Rededicating Lives

Read. Study. Mourn. Celebrate. Repent. Promise.

The bible is full of interesting, life-changing information. For instance, we know that Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. Adam gave Eve a rib; Eve gave Adam an apple, then made a wonderful marinated BBQ ribs out of apple sauce. This is found in the book of Guinness.

After the book of Guiness comes the book of Exodus. The Israelites became upset with the Egyptians because the Pharaoh made them make their beds without straw. Then Moses led the Israelites to the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Later, Moses went up Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Amendments which were also known as manners from heaven. Sadly, Moses died before ever reaching Canada, which Joshua conquered during the battle of Geritol.

After the book of Exodus is the book of Laxatives which tells us what we can and cannot eat. Lunch today is at Thai Spice Buffett, by the way.

I know this was silly but the reason it’s silly is because, at least in these examples, we know what the bible really says. But the bible is a big book. Do you know what it really says?

God shows his glory in many ways, through the wonders of the heavens to the tiny miracle in a simple leaf of grass. The wonders we see tell us there is a God – but a leaf of grass cannot tell us “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” or “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” God speaks to us through his Word, God-breathed through men as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

If you don’t know the Word yourself, then you can be easily misled. Let me ask you some questions and see how you do. Let’s take a little quiz –

Question 1: House and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from
a) patience
b) God
c) man’s labor.
(Answer: Proverbs 19:14, Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from the Lord.)

Question 2: Christians are persecuted but not
a) depressed
b) suffering
c) abandoned.
(Answer: 2 Corinthians 4:9, Persecuted but not abandoned).

Question 3: Which phrase originated in the bible?
a) Make hay while the sun shines
b) Eat, drink, and be merry
c) In the nick of time.
(Answer: Luke 12:19, Eat drink and be merry. Taken out of context, by the way.)

Question 4: Which expression originated in the bible?
a) fly in the ointment
b) rule of thumb
c) dyed in the wool.
(Answer: Ecclesiastes 10:1, fly in the ointment.)

Question 5: Which expression is *not* in the bible?
a) Money is the root of all evil
b) God helps those who help themselves
c) without rhyme or reason.
(A: Actually none of those are in the bible.)

If you don’t know what’s in the bible, how do you know what God says? How do you know if a preacher is telling the truth? If a preacher tells you to turn to Matthew 27:5, “Judas went and hanged himself,” then tells you to turn to Luke 10:37, “Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” will you follow the scripture as told to you by man?

I like Dr. Young; he teaches from the bible, relies heavily on scripture. He preaches on joy, responsibility, peace, promises from God. How many of you have ever read of Fred Phelps? If you have a weak constitution, don’t google him. He, too, preaches from the bible, but a completely different message. Fred Phelps says Jesus only died for those who believe. John 3:16, “”For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He says that “God loves everyone” is the greatest lie ever told and backs it up with scripture about they type of people God hates. He and his church of about 100 people protest at the funerals of soldiers, saying it is their duty to warn others of God’s anger. President Bush recently signed “the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act” which prevent protest within 300 feet of cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral because of Fred Phelps. Fred Phelps runs a website targeting homosexuals as the worthy of God’s wrath and that the world is doomed because of them. He and his church have been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Who is right, Dr. Young or Fred Phelps? And how do you know since they both quote scripture? When I first became a Christian, I read a lot of Max Lucado books. I found his books inspiring and comforting. But I realized I wasn’t relying on God’s Word – I was relying on what somebody else said God was saying. Why would I think Max is a better source for what God says than God Himself is? The only way to discern between truth and lies is to go directly to God for the answers.

In the book of Nehemiah – oh, yes, we’re studying the book of Nehemiah today. Last week Fred located our place in history – after the relocation from Babylon, after laying the foundation of the temple, and brought us up to rebuilding the walls for protection and how stressed out that made Nehemiah. And now it’s the next day.

The Israelites have had some tough times. They have repeatedly over the last few hundred years demonstrated disobedience to God, and God’s wrath brings them back to righteousness. The destruction of Jerusalem had taught them the importance of obeying God, and the struggles of rebuilding the walls of the city had reinforced this lesson. God’s people were learning the importance of God’s Word.

