The city of God-10-Sing praises to the Lord (6 July 2014)

Nehemiah - The city of God - 10 - Sing praises to the Lord

In the film “The Blues Brothers”, when Elwood asks the wife of the owner of ‘Bob’s Country Bunker’;

“Er… what kind of music do you usually have here?”

She answers

“Oh, we got both kinds. We got Country, and Western.”

Click image for Sunday's service sheetWhat kind of music do you enjoy most?

For Christians, Christian music should form a big part of our music listening. There’s something wrong when we enjoy music and listen to lots of different types of music, if we don’t have a good proportion of that being Christian music that expresses our praise to God.  If we’re seeking joy from music, and we leave God out of that process, there is something imbalanced, wrong, dysfunctional.

Nehemiah celebrated the finishing of the walls and their dedication to God through music and song.  They celebrated:

“with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, rwith cymbals, harps, and lyres.”  (Nehemiah 12:27)

“God had made them rejoice with great joy… And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”  (Nehemiah 12:43)

Christians have much to celebrate and thank God for.  We too should sing praises to God, with great joy, because of what he has done for us in Christ Jesus.

Following the Good Shepherd (20 July 2014)

Following the Good Shepherd

Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11, NLT)

This is in contrast to the other leaders of the people in the past who were bad leaders/shepherds (Ezekiel 34:2-4).

Click image for Sunday's service sheetHowever, while many people like to be comforted by the words of Psalm 23, the blessings outlined in it are conditional.  Just like the sheep follow their shepherd, so too those who want the blessings from the Good Shepherd must follow him.

Just like in Jesus’ time, so too today sheep respond to the voice of their shepherd.  One person recounts:

“…seeing many flocks mingled at a watering place. When one shepherd was ready to leave he simply walked away, making a certain sound. Immediately, his sheep separated themselves from the others and followed him. His sheep followed him because they knew his voice.” (Herschel H. Hobbs, My Favorite Illustrations (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1990), 157.)

The blessings of Psalm 23 are clear and comforting.  But in order to experience them, we need to be followers of Jesus:

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,” (John 10:14, NLT)

To have that relationship with the Good Shepherd, to start to follow him, we need to place our trust in him for forgiveness of sins, and for eternal life.  Jesus gave up his life for us, and we ought to believe and trust in him.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11, NLT)

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NLT)

The city of God-11-Works without faith is doomed! (13 July 2014)

Nehemiah - The city of God - 11 - Works without faith is doomed

James teaches us that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).

The message from Nehemiah 13 is that ‘works without faith is doomed’.

That is, we cannot keep up godly living, unless we have a living faith to sustain is.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetIf someone says that they have faith, but there is no evidence of godly living in their life, then James 2:20 tells us that that faith is useless, ineffective, dead.  There are many people who claim to be Christians, people who claim to have trusted in Jesus for forgiveness at some time in the past, but who show no practical difference in their daily lives.  While only the Lord truly knows the heart of each person, James tells us that as a generalisation we cannot have any confidence that someone who is living in this way is actually a Christian.  As the saying goes; if you were in court accused of being a Christian, would there be any evidence to convict you?  If there is no good evidence, then the only conclusion is that such a person isn’t really a believer after all, despite their experiences or claims.

But the last chapter of Nehemiah teaches the same thing in a different way.  The exiles had returned, and the city of Jerusalem had had its Temple and walls rebuilt.  However, no matter how many reforms Nehemiah had instutited, or how blessed the people were through the restoration of Jerusalem, they could not keep it up without faith.  After Nehemiah came back from working away from Jerusalem, he found that standards had slipped, sin had taken hold, and the people were not living as they ought to have before God.  The lesson is that, after returning from exile, just like before it, the Israelites would inevitably slip down into sin, no matter how much they were encouraged or commanded to obey the Lord.  Commands to go good works will fail, unless mixed with faith.

Since this chapter of Nehemiah describes the last state of Jerusalem and the Israelites, chronologically in the Old Testament, we can conclude that the Old Covenant had failed, and a better covenant was needed.  This was no surprise to God, as he was preparing the New Covenant already.  People can only please God when they have faith in Jesus Christ and walk by the Spirit (Romans 8:5-8).  Nehemiah 13 highlights the failure of the Israelites trying to live without faith, although some exceptions like Nehemiah nevertheless were living by faith even during the Old Covenant (like Abraham and others too, as described in Romans 4).

Faith without works is dead, but so too works without faith is dead.

 

The city of God-9-Two steps to blessing-confess and conform (29 June 2014)

Nehemiah - The city of God - 9 - Two steps to blessing - confess and conform

“If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 18:5, NLT)

There is life and peace through following the righteous requirements of the law (Romans 8:4).  But how can a sinner please God and keep the heart of God’s law?  How can someone who is imperfect find life?

