“Gratitude gladdens the heart. It is not sentimental, nor jealous, nor judgmental. As gratitude grows, it gives rise to joy. We experience the courage to rejoice in our own good fortune and in the good fortune of others. Joy is natural to an open heart. In it, we are not afraid of pleasure. We do not mistakenly believe it is disloyal to the suffering of the world to honor the happiness we have been given. Like gratitude, joy gladdens the heart. We can be joyful for people we love, for moments of goodness, for sunlight and trees and for the breath within our breast. And as our joy grows, we finally discover a happiness without cause. Like an innocent child who does not have to do anything to be happy, we can rejoice in life itself, in being alive.”
As I hope to celebrate my birthday tomorrow, I am immediately overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude to The Almighty. Over the last year there have been many major changes that have happened in my life. Some good, some not so good. But, they have brought me to a place where I yearn for simplicity. I have always been a simplistic soul in the making…I just didnt know how awesome it would feel when I actually simplified EVERYTHING!
To be simple and thankful together, is a sure shot recipe for inner happiness. I have simplified not only my outside world, but also my inside world. My thoughts and feelings, my hopes and dreams, my life purpose and my goals….have been drastically simplified. From wanting to write a book for fame to now writing a book for the sheer joy of helping, from wanting a massive house to now living in a cosy apartment with my wife, to feeling overwhelmed by wants to being happy with my simple needs being met…..everything has been simplified and the process has made me so thankful for every little second to millisecond of my life.
I’ve simplified my writings, my blog and my ways….and am so so thankful for all the appreciative readers here on Fresh Oil, Ironically my simplified ways are appealing to more hearts than my complicated past layers…just goes to show what really touches hearts. right?!?!
I practice gratitude because gratitude re-shifts the focus from what I may have lose to what I may have. Even if I lose something in the process, I’m grateful for anything I got, because being grateful will enforce those parts and send the loss in the shadow. It’s not always easy, but when I’m able to do it with my entire heart, I am reborn. It helped me see that, even if I am made of dark and light, like any other human being, I can control the percentage of light and dark in my being. Fellowship has kept me grateful and these events last year and this year up unto tomorrow have made me glad and thankful. Enjoy and pray for us as we pray for the world……
We live in a day when there’s more Bible teaching than you could ever consume available through radio, television, and the Internet etc, why should it matter where and how you’re taking in God’s truth? What’s wrong with virtual, web-based congregations for the digital-age church? Why wouldn’t you want your iPod to be your worship leader, your IPAD tablet be your pastor, and your Facebook friends your fellowship and accountability?
The answer is simple: that’s not the way God designed it.
I thank God for the technology we have available to us. Yet there is no substitute for interacting with actual people. I appreciate that if you are house bound due to illness for example this technology can be a lifeline.
The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes the importance of the local church. It was the pattern of Paul’s ministry to establish local congregations in the cities where he preached the gospel. Hebrews 10:24-25 commands every believer to be a part of such a local body and reveals why this is necessary:
‘Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.’
I attended a memorial service in honor of a “Great Man Of God” yesterday and as I was being bathed in the word and soothed by the worship I looked beside me and all of a sudden I saw “A piece of Heaven” sitting next to me on that pew. My spirit was so enlighten. There are many reasons for my love of the church, but the main one is that “He” lives and we have His deposit within us that leads, comforts and reveals His love that has been shed abroad in our hearts.
Another reason from Scripture why I love the church is that it is like heaven on earth. I don’t mean that the church is perfect, or that it offers some kind of utopian escape from the realities of a sinful world. But I mean that the church is the one place where all that occurs in heaven can also occur on earth.
Christ instructed us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). In what sphere is that most likely to occur? Is it likely to occur in the House of Parliament or House of Lords? Unlikely. In the Law courts? Unlikely. In the Universities? Unlikely. Town Hall – local council? Unlikely. Where is God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? It is not that we don’t want it to happen in these places, we would dearly love for it to be so.
But surely the place it is most likely to happen is in the church.
Let me pose a question. If all the activities of heaven were to be brought to earth, what activities would dominate?
First of all, worship. In every biblical description where people of God had visions of heaven, the one thing that stands out most is worship. Praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and devotion are constantly being offered to God in heaven. We see it in Isaiah 6:1-3, and we can read more about it in Revelation 4:8-11. In other words, every creature in heaven is continually engaged in worship.
