16 June 2007
This morning we get into the book of Nehemiah, chapters 1, 2, and 3.
Ezra was focused on rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem and cleansing the leadership, especially the priests and Levites, of their compromises with the idolators who lived around them. The relationship of the people to the LORD has to come first.
Nehemiah follows on to that by rebuilding the city of Jerusalem, beginning with its walls and gates.
Walls and gates have become controversial in our time, part and parcel over the erroneous desire to avoid accusations of discrimination. That's nonsense. There is nothing inherently wrong with discrimination, it simply means the ability to draw a distinction, something the Lord does throughout the Bible. If you can't distinguish between cow manure and steak, I'm not eating barbecue at your house, but the distinction between the two is ''discrimination'', and A Good Thing, too. Likewise, walls, and gates, and fences make clear that there are lines and boundaries that should not be lightly crossed. There are locks on the doors to my house, and even latches on interior doors like those into the bathroom. There are doors and walls and such on the bank and bank vault. There are normally, and should be, walls and fences and gates on the borders between two countries. And distinctions between the sacred and the profane, the Hebrews and the Syrians, the good and the bad. The idolators who lived near Jerusalem didn't like the idea of the wall. But the Lord did, and so it was built. Nehemiah really didn't care about Political Correctness, he cared about doing what the Lord had set him to do. Good advice. From chapter 2,
20 Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.
But before this could happen, back when he was a servant in the Captivity, he prayed to the Lord, which is also good advice. From chapter 1,
2 That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
3 And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.
4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,
5 And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:
6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.
7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.
8 Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:
9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.
10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.
11 O LORD, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.
I am convinced that NOTHING worthwhile done for the Lord, no matter how strong the effort or how worthy the motive, can really prosper without prayer. It is perhaps the least practiced of all the spiritual disciplines.
Acts, chapter 2, verses 1 through 13. This is the record of the event that we Christians call Pentecost. Pentecost was of course already a special day in the Jewish calendar, coming 50 days after Passover. But to Christians it has a special meaning - it is the date that the Holy Spirit came in power to indwell believers. It was an event that could not have been explained away by some trick of nature or of men. It could only be what it in fact was, God's presence in a very real and continuous way. As it is today. There are and have long been various ideas, even heated arguments, about the nature of the Holy Spirit, the Spiritual Gifts, the continuation of the various gifts, and so on. I don't know the answer, but I find some of the disputes to be at odds with Jesus command to ''Love one another''
At any rate, it creates quite a stir, and we'll be talking about it some.
1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
15 June 2007
This morning we take up Ezra, chapters 9 and 10. This is an account of repentance - the people of God had, beginning with the leaders, had tried to ''be like everybody else'', in defiance of the Lord's laws, and had taken wives from among the heathens. This is, of course, the classic way that they became involved in false gods - the mothers taught their children and the next generation went astray. Ezra is trying to restore the Temple, and learns of the wickedness of the people. The result we see in chapter 9
2 For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.
3 And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied.
4 Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice.
5 And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God,
6 And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.
7 Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day.
8 And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage.
9 For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem.
10 And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments,
11 Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness.
12 Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.
13 And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this;
14 Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?
This Evening, we begin the Acts of the Apostles. This is very nearly as important as the Gospels are - and yes, I realize that ALL Scripture is important, but it's not all equally important.
We begin with Acts chapter 1. This is the account, beginning with the Ascension of Jesus, Now they have to begin to carry out His order ''follow Me''.
14 June 2007
This morning we continue in the book of Ezra, chapters 6,7,8
This is not a part of the Bible that many people get into, which is unfortunate. For it shows something of how the people of the Lord should conduct themselves in bad circumstances. Take, for example, a good verse from chapter 7,
10 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.. Have we, ourselves, ''prepared our hearts to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it?''. Speaking for myself, not well.
This evening, we finish the Gospel of John, all of chapter 21
Jesus, having arisen from the grave, now meets with His disciples briefly. He gives them - and us - the marching orders ''Follow me.'' And so we should.
"In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith
becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated
on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage
to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin.
But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American,
and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here.
Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all.
We have room for but one flag, the American flag..
We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...
and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."
Theodore Roosevelt 1907
Today is Flag Day in the United States. Honor it any way you can.
