Monday, April 09, 2007

Day 40, April 7th, 2007

Day 40—Haggai 1:1-15

Dr. Eric Berne wrote what has become one of the most popular psychology books ever. Entitled, “Games People Play”, it’s a catalog of the ways we relate to one another. It wouldn’t be hard to simply add ‘with God’ to the phrase ‘Games People Play’ and come up with a whole other book. One of the great games we play with God is called: “tomorrow.” It shows up in the book of Haggai because when the temple was being rebuilt, the project stopped after the completion of the foundation, due to some barriers and persecution. It stopped and then didn’t start again – for over a decade!

If you would have asked people, they would never have said that they were opposed to finishing the work. Instead they simply said, “the time hasn’t yet come”. In other words, people articulate their disobedience this way: “Yes, we’re all for the work that God is doing – in our hearts, or our family, or our community of faith. We’re behind His project 100%. Unfortunately, WE can’t participate right now, because we’re overwhelmed with our own personal issues.” Then we say this: ‘as soon as…’ and we finish the phrase with whatever it is that’s occupying us at the moment, and dismiss our devotion to the Lord’s purposes.

It’s not a game any of us play ALL the time, but I’m convinced it’s a game ALL of us play SOME of the time. Thus we need to prayerfully consider if there’s any area in our life where we’re delaying obedience to God’s call – because such delays only have the effect of making the obedience more difficult later. When Jesus’ great hour of trial was upon him, he prayed, wrestled with God, and then walked in obedience the path of the cross. We each have our own paths of the cross that come to us at seasons, asking of us a step of obedience and faith that will challenge us. When that call comes, I hope we don’t respond with something like this: “Yes God, I’m all for it – I’ll begin as soon as I get my life together, perhaps even as early as tomorrow!” It sounds good, and devoted. But Haggai is telling us it’s a game.

God of today, deliver us, we pray, from our tendency to play games, either with each other or with you. Enable us to have the honesty to either follow you or not – and to be honest with you and ourselves about our choices. Thank you that Christ, when His hour was upon Him, wrestled, cried out, sweat drops of blood, and in the end, obeyed. Give us that same kind of courage, and honesty; not tomorrow, but today. We pray in your great name, Amen.

Day 39, April 6, 2007

The state of things when the Old Testament closes, is not very encouraging. Israel, having been disciplined by God through exile, the loss of her homeland, and the loss of her temple, has now been able to return, rebuild, and restore. But very quickly, the idolatry and complacency of old sets in, and when the book closes, religion has degenerated into nothing more than an outward form and ritual.

Clearly what’s needed isn’t more moral instruction teaching us how to be good people. Such instruction has been given, and has proven inadequate. It’s become clear that the problem isn’t that we don’t know what to do, but rather that we’re incapable of doing that which we know. “Remember the law?” - Yes. But what’s needed is greater capacity to fulfill the law – capacity which will come finally and fully when the Messiah comes.

And that of course, is where we’re left – longing for the One who will come and restore all things, including the hearts of men and women, so that we have the capacity of fulfilling our destiny – a fulfillment available only as we make ourselves dependent on the One who died and rose again to both forgive and fill us.

Thank you Jesus...

…for your coming to earth

…for your humble availability

…for your example of service, holiness, joy, and love of enemies

…for your obedience in death

…for the forgiveness your death provides

…for your resurrection life

…for the reality that you live in us today

…for the possibility that we can live this day on the basis of your strength

….for the fruit that you desire to bring to this world through us.

As we make all that we are available to you, we thank you in advance for what you will do both in us and through us, using us to shine as lights of hope in the darkness of this broken world. What a privilege. What a joy. And what an adventure awaits us. Forgive us for holding back. We offer ourselves to you wholly. In Your Great Name we Pray, Amen

Day 38, April 5, 2007

Malachi 3:16-18

It’s never been proper for us to try and sort out ‘who’s in’ and ‘who’s out’ when it comes to salvation. Whenever the church has sought to do that, they’ve been forced to define salvation according to some formulaic grid. One must pray a certain prayer, be baptized, show certain outward evidences, sign a doctrinal statement. But all of that, of course, misses the point: God is inviting us to enter into a relationship.