Click image for Sunday's service sheetThe answer is in two steps:

Firstly, confess your sins to God, trusting that Jesus died on the cross so that you can be forgiven.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NLT)

Secondly, turn from sin and conform to God’s standard of holiness.  This is not possible for us naturally, but it is possible when we walk in the Spirit, trusting in the power of God to live the life that we ought to live, instead of trusting in our own feeble, fallible and futile strength of our natural but sinful character or nature.  Praise God that we can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).  And that God does powerful things in us, through the power of his Spirit:

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21, NLT)

The ‘obedience of faith’ (Romans 1:5) is possible for those who confess their sins and trust in Jesus, and conform to God’s will in their lives.  Praise God!

The city of God-8-The joy of the Lord is your strength (22 June 2014)

Nehemiah - The city of God - 8 - The joy of the Lord is your strength

The law foretold of blessing if God’s people would obey him, but discipline in the form of exile if they disobeyed him.

The pattern of successive judges and then kings was sin, repentance, blessing, greater sin, until eventually their sin was so persistent that they were exiled.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetBut the law also promised for blessing after exile, so Nehemiah encouraged the people not to be sad.  They were to repent of their sins, and by joyful in the Lord.  The joy of the Lord was their strength, and can be ours too if we trust in him.

“The joy of the LORD is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Habakkuk also found joy in the Lord, even if there should be little else to bring him joy:

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (For the choir director: This prayer is to be accompanied by stringed instruments.)” (Habakkuk 3:17–19, NLT)

The city of God-7-Don’t give in to fear (15 June 2014)

Nehemiah - The city of God - 7 - Dont give in to fear

Have you ever been afraid of something?

When I first saw you, I was afraid to talk to you.
When I first talked to you, I was afraid to like you.
When I first liked you, I was afraid to love you.
Now that I love you, I’m afraid to lose you.

- Yesenia Ann Peralez

This person was afraid of one thing after another, living in fear instead of rejoicing.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetSometimes we too as Christians can live in fear instead of the living in the joy of the Lord.

Nehemiah could have lived in fear, because there was a lot to be afraid of, but instead he trusted in the Lord and persisted in doing his work for the Lord, despite constant opposition.

“Opposition is a fact: the Christian who is not conscious of being opposed had better watch himself for he is in danger.” (J. I. Packer, Knowing God)

“Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12, NLT)

Yet, Christians must persevere despite opposition:

“God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” (Matthew 5:10–11, NLT)

Be encouraged…

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” (Romans 5:3–4, NLT)

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT)

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NLT)

The city of God-6-Bear each other’s burdens (8 June 2014)

Nehemiah - The city of God - 6 - Bearing each others burdensSocial injustices were just below the surface, like in many societies still today.  But a good leader like Nehemiah shouldaddress such issues head on, once they are alerted to them.

Nehemiah reformed the injustices that the people were suffering, generally from within their own community.  He reestablished justice and fairness, as well as continuing to work on the project of building the city walls.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetHowever, the main way that we can see social and other injustices put right is through entering into a new kingdom where truth, justice, peace, love and mercy dominate.  That can be experienced here and now through faith in Jesus Christ, but mostly in the future where there will be a kingdom under God where there will be no more sin, sorrow, pain, any longer.  Praise God!

The city of God-5-Persevering despite opposition (1 June 2014)

Nehemiah - The city of God - 5 - Persevering despite oppositionThere will be opposition in life.  We should not be surprised if trying to live a godly life experiences opposition from others, from the spiritual realm of darkness, but mostly from our own sinful nature.

But we must persevere.

 

Click image for Sunday's service sheet“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12, NLT)

“I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing.” (2 Peter 3:17, NLT)

“We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.” (2 Corinthians 10:4, NLT)

“Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25, NLT)

“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” (Proverbs 15:1, NLT)

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31, NLT)

“As soon as they were freed, Peter and John returned to the other believers and told them what the leading priests and elders had said. When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—” (Acts 4:23–24, NLT)

“Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.” (1 Peter 5:9, NLT)

“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself.” (Philippians 1:27–28, NLT)

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT)

The city of God 4-Working with all your heart (25 May 2014)

Nehemiah - The city of God - 4 - Working with all your heartIt’s amazing what can be achieved by a group of enthusiastic people, even if they don’t have the skills for the job.

When Nehemiah motivated the exiles who had returned to Jerusalem to start rebuilding the walls of the city, there were none who were skilled in masonry.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetInstead, there were farmers, perfumers, goldsmiths,civil servants, rulers, priests, and others, both male and female.  But together they rebuilt the walls of the city.  Everyone (apart from some nobles who would not get involved) got stuck in and did what they could – it was far more than they might have thought possible.

Together, they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days.  As a team, divisions of class, culture, tribe, etc. were put to one side, as they all worked together on rebuilding the city walls.

We too can work for God, no matter what situation we find ourselves in.  Instead of working primarily for praise or reward from others, we can work for the Lord.  We are told to:

“…obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Ephesians 6:5–7, NLT)

Also,

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Colossians 3:23, NLT)

Whether as individual Christians, or as God’s people working together, if we have the right attitude we can do great things for God, to his glory.