Now, the Old Testament was not yet complete in Nehemiah’s time. The first 5 books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were the only books recognized at the time as divine revelation. To the Israelites, the heart of the events in these 5 books were God’s description of Himself, such as Exodus 34:6-7, “And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” God’s judgment, wrath, redemption, and laws all flow naturally from God’s own character. The Hebrew word for “law” is torah, and it comes from a verb that means “to throw or shoot.” The idea is that the torah comes from a higher authority, a memo from the boss like “Please note our business hours are from 8am to 5pm. Be at your desk and ready to work by 8:00am or you’re fired.” That sort of torah. The torah can be used for teaching, for instruction, or decisions, from raising children to how to get along with your neighbor. Some of these legal codes were very general in nature, like the Ten Commandments. They are very broad, apply to everyone, and no specific penalty or consequence is attached. Some are very specific, like jaywalking, and applied the Ten Commandments to a specific case and the penalty that goes with it.

In the eight chapter of Nehemiah, Israelites were concerned they would repeat the mistakes of their ancestors, and consequently God’s written Word had become quite important. Without knowing God’s word, they were doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. In our time, the bible is the best selling book ever, every year. At least 20 million bibles are sold every year in the US alone. Worldwide sales of the top 8 best selling bibles sell well over 100 million bibles a year. Then add the bible distributed freely and for missions – the Gideons distribute 70 million bibles every year, and the Bible Society, biblesociety.org, distributes nearly 400 million bibles or portions of the bible every year.

But in Nehemiah’s time, there was no way to mass produce the torah. No neighborhood Kinko’s. Scripture was copied by hand onto expensive parchment scrolls and took years to produce a single copy. So how do you get the word out to all of God’s people?

Nehemiah 8:1, I almost got distracted from the lesson when I was working on Nehemiah 8:1. This book starts in the middle of a sentence. The first half of the sentence ends at the bottom of Nehemiah 7. Must be an English translation thing. Let’s read Nehemiah 8:1-3

all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Notice that it was the people asking Ezra to read the scripture. They had been in captivity for 70 years and public speaking of the Word was probably prohibited. They were eager to hear what God had to say. “All the people assembled as one man” shows the unity and reverence of the people for the law. This was important stuff! If you don’t want a smiting from the Lord again, better find out why the Lord has been smiting! Ezra brought the Law of Moses out to the people and conducted a great bible reading from sunup to noon, at least 5 hours straight, and all the people, those who were able to understand, listened attentively.

Can you imagine standing and listening to the bible for 5 hours straight? I could teach for 5 hours straight, I think, and the miracle is that all of you will live forever. Or at least it’ll seem that way to you.

The value of listening to the Word of God for 5 hours straight is enormous. I demonstrated earlier how scripture can be extracted piecemeal to prove almost any point you want, but when the scripture is read continuously in a long session, the biblical context is clear. We are untainted by somebody else’s vision, we hear God’s word directly, we can get a better understanding of why a particular sentence exists, and we have a better understanding of how to apply it to our lives. This is powerful. Hebrews 4:12 says the word of God is active, sharper than a two edged sword. It opens our heart and lays bare our soul before God. It exposes our sin to the Lord, it convicts us. We cannot make excuses to the Lord for a selfish sin we want to keep when we read God’s word directly into our hearts. We begin to see our own sinful actions laid bare next to God’s perfect Word. Do we justify lust to ourselves? Is it ok for us men to ogle other women, is it harmless? Is a little flirting with the opposite sex ok as long as nothing comes of it? Is it ok for a woman to explain to her husband what he’s doing wrong, to criticize him, to use her tongue as a whip, after all, she’s just trying to make her husband a better person. The answer to both of these questions is in here, the bible. We can justify it to ourselves that we’re good decent people, we cannot justify it God. He does not entertain our excuses; He judges and He convicts in His loving and perfect way.