When we come to the New Testament, the notion of invitation to salvation is explained in various ways: There’s a banquet, and we’re invited. Some say yes, some say no. There’s a treasure, and some go after it, selling everything to acquire it, while others, content with life as they know it, continue on their merry way, missing the chance of a lifetime. In every case, it all boils down to this issue: God reveals and invites, and humans respond. We either enter into relationship or we don’t. And then, once we enter relationship, we either nurture or neglect that relationship.

The point of this text isn’t to invite us to assess who’s in and who’s out. Rather, it’s to invite each of us to examine our own hearts and ask the question: Am I creating enough space in my life for me to hear the voice of God? Am I responding positively to what’s being revealed? This salvation thing is ongoing – God is peeling away layers, bringing us into increased levels of purification, moving us towards more generosity, humility, joy, hospitality, truth telling, forgiving and so much more...if we’ll just listen.

And finally, there’s this important word: While we don’t assess who’s in and who’s out, God will. There’s a sorting. The choices I am making right now, at this very moment, are effecting me not just now, but for all eternity. Am I intent on being shaped by Christ, or am I passively letting this fading world shape me as I cling to her trinkets?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Day 37, April 4, 2007

“…test me now in this” is a rare word in the scriptures. God is inviting us to take this principle He’s articulating, out for a ‘test drive’ as it were. What’s the test? “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…(and see) if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”

God is speaking plainly here. He’s inviting us to order our financial and material lives according to His priorities, inviting us to offer him that ‘first portion’ of material lives (commonly considered as 10%), trusting that He will respond by pouring out blessing in our lives. Critics and cynics don’t like this little passage because they say that those who give in order to receive blessing aren’t giving for the right reasons. Such reasoning misses the point. God is speaking to us as His children. Knowing that we’re fearful, prone to hording and misusing resources, and fearful of tomorrow, He, as our loving Creator, says this: “Don’t worry! If you can learn to trust Me, you’ll also learn that I’ll take care of you. But you can’t learn unless you actually do trust me, and that trust will be revealed by whether you’re willing to lose that tight grip on your money. Trust me by giving, and watch how I bless your life – providing all that you need for all that I’ve called you to do and be.”

This all boils down to what God has been trying to show us all along: If we’ll live our lives with a sense of dependency rather than a sense of autonomy, we’ll more fully enter into the life God had in mind for us. By ordering our lives according to His priorities, we’ll find the space, the strength, the resources, not to do everything this world tells us we need to do, but everything God calls us to do – and along the way, we’ll recover some blessings. There are too many stories confirming the ‘test drive’ principle to share in this limited space, but I’ll allude to two: A couple begins to tithe, which leads to the canceling of cable TV, which leads to conversations around the dinner table now, rather than around the television. Another couple begins to give in accordance with God’s plan, and an amazing set of circumstances opens up for them, a larger cash flow, and even greater means to give.

In all my years of ministry, I’ve yet to hear someone say to me: “I put God to the test, and ordered my life according to His financial priorities and He let me down.” I pray that we, both individually and collectively, will have the courage to move from a posture of autonomy to that of dependency, so that we might better function as channels of His blessing.

Day 36, April 3, 2007

There’s a message here about the reality that when our Lord comes, He brings a judgment. Of course, it was true the first time. There were plenty of people who studied the scriptures regularly, and because of this, both longed for the Messiah, and knew many of the signs of His coming. And yet, the reality was that most of the religious people rejected the Lord because His very life had the effect of exposing the darkness of hearts (even, or perhaps especially, the hearts of religious people). Jesus speaks of this in John 5:39. “Unwilling to come to Me” was His indictment, not against those who didn’t know the scriptures, but against those who did.

