important.  The Jews were meticulous record keepers which gives credibility to historical authenticity.  It validates how important each person and the role God has given them is to God, His story.  These names connected them to their past, as they were grouped by their tribes and forefathers.    It also served as a reminder that God had not forgotten His promises/covenant to these particular people.  It also acknowledges the collaborative effort it took to bring this city & these people back to Jerusalem, their promised land.

Lists are important.  When we are present at an event, and names are being read off a list… we listen closer… we want to hear our name, we want to be included, we don’t want to miss hearing our name called out.  We are more attentive.

With their renewed covenant, they needed to repopulate the city, rededicate the wall and reorganize the temple and storerooms.   They couldn’t just rebuild, they had to actually live there. Their willingness to sacrifice illustrates that God was at work in the people.  There was joyful anticipation within the people, they were bringing God back to the center of their lives, sacrificial system was back in place again (something that had been abandoned when they were enslaved)…. life was springing back in Jerusalem.

They will full of courage, joy and anticipation; but at this time period, people still didn’t have direct access to God (Holy of Holies, located in the temple, for the High Priest to enter only).  We should rejoice even MORE because we DO have direct access to God through Jesus!

There will be a new list of inhabitants… of the New Jerusalem.  We will be waiting, with eager anticipation… for our names to be read off that list.

From Jenny Salt:

In these chapters we watch the Israelites full of joy, anticipating the return to their ways of worship & God’s favor.

Our Joy:

1) It is God Centered:  We get our joy from His presence in our life, and from Him directly.  It’s not just about meeting in a place, like church… but also communing directly with God.

2) It Comes in Remembering God’s Faithfulness: The gospel truths help get us through our tough times.  We need to preach the Gospel to ourselves!

3) It Focuses on Thankfulness:  Joy combats depression, dispair and fear.

—–I had to leave the room during part of Jenny’s presentation, and missed some of the presentation.  The Gospel Coalition is still working on the media from the event.  I’ll post a link when available, and you will be able to catch what I missed.

From Kathleen Nielson:

People are called to move, and to do.  To celebrate, and rejoice.

We learn from the OT commands that there is an order an structure to their lives, to keep things going smoothly and in accordance with God’s will.

The Israelites were establishing this order to the city, as they were returning as inhabitants.

1) They didn’t make up these rules, but rather they were according to God’s Word

– Example… tithes and offerings, done in a certain way & on a regular basis.

2) Structure helps pass the information and traditions on to our future generations.

– Example… the order of our church services, prayers, etc. Structure = duplicatible = easy to remember = easy to teach.  It becomes habitual.

3)  When done in accordance to God’s will, structure helps focus on satisfying God… over ourselves.

–  We may want to do it another way, but by doing it God’s way, we take ourselves out of the equation & put the focus and credit on Him.

4)  Structure brings joy because it makes us dependent upon His promises.

Having order has been in existence since the beginning.  God didn’t just do everything all at once, simultaneously.  He did each step of creation independently and saw that it was good.   He took joy in each step.

As we head into Chapter 13… we will see that while their intentions were good… THEY COULD NOT DO IT.

Previous Related Posts:

Pre-Conference Part 1 – Male and Female, He Created Them – Speaker Panels

Pre-Conference Part 2 – Male and Female, He Created Them – Don Carson

Conference Part 3 – Nehemiah:  Sessions 1 &  2 (Chapters 1-4)

Conference Part 4 – Nehemiah: Sessions 3 & 4 (Chapters 5-8)

 

The Gospel Coalition, Women’s Conference:  NEHEMIAH VIDEOS

Nehemiah 1-2 Kathy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99765572

Nehemiah 3-4 Timothy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99790975

Nehemiah 5-6 Paige Brown: http://vimeo.com/99776947

Nehemiah 7-8 Nancy Guthrie: http://vimeo.com/99775551

Nehemiah 9-10: John Piper http://vimeo.com/99775552

Nehemiah 11-12 Sandom/Salt/Neilsen http://vimeo.com/100122592

 

TGC Women’s Conference Notes, Part 4 – Nehemiah Sessions #3-4 (Ch 5-8)

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These are my notes on the book of Nehemiah from The Gospel Coalition National Women’s Conference.  There were 7 total sessions, covering all 13 chapters.

Session 3 Notes:  Chapters 5 & 6 – Paige Brown   (VIDEO:  Nehemiah 5-6 Paige Brown: http://vimeo.com/99776947)

Chapter 6 – As word spread about the rebuilding of the wall, there was opposition.  There was criticism over their building technique, there was questioning about the intentions of the Jews, and insults were being slung.  Nehemiah turns to the Lord for justice.  Then the opposition decided to get more physical, plotting to come against the city in an attack.  Nehemiah turned to God for protection, and fortified the city with guards.  Then their came complaining from within the walls about the amount of work, and the threats… amongst the grumbling and threats of the opposition.  Nehemiah relied on God, reassured his people.  They kept on working on the wall, trusting God & protecting each other.