The people gathered near the Water Gate which was on the southeastern side of Jerusalem, between the temple mount and the Gihon spring. If the reading of the Word was held in the temple, Mosaic Law limited entrance to the inner court to men. The people gathered outside so men, women, and the older children could hear and understand. Previously, worship consisted almost entirely of sacrificial worship to the Lord, but during the rebuilding of the temple, a new form of worship began that consisted of public reading and teaching of scripture. The location outside the temple emphasizes that the people needed to understand that faithful obedience in daily life was far more important than mere attendance at temple services and offering sacrifices. Sacrificial worship, of course, still took place, but the addition of reading and teaching enabled people to realize the true nature of scripture. Scripture originates with God, not man. The people referred to the first five books as the Law of Moses, but they believed God had given them to Israel. 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 says the bible is God-breathed, inspired by God, and did not come about because of man’s will. Through scripture, God speaks to humanity and reveals Himself to us. This was true in Nehemiah’s time and it’s true today.

Nehemiah 8:4-5 describes the scene and the amount of preparation they put into it. A high wooden platform was built specially for the occasion, and Ezra the scribe stood on it surrounded by 13 men. This allowed Ezra’s voice to project farther and clearer. Ezra opens the torah parchment in full view of all the people, and all the people stood up in reverence. Before reading, Ezra praises God, our Father, the Lord Almighty, and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then the people bowed down with their faces to the ground and worshipped the Lord.

In preparation for hearing the Word, the people first lifted their hands. The lifting of the hands was symbolic during prayer; in Ezra and Psalms 28:2, lifting of the hands symbolized their dependence on God to supply all their needs.

Second, the worshippers said a double “amen.” Sometimes I hear preachers use “amen” like a question. “We’re all going to attend Wednesday night service, amen?” That irritates me; “amen” has a particular meaning that the preacher is misusing. And if he’s misusing a single word, is he misusing the rest of the bible? The Greek Old Testament usually translates “amen” to mean, “So be it” or “truly.” The Jews are taught that “Amen” means “God who is trustworthy.” It’s a statement that this is perfect truth. Jesus refers to Himself in Revelation as “the Amen, the faithful and true witness.” Amen is not a word to be taken lightly. The worshippers said a double amen because they recognized they were going to hear the truth of the Lord firsthand, and they were acknowledging their responsibility to obey the Word they were about to hear.

Thirdly, they bowed down and worshipped with their face toward the ground. People bowed before rules, before kings, to show their submission to one in authority. They recognized God’s authority over them.

In verse 7 & 8, the people are ready to receive God’s Word. Ezra is up high on the platform where everybody can see. The Levitical priests are among the crowd, and as Ezra reads the Word, the priests repeat the Word, then help make the Word clear to the people. “Do you understand?” Sort of like in Acts 8 where the apostle Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch and asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

After hearing the Word, let’s look at verse 9,

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

Q: Why do you suppose the people were weeping after hearing the Law read to them?

The people, upon hearing the Word, realize that they have been disobedient to God. The light of the Word does that, it shines on our sin, revealing it. Once it is revealed, we can repent. Too often we try to do it the other way around – we try to repent first, and then come to God. But we need to see our sin as God sees our sin, not as we would like to see our own sin. We sort of scrub ourselves up a little and think we’re clean, but we can still grow potatoes behind our ears. The Word of God shines into places in our soul we can’t reach on our own.

You know that song they sing at 11:11, “Come Just As You Are?” That’s the way God wants us to come, dirty sins and all. You can’t clean yourself up good enough to get to heaven. Bring your sins to God, confess them, and God will give you the strength and wisdom to clean you. God will do a much better job of cleaning your soul than you can do on your own.

God has a plan for each and every one of us. The plan God has for you is unique; the plan God has for me is unique. To find the unique plan God has for you, you have to read and ask your own tough questions. And when you read God’s plan for you, you cannot help but realize that you’re not quite measuring up to God’s standard. In fact, we’re downright disobedient sometimes. When questioned, we’re all quick to say, “Oh, I’m not perfect.” We’re dismissive of it, it’s no big deal. Well, ok, so how, precisely, are you imperfect? How are you being disobedient, how are you missing the mark God has planned for you? What is your sin? Don’t trivialize it. Recognize it. No matter how small the sin is, it offends God. If you’re not sure what sin you have, as Dr. Young says, just guess. You’ll probably get it right the first time.