The good news in Christ, is that there’s a different kind of life available. Historically, that good news has best been received by those who weren’t very satisfied with their present life. Those who are comfortable often have a hard time when the light of Christ exposes sin, need, and the vulnerability of our humanity. When we refuse to deal with such exposure, we may run and hide in the world or the church, in material frolicking, or spiritual indulgence. But either way, we’re avoiding the purification of the refiner’s fire – and we’re avoiding real contact with Jesus.

“Return to me” Malachi says. And this, of course, is the essence of the gospel. It’s the prodigal running home after coming to his senses, willing to face the consequences of his rebellion and finding instead, to his delight, a loving and forgiving father. But return and confession have always been necessary as the condition for truly entering into the rest and hope that is Life in Christ.

Consuming Fire, reveal our sin, and may the fire of your holiness consume all in our lives that isn’t from you. Of course, in praying this, we don’t know what we’re asking, and if we’re honest, there’s perhaps a bit of fear in our hearts. We want you – but we cling to almost everything that is ‘our life’. Give us the grace to release the fearful grip that some of us have on certain areas of our life, and as we hold on to you, give us assurance that you are with us, shaping and shepherding our hearts to more fully represent you. And we’ll thank you for what awaits us. In Your Name, Amen

Friday, March 30, 2007

Day 35, April 2, 2007

Malachi 2:10-17

As we enter holy-week, our consideration of the meaning of Christ’s death and life comes to bear powerfully on each of the scriptures we consider. In this case, Malachi names the sin of divorce, forcefully and without equivocation. “I hate divorce” God says. Is there mercy and forgiveness for sin? Always. That’s part of the power of the cross – ‘justified by the death of His son’ is how Romans 5 puts it. But though our sins are forgiven, it’s vital to realize that Christ’s resurrection life is offered to us with the intention— not of saving us from sin’s penalty, but from sins power. “Justified by his death…saved by his life!” is how Romans 5 puts it.

Saved from what? The answer is that we’re saved from a living a life of self-destructive choices and actions, moving instead into that posture whereby Jesus’ hope, mercy, love, power, and holiness, is finding expression in our daily living. That, of course, is the whole point isn’t it!

But, using divorce as an example, Malachi points out how we tend to (instead of calling sin what it is and asking for forgiveness) reframe the conversation in such way that the sin is no longer sin at all, but somehow a necessity in this fallen world, or even a good thing because of all that we’re able to enjoy as a result of walking away from covenant relationships.

Friends, my heart breaks when this happens – when our commitment to covenant relationships disintegrates, when that which God calls sin is dismissed as an expedient necessity, when we justify our wrong choices – we’ve slipped yet another step further down the road of misrepresenting the heart of God. I’ll move more fully into the life that Jesus died and rose again for, as soon as I stop justifying my wrong choices and failures and call them what they are: sin. Be they relational, sexual, financial, racial, or otherwise, when God reveals my shortcomings the right response is confession – homologeo in the Greek language – which means to ‘say the same thing.’

Holy Creator, as we ponder your life, death, and resurrection this week, we express our gratitude that you have come to earth, died, and risen, not only for the purpose of forgiving our sins, but in order to so fill us with your life, that we begin to live our daily lives differently, empowered with your Spirit in order to be people of both hope and holiness. As we pause in silence, would you reveal those areas in our lives where we are still clinging to sin, perhaps justifying it, perhaps even calling our actions good and necessary. Our ongoing transformation depends on our continual confession and repentance. And so we pray that, as you reveal areas in our lives that need adjusting, we might be quick to confess and slow to justify. And, over all that we pray, we thank you that we needn’t be afraid of confession, knowing that our confession always leads to assurance of forgiveness and the restoration of real fellowship and intimacy with you. Thank you. In your name, amen

Spend some time today seeking God, asking him to show you those areas of life where you’ve been quick to justify and slow to confess.