13 June 2007
Today's Old Testament is from the book of Ezra, chapters 3, 4, and 5
The people, having been given permission, have returned to Jerusalem and have begun to rebuild the Temple. And they take great joy in this.
10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel.
11 And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
12 But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy:
13 So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
Our New Testament reading is from the Gospel of John chapter 20
Just as the readings from the last few days, the record leading up to the Crucifixion, right through Jesus' burial, are arguably the darkest in all of Scripture, here we get into the most hopeful. He's alive! The tomb is empty!
In a way, we can not imagine what went through their minds. In another way, we do. Ray vander Laan once said that every believer must, in his mind's eye, go to that tomb, look inside, and verify that He is risen. That's not a bad way to think about it. I know that He is risen, just as He said. And as a result of a vacant cross and an empty tomb, I have hope.
12 June 2007
This morning we get into the book of Ezra chapters 1 and 2. Both elements of the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah have fallen to the enemies. The walls of Jerusalem are broken down, the Temple has been desecrated and burned, many of the people slaughtered in hideous ways, and much of the remnant has been carried off captive. Quite a come-down from the great hope and promise at the end of the Exodus. But just.
Starting here in the book of Ezra, we see the start of the Return. Cyrus the king orders that the Temple may be rebuilt. It is a long way on foot from Babylon (near Baghdad) to Jerusalem - look it up on a map. I wonder what was going on in the minds of the travellers.
This evening we continue in the Gospel of John, chapter 19, verses 23 through 42.
The final parts of the Crucifixion. Jesus gives up the ghost, and is interred in a new tomb. The Devil thinks he won. WRONG!
11 June 2007
Good Monday to you. It's just past 05:30 here and it's warming already.
This morning's reading will be 2nd Chronicles 34, 35, and 36. This will complete the Chronicles. And it's not a fun read.
It starts well, mind you. Josiah is counted as one of the good kings and he was a very good one. And he sought the Lord. But in the end the nation had become so wicked for so long that judgment, while delayed, came. Josiah died not far from the place we call Armageddon. And his successor (have we seen this before?) is wicked. And judgment comes, and it's not pretty.
14 Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the LORD which he had hallowed in Jerusalem.
15 And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place:
16 But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy.
17 Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand.
18 And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes; all these he brought to Babylon.
19 And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof.
20 And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia:
21 To fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years.
Anybody think it can't happen here?
This evening's reading continues in the Gospel of John 19, verses 1 through 22.
This is the Crucifixion of our Lord. Nothing more needs be said.
10 June 2007
This morning = 2nd Chronicles, chapters 32 and 33
We see in chapter 32 more of the story of Hezekiah, a good king, one of the very best. And we see that the LORD gave him victory over his enemies, and long life, and great riches, and the love of of his subjects. And then, as ever, Hezekiah dies at the end of the account in chapter 32.
In chapter 33, Hezekiah's son Manasseh takes the throne. And he is of a decidedly different sort, something we see over and over. Though this is a bit different than some of these accounts. Manasseh does very wickedly, and receives the punishment, but not the condemnation of the LORD. And so,
12 And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers,Good result, right? Well, partially. Manasseh repented, and worked to reverse things. And then he died. And his son was more wicked than he had been, and did not repent.
13 And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.
22 But he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, as did Manasseh his father: for Amon sacrificed unto all the carved images which Manasseh his father had made, and served them;
23 And humbled not himself before the LORD, as Manasseh his father had humbled himself; but Amon trespassed more and more.
24 And his servants conspired against him, and slew him in his own house.
25 But the people of the land slew all them that had conspired against king Amon; and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his stead.
Is this any way to run a kingdom?
This evening - the Gospel of John, chapter 18, verses 24 through 40
This is Jesus bound, and the account begins with one of those very sad accounts,
25 And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not.
26 One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him?
27 Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew.
Fulfilling what Jesus had told Peter only hours before.
There is another phrase here, one that seems to be seen in our own world altogether too much.
38 Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?
I hear on too many lips the notions expressed that ''everything's relative'' and ''whatever works for me'' or other ways of denying the very existence of objective absolute truth. Pilate wasn't the first to deny this, probably. It is a sad thing that he has so many like-minded followers, each as foolish as he was.