So Nehemiah’s people are upset, crying, weeping, as they realize how far short of God’s will they had fallen. But let’s look back at verse 2 for a second. What day is this? It’s the first day of the seventh month. Let’s hop over to Leviticus 23:23-25, which describes the Feast of Trumpets:

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.’ “

First they were weeping because they were convicted of their sin; now they find out even the weeping on this particular day is a sin. Talk about opening the floodgates. This is a holy day, a Sabbath day. A day made for rest, a day made for feasting. It’s a day for celebration. Sort of like crying on Christmas, it’s just not right.

I think this is reflective of how we should live as Christians. We should read the bible to be convicted of our sin – but why should this conviction lead to misery? Why should it a bad things to discover something in ourselves that doesn’t meet God’s standards? We know already that we are not perfect, so why should imperfection make us weep?

Question: What is the value in confessing our sins? Why does God think confessing our sins is important?

Instead, it should be an opportunity. Celebrate! With the Lord’s guidance, our sin has been revealed to us. If we repent of our sin, hurray! That’s a step towards righteousness, a better person for the Lord. Instead of being upset that we’re not perfect, praise the Lord that He has revealed our iniquities. That’s just what the Israelites did – they celebrated. Look at verse 12, “Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” So rejoice at the Word of God that shows us our imperfections. Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.” 1 John 1:4, “And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.” God doesn’t want you to have a little fun, He wants you to have a whole lot of fun reading and studying His word. If you’re not having fun when you read the bible, something isn’t quite right. Ask the Lord to help. Go to Him in prayer and ask Him. Say, “Lord, I want your Word to bring joy to my life. Show me why I am not joyful, remove whatever keeps me from joy when I study your word.” God will answer that prayer when you are honestly praying to God for His will in your life.

In Nehemiah 9, two and a half weeks later, the people returned to assemble together. They spent the day fasting to help them become attuned to God speaking to them. They wore sackcloth as a sign of humility, like wearing uncomfortable burlap against your bare skin. They put dust on their heads, which was a sign of mourning, they way we wear black at funerals. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. They did not blame their fathers for their trouble, but acknowledging that sins are passed from one generation to another. The children duplicate the sins their fathers taught them, and it’s passed from generation to generation until either repentance or judgment comes.

The people were serious about their study. This wasn’t a half hour bible study that has to last us for a week. They read from the bible for three hours, then spent the next 3 hours confessing their sins and worshipping the Lord. “Blessed be your glorious name,” they praised Him.

Now starting in Nehemiah 9, verse 6, they recap the entire bible. You want the Cliff Notes version of the Old Testament, here it is. From creation to Abraham to the exodus out of Egypt and the miracles against the Pharoah, just read Nehemiah 9, you get all the headlines. And then to summarize, they give praise to God for His mercy and judgment. In verse 38, they make a binding agreement and put it in writing, and all the leaders signed it; they’re all listed in Nehemiah 10. I’m not going to read these names, but they’re impressive. Perhaps if you or a relative is going to have a baby, I could recommend one of these names, like Meshullam or Shebeniah. In Nehemiah 10:28, the rest of the people signed a binding agreement:

“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand- all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.”

My, all of this from reading the bible. These were God’s chosen people, but they realized how far short of the mark they had fallen.

Question: Why is rededication to God sometimes necessary?

Ponder something for a moment: what sort of covenant do you have with God? If you sat down and penned a letter to God with the promises you make to the almighty Creator, what sort of things would you promise to do? What sort of things would you promise not to do? Would you be willing to write it down on a piece of paper? “Dear Lord, I promise to… Dear Lord, I promise not to… “. And then sign your name to it? People sign up for a lot of things – a lease on their apartment, a loan on a car – and then they sign their name to it. What sort of changes do you need to make in your life to align your life with God’s will? What sort of promise are you willing to make to God?

The Israelites read the bible and were filled with the Word of God. They realized they were hypocrites, claiming to be good people while sinning against the Lord. They wept and mourned and were convinced of their sin. They rejoiced and celebrated that the Lord was with them and He was merciful to them in their sin. They praised God, they studied some more, and they made a personal promise to God to obey the Lord, all the commands and decrees. And then they signed their name to it, Amen. Consider this week doing the same. Read. Study. Mourn. Celebrate. Repent. Promise. Then, write a letter to the Lord and sign your name to it. I recommend placing this letter in your bible, right here in Nehemiah 10, where you’ll eventually read it again. See how the Lord will work in your life.

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