Worship is also one of the main activities of the church. In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul describes what took place in a typical meeting in the early church:
“When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
There he describes activities whose design is both to worship God and to edify the worshipers. And if an unbeliever came into the meeting, this was the desired response:
“The secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you”. (v. 25)
A second activity of heaven is the adoration of Christ. Having finished His earthly work, Christ is now seated at the Father’s right in glory in pure exaltation (Acts 5:31). God Himself has exalted His Son, and given Him a name above every name (Phil. 2:9). Christ is “exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:27). And throughout all eternity we will be occupied exalting His name (Rev. 5:11-14). The church is the one sphere on earth where Christ’s name is truly and genuinely exalted.
A third activity that takes place in heaven is the maintenance of purity and holiness. Heaven is a holy place. Revelation 22:14-15 underscores the perfect purity of heaven’s inhabitants:
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”
No one is admitted to heaven who is not holy (Heb. 12:14). The church on earth is charged with preserving purity within her own midst. Matthew 18:15-20 lays out a process of discipline by which the church is to keep herself pure, if necessary through putting people out of fellowship. It’s not necessary in this context to outline the whole discipline process, but take note of the promise Christ makes in verse 18:
“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
Binding and loosing were rabbinical expressions that spoke of dealing with people’s guilt. An unrepentant person was said to be bound to his sin, and a repentant person was loosed. Here Jesus suggests that when a church on earth follows the proper procedure for discipline, they in effect mediate heaven’s verdict in the earthly church. Heaven is in agreement with their decision. When the church on earth puts out of fellowship an unrepentant member, the elders of that church are simply declaring what heaven has already said.
Church discipline is therefore an earthly expression of heaven’s holiness.
Another activity of heaven that occurs in the church is the fellowship of the saints. Our fellowship in the church on earth is a foretaste of the perfect communion we will enjoy in heaven. The church, then, is like an earthly expression of heaven. That might be hard for us to grasp or even except.
The church is the closest we can get to heaven on earth.
There’s a lot of talk these days about ‘user-friendly’ churches. Church growth experts counsel church leaders to try to provide an atmosphere in which ‘unchurched’ people can feel comfortable and at home. That strikes me a little odd, whilst I appreciate their approach we should want ‘unchurched’ people who come into our fellowship to leave saying to themselves, ‘I have never seen anything like this on earth!’ We want them to experience the love of God and yet dare I say be convicted of their need of Christ. When people come to our services or spend time with us it should be like they are experiencing a little bit of heaven.
I read an article about a large mega church in Texas where they invest tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars each year in promoting seeker friendly services. The article reviewed their attempt and concluded that they were very successful in being seeker friendly, but that they failed dramatically in making disciples.
More than any other institution on earth, the church is where the truth of God is upheld. The church is called to proclaim the truth and hold it high. (1 Tim. 3:15). Employing the truth as a weapon, we are to smash the ideological fortresses of Satan’s lies (2 Cor. 10:3-5). And it is in the pursuit of that goal that the church will ultimately realize her greatest triumph.
What if the Church is an earthly expression of Heaven?
For I am my mother’s daughter, and the drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth.
This painting represents the struggles and injustices of African Americans throughout slavery. The eyes in this painting shows the bondage, oppression and slayings that was given at the hands of their oppressors. The tears in this painting shows the inner hurts and pains of slavery and bloodshed. The eyes are the gateway to the soul and it magnifies what’s on the inside. God has given us a new hope which is in his Son Jesus Christ. Not only as a person and race, but also as a people united under God.
Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, and you are probably reading the book of Jeremiah. This gloomy prophecy about the conquering and exile of Israel is enough to send anyone searching for some spiritual Prozac. Jeremiah is torn between two great loves. He loves God and serves God as a prophet with great passion. He loves the people of Israel and he is terribly sorry to see what they will have to go through. Questioning God, Jeremiah asks, “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no Physician there?” – In other words: “God, aren’t you here anymore?”
It seems a good question for Jeremiah and for us as well when we look at a world at war, countries in crisis from disease, drought and oppression, religion that chooses legalism over compassion and dogma over discernment, and humanity lost in materialism and chronic self-absorption. It is not hard for us to see Iraq, AIDS, Darfur, church crisis and the latest celebrity obsession and say, “God, aren’t you here anymore?”
The Poet T.S. Eliot looked at the state of culture and society when he wrote “The Rock” in 1934 which said:
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
T. S. Eliot seems to re-order Jeremiah’s question. The problem is not that God isn’t with us anymore – but that we are no longer near God. We have changed the life transforming power of Christianity to a set of rules and rituals. We have given up the wisdom of diplomacy and listening for a culture of war and force. We have traded having a knowing relationship with God and others for memorizing scripture, and relying on demographics.