Day 34, March 31, 2007

Malachi 2:1-9

Malachi is called a ‘post-exilic’ prophet because his word came to Israel later, after their return from exile, and setting up in the promise land. One would think that after a thorough thrashing, after sever discipline, a humbled and rebuked people wouldn’t be quick to revert back to the patterns of complacency that led to their previous problems.

But that’s just the point of this passage. There’s a phrase from a hymn that addresses this tendency of ours: “prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” The wandering is in every heart, but the hearts that are held most severely accountable in this passage are ‘the priests.’ Since 1st Peter tells us that we’re all priests, we can’t be dismissive of these warnings, as if they only apply to pastors. The words apply to all of us.

And yet, there’s this phrase that continues to ring true for pastors today, as it did for priests in the previous generations: ‘the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth.’ And then Malachi continues with his assessment that the priests of Israel have turned away from the Lord, and as a result, are stumbling.

Can I let you in on a little secret? It’s tricky being a pastor these days. There are dozens of different ways of looking at the Bible, and the world in which we live is continually inviting we (who are in spiritual authority) to give our stamp of approval to everything – from taking public transit to driving hummers, from protesting the war to recruiting soldiers, from opposing abortion to opposing reductions in early childhood education funding. We’re tempted, if only subtly, to be shaped more by cultural forces (whether our culture be evangelical, emergent, Republican, Seattle-left, or the theology of our fathers) than by fidelity to hearing God speak.

And that, God says, is the problem. Pray for those who are charged with studying and declaring the truth, because I assure you, it’s no small task. Ask that our hearts would be malleable before God, and that God would have the liberty and freedom to teach us, correct us, and shape us. Of course, it’s not just a prayer for the pastors, but it begins there, because, as we’ve seen through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, leadership matters.

Day 33, March 30, 2007

Malachi 1:1-14

It’s in the details, that our heart is revealed. And by the time Malachi the prophet opens his mouth, he has a lot to say about the details of worship that have degenerated, revealing a degeneration of the heart. Yet, interestingly, when Malachi brings his complaints, the people’s response is consistently incredulity. Malachi says the people have despised God’s name, and defiled God, and the people don’t agree. “We’re worshipping – we’re bringing offerings – we’re giving. Lighten up Malachi.”

Oh but Malachi won’t lighten up. He gives very specific examples of the outward degeneration, and there are two in the passage:

1. The people’s hearts weren’t in their gatherings for worship any more. “How tiresome it is.”

2. The people were bringing less than the best to the table as offerings.

People don’t usually walk away from God in an instant. Rather, it starts with the interior. Nothing has changed outwardly, but my attitude inwardly has changed. Whereas before I was “glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord”, now I view it as nothing more than an obligation or a burden. Before, I brought God the very best – of my presence, my offerings, my attention. Now I’m bringing that which I don’t want anyway.

It looks like worship, sounds like worship, but it’s not worship – because my heart has already left. Malachi’s not talking about whether or not the newness wears off (that happens in everything). But maybe marriage is a good example here. My wife has become very familiar. Nevertheless, I still want and need to make the effort to be fully present with her, and to bless and serve and love her in tangible ways.

It’s that attitude of heart that had disappeared, and when it disappears our relationship with God is headed for trouble.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Day 32, March 29, 2007

Nehemiah 13:23-31

Wow! This is one of those passages from the scriptures that troubles me. When I read: “I contended with them, and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair…”, I pretty much lose all respect for the person about whom this is written. Why would someone behave this way? As in so many other places in the Bible that are problematic, commentators aren’t very helpful. So I determine to live with the tension of unanswered questions and seek to discover what can be learned in this setting and context.

What I appreciate is the passion that Nehemiah has for holiness. He’s seen previous generations hold cavalier attitudes towards sin, seen the judgment of God and the misery of Israel that came about because of it, and he’s determined that it won’t happen again. It’s easy for us, in our insulated environment, to be incredulous regarding Nehemiah’s strong reaction. But if you had faced drought, famine, exile, and the slaughter of your children because of some national sin, maybe you’d get excited when the same sins started showing up in the new Jerusalem.