Chapter 7 – The poor speak up to Nehemiah about their conditions.  They are large families without enough food to eat, they are mortgaging off their properties for grain or selling themselves into slavery to their own people.  Nehemiah was angry and he went to the nobles and officials and chastised them for taking advantage of their own people, and ordered them to return everything & ordered them not to do it again.  The priests were brought in, so that the nobles and officials could swear and oath and understand the recourse if they broke that oath.  Nehemiah also lived out the expectations he had of others, by never taking or burdening the people.  He provided for himself, and the Jews provided for each other.  Never did he take from those who were poor or burden them to meet his needs.

From Paige Brown:

We have a need in the community, the Jewish leaders were loan sharking their own people into further poverty.  Paige references a line from the song “Amazing Grace” … Grace taught my heart to fear.   Fear of God needs to be our foundation, Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  We can know the right answers but in the wrong place/time if the fear of God is not our foundation.  (this made me think of the notion of head knowledge verses heart knowledge – gena)   Nehemiah, first and foremost has a fear of God, which gives him wisdom.  “Fear of God should be a perpetual posture, not an occasional stance” (Paige Brown).  Nehemiah also lives in the fear of the Lord, delightfully.  He doesn’t do it because it is a requirement or begrudgingly.  He lives that way because he wants to, he loves God.

This “fear” of the Lord is rooted in Genesis, when the relationship between man & God was broken, in the garden.  Adam and Eve were genuinely afraid of God, because they went against his instruction.  But this fear grows in a fear of relationship restoration.  Meaning, at first the fear was akin to a servents fear… like you would have of a prison guard or a slave master. But then it grows into a familial fear, like you would have of your respected father.  A fear of displeasing the one who loves you and is in authority.  Isaiah 33 calls it a treasured fear.

Nehemiah knows that part of loving the Lord is loving his people.  It is why Nehemiah prays for his people, intercedes on behalf of the poor.  Nehemiah left everything to come an serve God’s people.  He was concerned not just for the sake and welfare of the poor, but also for the heart condition of the nobles and officials who were taking advantage of them.  It wasn’t just about justice for the poor, but restoring the heart of the leaders toward their people.  Fear of God will determine how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Nehemiah was a person who not only recognized that action needed to be taken, but he took it.  CS Lewis commented that he more he felt inclined to act without actually acting on it, the harder it will be to act.  (sort of like the longer it takes to apologize to someone or return something stolen or admit to a sin… the harder it is to actually do it -gena)

Nehemiah’s priorities were God’s priorities. He knew the people’s unity was more important than the building project.  He paused that progress in order to restore unity. Otherwise they were merely “building external walls of protection around internal corruption” (Paige Brown).

Nehemiah didn’t fear God because he was a great man. He feared God because He is a great GOD!   “Fear of God is not contemplation, but motivation.” (Paige Brown)

Additionally, we see that Nehemiah was humble.  He didn’t advertise his actions to the people, there was no gloating… no boasting, no seeking accolades or recognition.  He simply prayed that God would remember it.  He couldn’t care less if men remembered him & his deeds. He only cared that God did.  He didn’t use the things of the Lord to self promote.   In fact, even our need to advertise our relationship with God can be an act of self promotion, if we are doing it to glorify ourselves and our ability.

In regards to his enemies, Nehemiah never took action against them or sought justice on his own.  He prayed that God would handle it, and he trusted that God would.

Nehemiah’s greatest fear was not death, but offending God.  “Fear of sinning is our only rational fear” (Paige Brown).  Fear of the Lord helps us to overcome our earthly “fears”.

Twas grace that taught me how to fear, and grace my fears relieved…

Session 4 Notes:  Chapters 7 & 8 – Nancy Guthrie    (VIDEO: Nehemiah 7-8 Nancy Guthrie: http://vimeo.com/99775551)

Chapter 7 – The wall is completed, the doors are put in place.  Nehemiah starts making appointments for gatekeepers, citadel commanders, and guards.  The houses and internal structures still needed to be built/repaired, and there were not many inhabitants.  Nehemiah assembles the people that are there to do a registration of the families that had been exiled and returned.  The people began to settle into their own towns.