Now, now – I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, – “wow – Aaron’s sure in a gloomy mood – he’s been reading that Jeremiah book a little too long! Maybe a nice psalm or some proverbs would cheer him up…” but have no fear. I have a great joy and hope today and so can you – because the New Testament reminds us we are blessed when we weep – for we shall be comforted. We need only look at history to see our future.
There is a Balm in Gilead
A balm is a healing ointment. Jeremiah is asking about the famous healing lotion made from the commiphora tree of Palestine, the resinous gum we know as Myrrh. (you know the Christmas story – Gold, Frankenstein and Myrrh…er…..Frankincense and myrrh…). Jeremiah is making a spiritual reference to the healing power of God. In the New Testament, baby Jesus will be given this balm to show healing does exist with him. That’s the good news.
Before 1865, African-American spirituals and slave-songs were sung throughout the south. These songs told the gospel and conveyed scripture to people who couldn’t read, and were used for everything from teaching English and counting to new arrivals, to keeping time in a threshing house, to communicating news about the underground railroad (“The Train is Bound for Glory”, and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” were both underground railroad songs). One of the great old hymns to come out of that era was “There is a Balm in Gilead”. An oppressed people who, like Israel, had been captured, enslaved, and ill-used were answering Jeremiah’s question with the New Testament assurance that healing was here to stay. How can we find that assurance today? Let’s look at the song:
Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
First – look to the Holy Spirit for revitalization and renewal. When we feel like the plans for peace we have offered bounced right off the clouds of heaven, or the life work we have given our talent toward has produced mediocre results at best – we need to pray for ourselves and the revival of our mission and our call. Every Christian is called of God. Whether you are called to be a mechanic, a teacher, or a listening friend working on an assembly line – you are called to be there (or to move). Don’t let the joy be leeched from you by those around you with bad attitudes or the determination to be self-absorbed pessimists. Allow God’s Holy Spirit to work in you and make the life you are living a worthy pursuit of hope and healing.
If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus and say, “He died for all.”
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
Second – People of faith need to stop relying on the messengers and start living the message. I know that sounds strange coming from a member of the clergy, but I find it a key issue for our times. Clergy have specific roles we fulfill, but it s not our call to be the community. That’s your job. We need to stop letting other people (leaders, theologians, popular authors) read for us, think for us, determine our beliefs and be the witness for us. We need to take responsibility in our relationship with God and learn to use resources as guides, not crutches. I heard at a ministry conference two years ago that the M.Div. will soon be the “minimum standard” for all clergy, but a doctorate is required for “adequate Christian leadership”. Why do you need a doctorate to live as Christ taught a bunch of fishermen, peasants and tax collectors? Christ didn’t come to make us a collection of sheep led by the educated elite. Christ came to make us a community, lead by a vibrant, personal relationship with our Creator. You don’t have to be Peter, M.Div or Dr. Paul (or even Dr. Phil – thank goodness!) – Be you, use your brain and the resources God places around you, and share the gospel where you are.
Don’t ever feel discouraged, for Jesus is your friend;
And if you lack for knowledge, He’ll never refuse to lend.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
Third – seek God’s wisdom and will. Don’t interpret point number two as meaning Christian leaders should not be college educated. There’s nothing wrong with education – it’s a worthy pursuit. However, our trust should not be in our own intelligence, experiences or credentials. Our trust should be in God’s wisdom, and God has placed that wisdom all over creation. Many Christians have cut off a plethora of God’s knowledge because it isn’t in the Bible or sold at the Christian Bookstore. There is a whole world of God out there – in the knowledge of farmers, through the power of indigenous cultures, in the arena of mathematics and physics (how better to understand how God made the world to turn?), in the mystical algorithm of language and music, and in the instinctual habits of nature. Stop discounting the steady stream of God in the world around you and start listening and learning all that God can have you know.
We need not to succumb to the gloom and doom of Jeremiah, because we know that healing of God is here. We need not reflect the cultural despair of T.S. Eliot because we know how to be near God. We can be people of Gilead with a life witness worth shining for the entire world to see. Then, the healing can begin.
God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that great law. Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement.
“A Black American”
by Smokey Robinson
“I love being Black. I love being called Black. I love being an American.
I love being a Black American, but as a Black man in this country I think it’s a shame
That every few years we get a change of name.