In a world where tolerance is the order of the day, I wonder what I tolerate in my life that God wants me to release? What sins continue to shape me? With which idols have I made peace? These are vital questions to answer, because failure to take sin seriously, now as then, has consequences.

God of our whole being, show us, we pray, any truce made with sin, any compromise that has had the effect of compromising your name. Reveal to us that which we need to see in order for your life to be more clearly seen through us and among us. Thank you for your patience with us, and your mercy. Give us responsive hearts, that when your reveal areas of needed adjustment in our lives, we might have the grace to follow you.

Ask God, in particular, to reveal His heart regarding how you are using the life that He’s given you – your body, your sexuality, your money, your relationships, your talents and vocation, your family – all belong to Him. May He continue to shepherd us so that, in each area, we come increasingly to represent God’s heart.

Day 31, March 28, 2007

Nehemiah 13:10-22

Successful building projects have a history of danger associated with them, and it usually creeps in on the far side of the project. What’s more, the danger that creeps in has to do with the sense of completion. Somehow, the wall being built, the celebrations being finished, the recovery of the law being done, there’s a sense of something like this: “Great – we’re done with that. Now we can get on with our lives.” But getting on is actually code for ‘slipping back into our old ways of living’ which in this particular chapter means slipping back into two clear ways of not trusting God:

1. The people have stopped supporting the priesthood through their offerings. A building project? Wow. That’s exciting! I can get behind that. And what happens sometimes is that our attention can be diverted away from the ongoing operational needs and expenses of ministry, as we channel our dollars to other ‘more exciting projects.’ After all, would you rather give to support freeing sex slaves in Africa or to buy toilet paper for fellow church members in Seattle, along with carpet cleaning, and salaries for your staff. When Nehemiah gets wind of this he turns the people toward a recovery of their tithes so that the work of God can continue. But tithing is just another word for trusting – that by giving to God the first part of my income – He will both provide for me, and order my life financially according to the ‘enough’ and the ‘plentiful’ that is His will. Do I trust Him to do that?

2. Others have demonstrated a loss in trusting God by working 7 days a week – fearful that if they don’t continue to produce, there won’t be enough. This is a big deal too. Do I have the faith to believe that, if I rest, God will take care of everything? Will He take care of me? Will He take of the work He’s entrusted to me? Am I able to really rest? To cease?

We often learn these important truths during times of special sacrifice and focused community attention towards the fulfillment of a goal, but then the lessons are quickly lost once the goal has been achieved. Fortunately, we can’t afford that luxury here at Bethany, for God has ordered this project in such a way that we will need, collectively, to remain utterly dependent on Him, prayerful and obedience in our giving, and whole-hearted in our commitments to God and each other, long after we open the doors to a new facility.

O Lord of all times, enable us to live with bold dependency and prayerful obedience, not just when things are focused, and goals visible, as they are today, but when things are less exciting, goals less tangible. Make us faithful in small things and ways as in large, that we might honor you with all the days of our lives, both the easy and hard ones. In Your Name we pray, Amen

Monday, March 26, 2007

Day 30, March 27, 2007

Nehemiah 13:1-9

I’ve always been a little bothered by the separatism to which God calls Israel. After all, if this is the God who ‘so loves the world that He gave His only son’, then doesn’t it make sense for God and His people to be accommodating of all people’s, all nations, all customs?

The answer is “no”. Unpacking this answer requires that we journey to John 4 where Jesus enters into a conversation with a woman by a well. It’s an engaging conversation, covering a wide range of subjects, but the crux of the conversation centers around the theme of worship. The woman has asked a question about who the real worshippers are; those who

worship on Mt. Gerazim, or those who worship in Jerusalem. Jesus says that the location of worship isn’t the point. But what IS the point, is that true worshippers will worship in Spirit and in Truth. This is explosively significant, for it means that not all worship is true worship. It means that sincerity doesn’t count as much as truth counts. It means that using God words, God buildings, God radio stations, God rock bands, means nothing unless the heart behind the actions is submitted to God, and unless the worship is unfolding as a humble and obedient response to God’s revelation.