Chapter 8 – 7 months later, the people assembled and asked Ezra to read from the Book of the Law of Moses.  So Ezra and the Levites did so, from sun up to sun down, they read and gave instruction so the meaning would be clear.  The people were mourning and weeping over their own inadequacy and failures.  They were instructed not to but to celebrate because this was a sacred day.   On the second day, the people returned and upon hearing the instructions for the feast of booths, the people were inspired to follow the law & do so.  For seven days they celebrated this feast & reading from the Book of Law, with joy because they were in accordance with God’s direction/plan.  On the 8th day an assembly was called.

From Nancy Guthrie:

The joy of the Lord is your strength.

Paige Brown shared that the fear of the Lord is our foundation.  Nehemiah 8:10 tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength.

Nehemiah’s concern is the Lord’s joy… and the Lord has directed Nehemiah to rebuild the city.  It is the knowledge that this will bring joy to God that gives Nehemiah the strength to do the task. To rebuild the city physically, the walls and buildings.  But also to repair the nation, bringing the people back into the city & retuning to their God & His commands.

He rescued us from the slavery of sin.  He delivered us from our desert of wandering to safety & security. The joy of the Lord will strengthen us to live in obedience to His word, to move forward to do the tasks He requires, to take His provisions given to us and share them with the world.

One of the important things we see in scripture are these detailed lists of names, from genealogical records to those were present at certain events or times.  This is illustrates to us that God’s people are not nameless faces, He knows them and lists them in His Word.  They are important to Him.  We are important to Him, and His joy should be important to us.  The joy of the Lord is that our names will be listed in the Book of Life… in the new Jerusalem (Rev 21).  And one day, we too will listen to the list of the names in His book and find joy too… as our names are read aloud.

*Unfortunately, I had to leave the room for part of Nancy’s presentation.  So, my notes are limited.  The Gospel Coalition is working on the media from the conference & you will be able to watch Nancy’s presentation for yourself.  I’ll post a link as soon as it is available.

 

Previous Related Posts:

Pre-Conference Part 1 – Male and Female, He Created Them – Speaker Panels

Pre-Conference Part 2 – Male and Female, He Created Them – Don Carson

Conference Part 3 – Nehemiah:  Sessions 1 &  2 (Chapters 1-4)

 

The Gospel Coalition, Women’s Conference.   NEHEMIAH VIDEOS

Nehemiah 1-2 Kathy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99765572

Nehemiah 3-4 Timothy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99790975

Nehemiah 5-6 Paige Brown: http://vimeo.com/99776947

Nehemiah 7-8 Nancy Guthrie: http://vimeo.com/99775551

 

TGC Women’s Conference Notes, Part 3 – Nehemiah Sessions #1-2 (Ch 1-4)

gc2014

These are my notes on the book of Nehemiah from The Gospel Coalition National Women’s Conference.  There were 7 total sessions, covering all 13 chapters.

Session #1 – Kathy Keller, Nehemiah Chapters 1 & 2   (VIDEO:  Nehemiah 1-2 Kathy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99765572)

Nehemiah is an OT Narrative, it is basically Nehemiah’s journal of from that time period.  Israel at this time was a weak conquered remnant.

In Chapter 1, Nehemiah gets word about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile and the state of Jerusalem.  It wasn’t pretty.  The city itself was broken down, damaged.  So were it’s people.  Nehemiah is pained by this news.  He prays to God.  His prayer consists of 1st praise, then confession, then glory to God, and then asking for God’s favor.  This prayer was not a one time event, rather Nehemiah prayed for 4 months.  Until the Lord guided him to act.

In Chapter 2, Nehemiah (who is cupbearer to King Artaxerxes) presents his concerns about his people to the king, when asked why he looked so sad.  King Artaxerxes favored Nehemiah and not only granted his request to go to his people, but also his requests for provisions and provided protection for him.  Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and assessed the situation.  At first he kept his plans to himself.  Once he was able to survey the lands and determine a plan of action, he then shared what God had put on his heart.  The people were ready to work.   Although there were some that stood against him.

From Kathy Keller:

We have prayer from Nehemiah that can be summed up with:  If it will glorify you, then I am ok with it.

When Nehemiah got the word about Jerusalem & it’s condition, he had two choices… a bad reaction or a godly reaction.

The back story here, the history, is that Jerusalem was in ruins, Nebuchadnezzar took the Israelites captive. Time passes Cyrus has compassion for the people & wants favor with their God so he allows them to rebuild the temple (2 Chr 36:22-23) But then Artaxerxes stops the rebuilding progress due to the influence of his counsel.  Remnants of Israel begin to intermarry, their worship practices end.  (Ezra 4-6:10)

Now Nehemiah is a man who understands God’s Word, he sees the bigger picture.  He doesn’t just try to fix the circumstance, he recognizes it is more than just building the temple.  Restoration to the people needs to happen too.  Nehemiah leaps to action by praying.