Since those first ships arrived here from Africa that came across the sea
There were already Black men in this country who were free.
And as for those that came over here on those terrible boats,
They were called niggah and slave
And told what to do and how to behave.
And then master started trippin’ and doing his midnight tippin’,
Down to the slave shacks where he forced he and Great-Great Grandma to
And if Great-Great Grandpa protested, he got tarred and feathered.
And at the same time, the Black men in the country who were free,
Were mating with the tribes like the Apache and the Cherokee.
And as a result of all that, we’re a parade of every shade.
And as in this late day and age, you can be sure,
They ain’t too many of us in this country whose bloodline is pure.
But, according to a geological, geographical, genealogy study published
in Time Magazine,
The Black African people were the first on the scene,
So for what it’s worth, the Black African people were the first on earth
And through migration, our characteristics started to change, and rearrange,
To adapt to whatever climate we migrated to.
And that’s how I became me, and you became you.
So, if we gonna go back, let’s go all the way back,
And if Adam was Black and Eve was Black,
Then that kind of makes it a natural fact that everybody in America is an African American.
Everybody in Europe is an African European; everybody in the Orient is an African Asian
And so on and so on,
That is, if the origin of man is what we’re gonna go on.
And if one drop of Black blood makes you Black like they say,
Then everybody’s Black anyway.
So quit trying to change my identity.
I’m already who I was meant to be
I’m a Black American, born and raised.
And brother James Brown wrote a wonderful phrase,
“Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud! Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud!”
Cause I’m proud to be Black and I ain’t never lived in Africa,
And ’cause my Great-Great Granddaddy on my Daddy’s side did, don’t mean I want to go back.
Now I have nothing against Africa,
It’s where some of the most beautiful places and people in the world are found.
But I’ve been blessed to go a lot of places in this world,
And if you ask me where I choose to live, I pick America, hands down.
Now, by and by, we were called Negroes, and after while, that name has vanished.
Anyway, Negro is just how you say “black” in Spanish.
Then, we were called colored, but ****, everybody’s one color or another,
And I think it’s a shame that we hold that against each other.
And it seems like we reverted back to a time when being called Black was an insult,
Even if it was another Black man who said it, a fight would result,
Cause we’ve been so brainwashed that Black was wrong,
So that even the yellow niggahs and black niggahs couldn’t get along.
But then, came the 1960s when we struggled and died to be called equal and Black,
And we walked with pride with our heads held high and our shoulders pushed back,
And Black was beautiful.
But, I guess that wasn’t good enough,
Cause now here they come with some other stuff.
Who comes up with this **** anyway?
Was it one, or a group of niggahs sitting around one day?
Feelin’ a little insecure again about being called Black
And decided that African American sounded a little more exotic.
Well, I think you were being a little more neurotic.
It’s that same mentality that got “Amos and Andy” put off the air,
Cause’ they were embarrassed about the way the character’s spoke.
And as a result of that action, a lot of wonderful Black actors ended up broke.
When we were just laughin’ and have fun about ourselves.
So I say, “**** you if you can’t take a joke.”
You didn’t see the “Beverly Hillbilly’s” being protested by white folks.
And if you think, that cause you think that being called African American set all Black people’s mind at ease…..
Since we affectionately call each other “niggah”,
I affectionately say to you, “niggah Please”.
How come I didn’t get the chance to vote on who I’d like to be?
Who gave you the right to make that decision for me?
I ain’t under your rule or in your dominion
And I am entitled to my own opinion.
Now there are some African Americans here,
But they recently moved here from places like Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Zaire.
But, now the brother who’s family has lived in the country for generations,
Occupying space in all the locations
New York, Miami, L.A., Detroit, Chicago-
Even if he’s wearing a dashiki and sporting an afro.
And, if you go to Africa in search of your race,
You’ll find out quick you’re not an African American,
You’re just a Black American in Africa takin’ up space.
Why you keep trying to attach yourself to a continent,
Where if you got the chance and you went,
Most people there would even claim you as one of them; as a pure bread daughter or son of them.
Your heritage is right here now, no matter what you call yourself or what you say
And a lot of people died to make it that way.
And if you think America is a leader on inequality and suffering and grievin’
How come there so many people comin’ and so few leavin’?
Rather than all this ‘find fault with America’ **** you promotin’,
If you want to change something, use your privilege, get to the polls!
Commence to votin’!
God knows we’ve earned the right to be called American Americans and be free at last.