God’s invitation is open to all, but all must come on His terms. God is not so malleable that we’re able to extract His certain elements of His character that we find distasteful for some reason, and still call Him God. When we do that, he becomes ‘god’ rather that “God” – a fabrication of our own imagination, created to ease our hunger for spirituality, while absolving us of any for holy and humble response. And it’s this that makes Nehemiah angry. When we say, ‘sure – come on in – become a part of our family’ without taking seriously the values that the Father is calling us to embrace, we’re no longer fulfilling our responsibilities as a community of faith.

Holy Father, enable us to be welcoming and loving without compromising your call to holiness. Give us the grace to continue to wrestle through just what holiness means, even as we live in the midst of our responsibilities to be holy people. In Your Great Name we pray, Amen

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Day 29, March 26, 2007

Nehemiah 12:27-47

There’s a little phrase worth pondering here in this passage. I’ll quote it from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase called The Message: “Judah was so appreciative of the priests and Levites and their service; they, along with the singers and security guards, had done everything so well, conducted the worship of their God and the ritual of ceremonial cleansing in a way that would have made David and his son Solomon proud.”

This is certainly going to sound old fashioned, but here it is: When the time came to gather in public worship of the Lord, incredible attention was given to every detail. There was this sense that everything was a gift being given to God, and because of it, the singers and musicians actually rehearsed, and great care was taken with the sacrifices and the furniture of the Temple.

The casual, post-modern, west-coast interpretation of this is pretty simple: “Well, that was then, in the Old Testament” and we emphasize the word “old”, as if it means we have nothing to learn from those who have gone before us. What bunk. That interpretation sounds more like a license for sloppiness, and I just can’t buy it.

I spend a fair bit of time in the outdoors, but somehow, even though I know my wife loves me, she’d prefer that I take a shower when I get home, rather than stinking up the place while we eat or watch a movie. How would this play at home: “Come on honey – why do you demand this outward attention to detail. You know that I love you with all my heart, what does my stink matter”? I don’t think it gets much mileage actually.

The way we care for the outer details is important because, as we’ll see later in the book of Malachi, the outward attention to detail is a reflection of the inward state of the heart. This passage finds two appropriate applications:

Am I honoring the outward displays of affection that are important to those I love? Maybe it’s picking up my socks. Maybe it’s a clean shave. Maybe it’s encouraging words. Let’s not get so high-minded that we ignore the very basic principle of trying to honor the ones we love with outward displays that demonstrate our care.

As a church, we need to commit to taking care of the many details that pass through our walls, and thinking of them in such a way that we can honestly say that we’re offering him our best. This applies to all of us, whether leading worship, teaching 2nd graders, editing an article for a newsletter, or greeting a guest. It’s GOD we’re worshipping through these acts of service. Perhaps He deserves more than an afterthought.

Day 28, March 24, 2007

Nehemiah 10:1-3

There have been times of reading, celebrating, confessing, and practicing the ceremony that powerfully reminded Israel of their roots as sojourners. We too, seek to build similar elements into our life together as a church, and perhaps you do the same in your personal life. However, all of it is of little value unless we follow the example offered here in this chapter. This is the section where Israel purposes to do several things:

  • · they agree to accept the consequences for their sins and those of their family
  • · they promise to maintain their distinction as God’s people by not marrying outside the faith
  • · they declare their intent to observe God’s commandments
  • · Their purpose is to give God offerings (ie, the first fruits from all that God gives them)

T The revelation that God has given them, through the Word, the teaching, and the worship services leads to a response! This, I believe is critical for all of us. In James we’re told that it’s possible to kid ourselves into thinking that we’re growing spiritually because we read the Bible. James, though, says that the real proving ground is in what we do with what we receive. This passage in Nehemiah reveals where the real proving grounds of my responses need to occur. And so I can ask four questions to see if I’m responding well to what God is revealing:

1. Am I able to overcome bitterness and rage regarding suffering in my life, asking that God would grant me the capacity to learn whatever it is that God has to teach me through my suffering? This is a huge topic, worthy of a book, but for now, it’s vital to note that God has an amazing capacity to bring beauty out of any ashes that are in my life, if I’ll learn to walk through the trials with him.