Nehemiah is 1 small story, in the larger story of Jesus.  It’s a redemption story.  From ruin to renewal.

The Bible is not about us.  It’s not there to access to understand our circumstances.  It is there for Jesus and about how God deal with the world.  We do not need to be feeding our soul with artificial inspiration and toxic devotionals that have no value, aka “Soul Junk Food”.  We need the meat and milk of HIS ACTUAL WORD.

(my personal note…. the devotions I read and write need to be pointed to Jesus, not me… not my circumstances, unless ultimately GOD is glorified through it)

Nehemiah didn’t need a devotion, a fleece or a sign.  He was a man who knew God’s word & took action in that confidence to enable his peopleto be what GOD needed them to be.  Nehemiah didn’t negotiate with God (do this, then I will…).  He just did what God required of him. (I will, so God can…)

In his prayer, Nehemiah was interceding on behalf of Israel.  It wasn’t the first time either, Moses would do it frequently.

After his 4 months of prayer, God set Nehemiah on a fast track of action.  There was opposition, but Nehemiah went for broke.   He had confidence in God, so he had no qualms about asking the King for more provisions/assistance.  He was called.  He went.  Action was needed.  Action was taken.  When God calls you to action, it is often because you see a need others don’t.

Nehemiah was taking radical action based on his knowledge of God’s Word & for the redemption of his people.

Parallels to Jesus…  Nehemiah was with the king, in the comfort, safety and luxury of the palace.  (Jesus was in Heaven, with God).  Nehemiah assessed the situation and prayed before starting his work. (Jesus walked the earth for thirty years before starting his ministry).  He put himself at risk for Jesus.  (And Jesus put himself at risk, for us, and paid the ultimate price).

Additionally what is important to this story is that this HAD TO HAPPEN.  Nehemiah needed to restore Jerusalem and his people, otherwise there would be no Jewish culture/society that would need Jesus.  It would have been entirely lost.  They had to get back in the sight of God, so that God could redeem the people.

“God’s people do not need to be a powerful culture or in a powerful position to be obedient & accomplish his purpose in the world.  All they need is to be faithful.  He will accomplish it.” (Kathy Keller, The Gospel Coalition Women’s National Conference 2014, Nehemiah 1&2)

Session #2 – Timothy Keller, Nehemiah Chapters 3 & 4   (VIDEO:  Nehemiah 3-4 Timothy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99790975)

In Chapter 3 is essentially the delegation of work for the rebuilding of the wall.  Each portion of the wall is built by a specific group, basically repairing the portion of the wall that was was closest to their house.  The chapter details out that the people doing the work were made up of all classes and genders.   All of society was represented.

In Chapter 4 we see the opposition that they face in doing so.

From Timothy Keller:

Nehemiah left the safety of his position with the king, to do what God called him to accomplish.   The wall was the first thing build, to protect his people from those who would oppose the rebuilding process.  This is a parallel to salvation, like the walls of a city, protecting us from sin. (Isa. 26:1)

Keep in mind that we are not building walls to keep non-believers out, to be separated.  NO.  We are building walls of safety, and we are bringing the people into the city, into citizenship.  The gates are open.

Moses was often working for God without the cooperation of the community, they were easily swayed and distracted.  Yet here we see a full community, working together for the greater good.  This is a progression of redemption toward Holiness.  All of us, working together… The whole people of God doing the ministry.  We become living stones in a temple. (Eph 2, 1 Peter 2).

Nehemiah points to the future.   We all have a ministry.  We are one people, united.  All with gifts and talents to be used for HIS glory within our community.  The early churches grew through evangelism, not due to great pastors and preachers.  It grew because EVERYONE did it.  Studies, readings, prayer groups, etc.

We are unified as Christians first, our nationality/position comes second.   Just as all the different classes & positions & genders joined with Nehemiah to rebuild the wall, we must be unified as Christians FIRST in the calling God has laid before us.  It bonds us together, regardless of our individual identity.

In Chapter 4, when they face the opposition to the rebuilding from the outsiders… it says they were despised and insulted.  The response was prayer and then posting a guard.  This points us toward the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

They prayed, first (God’s sovereignty) .  They posted guards, second (human responsibility).

Jesus was sacrificed by God (God’s sovereignty) .  But, he was crucified by wicked hands (human responsibility).

When things happen:   God is in charge (God’s sovereignty).  What you do matters (human responsibility).

Just as Nehemiah and the Israelites were despised and insulted, we will also be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12). This side of the cross we have an opportunity to forgive that Nehemiah didn’t…. when people slander us, insult us, hurt us.

“Take the hit to your reputation, because I [Jesus] took more for you”   (Timothy Keller, The Gospel Coalition Women’s National Conference 2014, Nehemiah 3&4))