And rather than you movin’ forward progress, you dwelling in the past.
We’ve struggled too long; we’ve come too far.
Instead of focusing on who we were, let’s be proud of who we are.
We are the only people whose name is always a trend.
When is this **** gonna end?
Look at all the different colors of our skin-
Black is not our color. It’s our core.
It’s what we been livin’ and fightin’ and dyin’ for.
But if you choose to be called African American and that’s your preference
Then I ‘ll give you that reference
But I know on this issue I don’t stand alone on my own and if I do, then let me be me
And I’d appreciate it if when you see me, you’d say, “there goes a man who says it loud I’m Black. I’m Black. I’m a Black American, and I’m proud
Cause I love being an American. And I love being Black. I love being
Yeah, I said it, and I don’t take it back.”
In addition, Israel’s sacrificial system recognized that not everyone could make the same kind of offering. If someone could not afford the cost of a young bull, a male goat or lamb, they were able instead to offer two doves or young pigeons. It they could not even afford that, Leviticus 5:11 allowed them to bring some fine flour as an offering. It is not the amount that is given which is important; it is the spirit in which we make our offering. We should give in proportion to how we’ve been blessed. The New Testament echoes this principle in 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 8-9.
5. It was sacrificial. They were to bring to God’s house the “first fruits” of their crops “and of every fruit tree.” (35) To offer the first of their crops was to declare that God was the giver of all things, that everything belongs to Him, and that He is worthy of the best we can offer Him. Here’s a helpful principle to remember: while not everyone can give the same amount, everyone can make the same sacrifice. Not equal giving, but equal sacrifice. It was Mother Teresa who said, “If you give what you do not need, it isn’t giving.” And, C.S. Lewis put it this way, “I don’t believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I’m afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”
6. It was comprehensive. They were to not only bring their crops and their money; they were to also bring their first-born sons and their animals to the Lord in verse 36. God is not just interested in our money, He wants our hearts. Actually, He wants everything.
7. It was prescribed. They were not only to bring their “first,” but also a “tithe” of their crops to the Lord in verse 37. Giving a tenth of their produce or income to the Lord has a long and dignified history among believers and is an appropriate guide for Christian giving. As someone has said, “the tithe is a great place to start.” I’m convinced that the tithe is the minimum we should be giving to further the Lord’s work.
Tithing can be a great blessing, and I practice it and recommend it highly, but there are at least three dangers:
It’s easy to give with the wrong motives. We can give out of a sense of duty or fear, or even greed (“If I tithe, God must prosper me!”)
Thinking that we can do whatever we want with the 90% that remains.
Giving only the tithe and failing to give love offerings to the Lord.
Someone has said that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 6:21: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Let’s determine to be like the believers in Nehemiah 10:39: “We will not neglect the house of our God.”
When it comes to giving, we can do it for at least three reasons:
Because we have to that’s law
Because we ought to that’s obligation
Because we want to that’s grace
I don’t know about you, but I want to give to the Lord. I came across a list of 10 reasons to give 10% or more to the Lord’s work. A guy from the great state of Wisconsin (not me) put these together (Brian Kluth, Dimensions, Vol. 20, Fall 1997, pp. 1-2).
1. It is a tried and true pattern of giving (Malachi 3:7-15).
2. It will help you revere God more in your life (Deuteronomy 14:23).
3. It will help you harness the dragon of materialism (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
4. It will serve as a practical reminder that God is the Owner of everything (Haggai 2:8).
5. It will allow you to experience God’s provisions in incredible ways (Luke 6:38).
6. It will encourage you to trust in God (Proverbs 3:5-6).
7. It will ensure you of treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).
8. It will strengthen the ministry and outreach of your local church (2 Corinthians 9:12).
9. It will support church staff and missionaries (Galatians 6:6).
10. It will help accomplish needed building projects (1 Chronicles 29:2-10).
Are You On the Wrong Runway?
I’m sure you heard the tragic news this week about the Singapore Airlines jumbo jet that crashed on take-off, killing at least 81 people. Investigators have now determined that the jet was on the wrong runway when it tried to leave for Los Angeles. The pilot realized at the last moment that he was on a strip closed for repairs and plowed into some heavy construction equipment.
Seconds before the jetliner crashed, caught fire and broke into three sections, the pilot swore and screamed out, “Something there.” Apparently the pilot knew what runway he was supposed to be on and was not misdirected by the control tower. However, the officials have admitted that there was no barrier set up to block planes from going onto the closed runway. In addition, the lights on this runway were turned on because of the bad weather.