2. Am I willing to stand apart for the sake of maintaining a clear testimony in Christ? This question has been misused over the ages as a means of creating tiny Christian subcultures. That’s not the point. Rather the question is this: Do I need to adopt the same habits with regard to my money, sexuality, relationships, entertainment, attitude towards those in the margins, as the rest of the world, or am I willing to live distinctly. Of course, along the way, I’ll be wise to save the covenant relationship of marriage for someone with similar commitments as my own.

3. Am I becoming a student of the Word so that God’s ethic will continue to shape me, and so that I’ll better be able to participate in the story God is writing in history?

Am I willing to invest in that story in practical ways – offering my time and money to the Lord sacrificially in order that His Life of hope might fill, empower, forgive, and heal more people – to the end that Christ’s kingdom will be seen in increasing measure?

O Lord, there have been many, it seems, through the ages, who have made the mistake of equating hearing your word and participating in the rituals of your community with actually responding to your revelation in life changing ways. Give us eyes to see what it is how you want to respond to what You are revealing. And then grant us the grace to actually do the deed – to respond and step into the life giving stream of obedience where You want us to live. Thank you for what awaits us as we follow you there. In Your Name, Amen

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Day 27, March 23, 2007

Nehemiah 9:1-38


If you read this chapter, you will have read a synopsis of all Old Testament history! If we step back and see the flow of the last few chapters, this is what we see: First there’s the completion of a project and the acknowledgement that it has been the hand of God that has brought about the completion. Second, there’s the reading of the Word, and along with that, both celebration and the recovery of practices that had been lost for generations. Now, four days into the reading of the Word, there comes this outpouring of confession. Notice that there’s confession, not only of their sins, but the sins of their fathers.

I think this is significant because none of us is born into a vacuum. All of us inherit a family context and a cultural context, both of which are powerful shaping influences in our lives. It’s vital that we both know and acknowledge these, being unafraid to face and confess the sins of our fathers, in order that we might be freed from replicating the same errors.

The errors that plague Israel seem to be universal. The general pattern of God’s dealings with his people is replicated several times in this chapter: First, a recollection of God’s faithfulness. Then, a reminder of the faithless response of His people (vs16-18; 26,28). The recollection ends with the acknowledgment that God has been both merciful and just in all His dealings with His people. I find it interesting to see from this bird’s eye view, that Israel resorts to whining and idolatry in only two different kinds of circumstances: when things are easy…and when things are hard. Other than those kinds of times, they’re just fine!

“Confess your sins to one another that you may be healed” is the way we see this written in the New Testament. There’s this admonishment, given us for our own health, that we come clean – with each other, and with God. We’ve nothing to hide since God already knows the depth of our sin. But ignoring our sin, justifying our sin, has the effect of driving us deeper into pits of self-destructive patterns. This public confession is quite powerful, reminding us that the most powerful confessions aren’t just between ‘me and God’ but are best brought out into the open with others, especially those that walk closely with us through life. With whom do you share your confessions and struggles? If you’ve nobody, ask God to lead you to someone. It’s good to live what B. Schlink calls, “A lifestyle of repentance.”

God of justice and forgiveness…Give us hearts that are willing to confess. We stand with those who have gone before us, and acknowledge that we too are tempted to complacency and idolatry, both when things are difficult and when things are easy. And, as well, I bring to you the particular sins of ___ that are present in the moment. Grant me not only forgiveness, but deliverance from the power of this sin. In your great name I pray, Amen