I’m wondering this morning if any one here is on the wrong runway. It might look like everything is going ok in your life, but you actually might be headed for a crash. The Bible is clear if you do things your way, you’re going to have a collision. God wants you and me to make investments that last by:
• Submitting to God that answers the question, “Who’s the pilot of your life?”
• Separating from the world that covers who we spend time with
• Practicing a Sabbath rest that deals with how we spend our time
• Supporting God’s work which involves how we spend our money
If you’re submitted to God, and He has “all of you,” then you’re cleared for take-off in your relationships, with your time, and with your finances.
Here’s another way to look at it. If you could look at a person’s friendships, their calendar, and their checkbook, you could determine whether or not they are fully submitted to God and completely committed to His cause.
Vow #1: Submission to God’s Word
As a result of hearing God’s Word, the Israelites made four decisions. The first one is found in 10:29: “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 God.”
This is vow #1: Submission to God’s Word. They were totally serious in their desire to devote themselves to everything that is spelled out in the Bible. This week I went back and re-read my very first sermon here at PBC. This is what I said then, and it bears repeating today:
Who does God use to make an impact? Super saints? Heroes? Pious religious people? No. Listen to the words of 1 Chronicles 16:9, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” The key is devotion. We need to remember that the depth of our devotion determines our impact. God is not looking all over the earth for strong people, for great people, for perfect people, or even for religious people. This morning, as He scans the congregation at PBC, He’s looking for devoted disciples, for men and women, and boys and girls who are fully committed to Him. He’s looking for a regular person who He can pour His strength out on. In order for that to happen, we need to be completely committed and dangerously devoted.”
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army was once asked what his secret was to his incredible ministry. This is what he said, “God has had all that there was of me. There have been men with greater brains than I…but from the day I got the poor of London on my heart and caught a vision of what Jesus Christ could do with me and them, on that day I made up my mind that God should have all of William Booth that there was.”
In Nehemiah 10, the people are saying that they are so seriously submitted to God and His Word that they are willing for the curses of God to fall on them if they do not carefully obey what He says. I wonder if we have that same submission and dangerous devotion today? Does God have all of you?
Vow #2: Separation From the World
After submitting themselves to God and His Word, the believers make a second vow to be separate from the world in verses 28 and 30: “We promise to not give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or to take their daughters for our sons.” When you think about it, separation is simply total devotion to God, no matter what the cost. When a man and woman get married, they separate themselves from all other possible mates and give themselves completely to each other. We separate from others to the one who is our life mate. The Israelites separated from the peoples around them and to God and His Word.
This was not about ethnic pride or a sense that the Israelite gene pool was superior to that of other peoples. Rather it had to do with how they worshipped God and honored Him. Wrong relationships can nullify a believer’s distinctive witness. God wanted his followers to be a missionary people and so it was vital that their message not be corrupted. In declaring this prohibition, the Lord was concerned about both the purity of their faith and the holiness of their lives. They had been entrusted with the most wonderful message in the world and nothing was to be allowed to corrupt it.
There were at least two reasons why marriages with pagan people were disastrous.
First, there were clear biblical warnings. When two people in the ancient world made a marriage agreement, they normally confirmed their commitment in the presence of their gods and gave each other’s idols a prominent place in their new home. Joshua 23:13 says that heathen spouses would become “snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes…”
Secondly, there was abundant historical evidence that unequally yoked marriages led to a decline in Israel’s spiritual and moral life. Nehemiah 13:26 asks the question, “Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by His God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women.”
We are more influenced by other people than most of us care to admit. Mixed marriages were a danger then, and they’re a danger now. God’s concern is that when a believer marries a non-believer the stage is set for conflict, compromise and at times outright conformity.
2 Corinthians 6:14 very clearly states: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
Let me be clear. I know some of you are married to an unsaved spouse. I respect and applaud your commitment to Christ and your determination to live out the teaching of 1 Peter 3:1-6. The New Living Translation puts verses 2 and 3 this way: “Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words. They will be won over by watching your pure, godly behavior.”
I want to address those of you who are not married yet. Perhaps you’re dating someone who is not a believer. It may seem harmless to date a non-Christian, especially if you’re a teenager, but watch out. God cares about your spiritual life and He cares about your ability to be a clear witness to Him. On the authority of God’s Word, don’t deliberately disobey God in this area. The question is not, “Will this relationship work out?” but, “Will this relationship enjoy God’s best blessing and fulfill God’s will?” I know this is not easy for some of you to hear but if you are truly submitted to God and His Word, you will honor Him in all your relationships as well. If you put Him first, don’t enter a marriage relationship with someone who does not also put the Lord first.
Vow #3: Sabbath for God’s People
After pledging themselves to submit to the Word of God and to live separated lives, the believers renew the covenant with a third vow: the Sabbath for God’s people in verse 31: “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.” In Nehemiah’s time, it was necessary for God’s law about the Sabbath to be clearly understood.
First of all, this day was set aside to honor God. It was distinctive from other days and given to God so that they might offer their worship to Him without being distracted by the demands of everyday life.
Secondly, it was a day of rest. Relaxation is a vital ingredient in effective living. God set the pattern for this in Exodus 20:11: “He rested on the seventh day.” The Israelites worked with no breaks in their weekly schedule when they were slaves in Egypt God did not ever want this repeated again.
One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man ate a leisurely lunch and took several breaks throughout the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other guy had chopped a lot more wood than he had. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.” To which the winning woodsman responded, “Didn’t you notice? I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest.” If you’re feeling a bit dull today, perhaps you need to schedule some rest into your schedule so that you can get ‘sharp’ again.
Thirdly, it was a day to help others. Israelite employees had a compulsory rest day automatically written into their employment contracts. This helped others enjoy the blessings of rest.
Fourthly, the Sabbath was a day to declare truth. It was a silent witness to God’s supremacy and gave the Israelites multiple witnessing opportunities. To their unbelieving neighbors it proclaimed, in very practical terms, the truth that God comes first.
This is an important paradigm or model for us today. From the very beginning of the church, Christians made the Lord’s Day their appointed day for worship, rest, service, and witness. While avoiding the legalism that the Pharisees fell into, most of us can do a much better job of looking for ways to keep Sunday special.
The Israelites also promised to observe the “Sabbatical Year.” Every seventh year, they were to let the land lie idle so that it might restore itself. To obey God in this way, they certainly needed to trust Him with their needs during the seventh year. It seems to me that obedience to God always involves trust. We cannot always see what’s coming up, but if we are doing what God says, He will never disappoint us. Their commitment to commemorate the Sabbatical Year was a great step of faith and is a beautiful illustration of Matthew 6:33: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Notice that they also canceled all debts in verse 31. They promised that every seven years, they would live out a renewed scale of values that people matter more than money. The keeping of the Sabbath and Sabbatical Years were ways of saying “no” to a life of maximum acquisition. My highest goal is not to make the most I can and then spend my life trying to keep everything that I have.
Vow #4: Support For God’s Work
That leads to their fourth pledge: support for God’s work in verses 32-39. The phrase “house of our God” is used nine times in this section and refers to the restored temple. The people were promising to follow God’s priorities by submitting to Him, by separating from the world, by keeping the Sabbath, and by supporting the work of God. Verse 39 sums up their commitment: “We will not neglect the house of our God.”
The temple in Jerusalem stood at the heart of the country’s religious, moral and spiritual life. In symbolic terms it proclaimed the presence and power of God among His people and the centrality of spiritual matters.
This passage covers an impressive series of promises to support God’s work in a variety of different ways and gives us 7 insights into how our giving can support God’s work today.
1. It was responsible giving. Look at verse 32 and verse 35 where the people say that “they assume responsibility…” They owned it and gave what they owned because they saw it as their privilege and their responsibility.
2. It was obedient giving. They didn’t practice “impulse giving” but instead gave as an expression of practical obedience. Those who love Him will do what He says. They were “carrying out the commands to give” (32), as it “is written in the Law” (34, 36). God had been good to His people, and generosity was expected from them. There was nothing remotely optional about the support of God’s work. Everyone was required to give in one form or another. This was yet another way to demonstrate that God came first in their lives.
3. It was systematic. There was nothing haphazard about their giving. Verse 32 says that they were to bring a third of a silver shekel each year. Verse 34 states that lots were drawn to determine when families were to bring a contribution of wood at set times each year. Verse 35 tells us that first fruits were brought each year. There was an orderliness about these offerings and a system that was followed. The people knew precisely what was expected of them. The New Testament teaches systematic giving as well in 1 Corinthians 16:2: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…”
4. It was proportionate. The reference to the wood offering suggests that many poor people in Israel had an opportunity to make a gift to the Lord that would demand time rather than money. The temple needed a regular supply of firewood to keep the sacrificial fires burning. Everyone, regardless of income, could gather wood and take it to the temple.
Making Investments That Last
I heard about this man who bought a parrot. It was a beautiful parrot but he had a really bad mouth. He could swear for five minutes straight without repeating himself. The man was embarrassed because the bird was driving him crazy in front of people.
He tried to appeal to the bird by asking him to clean up his language. The parrot promised to change but nothing happened. In fact, his swearing increased in both volume and frequency.
It finally got to be too much, so the guy grabbed the bird by the throat and started shaking him and yelled, “Quit it!” But this just made the parrot angry and he swore more than ever.
Then the guy got really mad and locked him in a kitchen cabinet. That really aggravated the bird and he started clawing and scratching and making all kinds of racket. When the guy finally let him out, the parrot let loose with a stream of swear words that made the man blush.
At that point, the guy was so ticked off that he threw him into the freezer. For the first few seconds the bird squawked and screamed and thrashed around. And then there was silence.
At first the guy just waited, but then he started to wonder if the bird was hurt. After a couple minutes of not hearing anything, he was so worried that he opened the freezer door. The bird calmly climbed onto the man’s outstretched arm and said, “I’m really sorry about all the trouble I’ve been giving you. I make a solemn promise and vow to clean up my language from now on.”
The man was astounded. He couldn’t believe the transformation that had come over the parrot as a result of being in the freezer for only a couple minutes. The parrot then turned to the man and said, “I just have one question…what did the chicken do?”
This morning we’re going to learn about 4 vows, or promises, that the people of God made in Nehemiah 10. We’ll tackle these in Part 2 of the message a little later on. While God’s people weren’t thrown in the freezer, they did feel the sting of God’s spoken Word in chapters 8 and 9. After hearing what God wanted from them, and owning their own persistent rebellion, verse 38 of chapter 9 says that the people made a “binding agreement” to follow the Lord wholeheartedly. They put it in writing and sealed it. Putting a seal on a document is a serious matter because it meant taking a solemn oath before the Lord. Those who agreed to this covenant are listed in 10:1-27.
The law governing oaths and vows is found in Numbers 30:2: “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” Ecclesiastes 5:4 says, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.” Since an oath involved the name and possible judgment of God, it was not to be taken lightly. Jesus also warned against using empty oaths in Matthew 5:33-37.
Examples of people making vows and covenants with God, only to break them later on. InExodus 24, the Israelites promise to do “everything the Lord has said.” But in less than six weeks, these same people construct a golden calf and bow down in worship before it. InMark 14:29, Peter promises Jesus, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” Hours later, Peter responds to a servant girl’s questions by swearing in verse 71: “He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about.’”
That leads to a question. Are vows of any use today? I think they are for at least two reasons. First, they help us focus. When you make a vow, you are saying that you are going to do something specific. We can say, “Lord, I need to witness more” or we can say, “I’m going to invite my neighbor to the Christmas cantata and I’m going to give a book to him so that I can open up a conversation with him.”
Second, vows allow us to express our love. That’s why couples make vows during a marriage ceremony. They’re the language of love. Love is more than just a feeling, it’s a commitment or promise to be married until death do us part.
God is a covenant-keeping God, even when we don’t keep our end of the deal. You may have made some promises to God in the past that you haven’t kept. You may have broken some vows. If you have, you’re not alone. Jeremiah 31:32 says that God’s people broke the covenant on a regular basis. Verse 33 says that He will one day make a new covenant in which he says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Jesus inaugurated this new covenant. Listen to what He said in Mark 14:24: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” In the Old Covenant, we are expected to live up to our end completely everything comes from us. In the New Covenant, nothing comes from us, and everything comes from Jesus. Because of His grace, we can surrender, submit and obey out of love, not fear.
While it may be helpful to make a vow or an oath to God today, remember this: We don’t succeed as Christians because we make promises to God, but because we believe the promises of God and act upon them.
Having said that, many of us never come to the point of getting serious in our walk with God simply because we never get specific with Him. We hear sermons and sense the Spirit’s tug at our heart, but until we decide to be completely committed to Him, we won’t be. As we celebrate communion this morning, I invite you to use this time to think through any decisions the Lord wants you to make. Perhaps you’ve been challenged or convicted by the Lord during this series. Listen to Him and decide right now to put into practice what you know you need to do. If you’ve broken some promises with Him or with others, confess it right now. 1 Corinthians 11:28 tells us to examine ourselves before we eat the bread and drink the cup of communion.