Jesus Shaped Living: Putting on the New Self

SERMON NOTES: Putting on the New Self

Clothes can say a lot about a person. What you wear might indicate the kind of job you work, or your spending habits, or your personality. And as we all know, certain occasions call for certain attire. Well, I can remember one particular instance when I wore something that did not fit the occasion. When I was in seminary I was a part-time associate pastor at a church outside of Boston. And one particular weekend they were having a special dinner. And somehow I failed to realize that this was more of a formal event. And so I showed up wearing jeans and an untucked shirt. And when I got there I thought, “uh oh…I’m underdressed.” And it was too late. There wasn’t time to go home. And everyone else coming into the building was wearing their best attire; dresses, slacks, coats, ties. And here I am, feeling terribly out of place. And I thought maybe no one would really notice. And then someone kindly leaned over to me and said, “I guess you didn’t get the memo huh?” And now by God’s grace I have a wife who prevents me from making such mistakes.

 Well, in our portion of Scripture this morning Paul tells us about the kind of clothes that are fitting for the saints. And to be clear, he’s not talking about a cotton poly blend garment. He’s talking about the very character that should be worn by those who are walking in close fellowship with the Lord. In chapter 3, Paul uses the metaphor of taking off and putting on clothes as a way of helping us understand what should be true of those are believers.

 You see, in the same way we dress our bodies every day, we dress our souls. But the sobering reality is that at times we dress in the wrong attire. The character we dress ourselves in is not an accurate reflection of who we are in Jesus Christ. So we need to be asking ourselves the question, “Does the character of my life reflect the person that I am in Christ? What does my behavior and my attitude say about me? Have I put on the Lord Jesus Christ? (Romans 13:14), When people see me, what do they really see?”

 Taking Off and Putting On

Now to recap where we’ve been, Colossians has brought us face to face with the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. He is the image of the invisible God. All things were created through him and for him. He holds all things together. He is the very center of the universe. And when a person becomes a Christian, they are then united to Christ Jesus forever. Our lives are then intertwined with the life of Jesus. So much so a Christian can say things such as…

 I have died with Jesus Christ

I have been raised up with Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ is my life
I have the hope of glorification with Jesus Christ

 And because of that, two things should happen: 1) We are to take off the old way of life. The habits, the patterns, the thoughts…everything that characterized our lives before meeting Christ should be removed. 2) We are to put on the new life. It’s not a matter of simply not doing certain things, but instead replacing them with a new way of life. New habits, new patterns, new thoughts. There should be nothing short of radical transformation that occurs when a person becomes a Christian. And an ongoing one at that, where our behavior is progressively being brought into line with our new self. If we’ve truly come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, then we need to dress the part. What we wear on the outside, should be a display of what’s on the inside.

Jesus Shaped Living: Dealing with Sin

Dealing with Sin

JC Ryle, the great Anglican theologian wisely said that “He who would make great strides in holiness must first consider the greatness of sin.” As we study the verses read for us this morning my hope is that we would do so by considering the greatness of sin. And by greatness I mean the serious nature and gravity of our sin.

 It's incredibly easy to gloss over our sin. We become skilled at rationalizing our sin so that we don’t really have to deal with it. But if sin is an offense to God’s very character, then why would we ever want to minimize or ignore its destructive power? Every time a believer comes face to face with their sin, from the depths of their should they should say, “I want to be done with this.” Have you been there? Do you ever think “Why do I keep doing the things that I do?” Do ever long to rid yourself of some habit, thinking, “If I could only be free from this!” Do you ever hope that some day that you will begin to see the fruit of righteousness outweigh the pattern of sin in your life?

 As much as I desire for us to come to grips with the severity of our sin, I’ve been praying this week that we would come to know and experience freedom from those things that enslave us most. I want you to know this morning that not only is this passage calling us to make a decisive break with the sinful tendencies we have carried into the Christian life - but it is possible. Think about the one sin that you simply wish you could be done with. I want you to know that Christ has made it possible for you to have freedom from that sin.

Union with Christ

And we’re reminded that we can have freedom because of one word in verse 5. “Therefore.” The term “therefore” points us back to the description of union with Jesus that we talked about last week in verses 1 through 4. When a person becomes a Christian, instantly their life is intertwined with the life of Jesus. We become one with him. And because of that, we live a very different life than before. Why?

because you have died with Jesus Christ

because you have been raised up with Jesus Christ
because Jesus Christ is your life
because you have the hope of glorification with Jesus Christ

 You see, our union with Christ gives us a whole new identity. As Christians, we’ve died to the old world and have now been raised with Christ into a heavenly world. And it's only because we have this new identity that we can live out the divine commands of Scripture. And not only are we enabled to see our sin put aside, but we must deal with it. If you’re a believer, it is impossible for you to be content with running from God’s will for you life - which is your holiness.

Jesus Shaped Living: Focused on the Things Above

Focused on the Things Above

What do you think about, when you’re not thinking about anything in particular? That may seem like a strange question at first. But it’s an important one. What do you think about, when you’re not thinking about anything in particular? In other words, when you’re not forced to think about something specific, where does your mind go? Where do you find your thoughts drifting towards? Put another way: What occupies your thoughts in the moments you are free to think whatever you want?

 John Owen, the great seventeenth century preacher, once said that “…voluntary thoughts are the best measure and indication of the frame of our minds.” If you want to know how spiritually minded you are, take an inventory of your thoughts. How often do you think about the glories of Jesus Christ? How often do you think about eternity? Do you find that your mind naturally gravitates towards these things?

 I think our text this morning presses us to ask such a question. The Lord, through the Apostle Paul, is urging us to see that our minds matter. Why? Because one of the keys to living the Christian life is to have the proper mindset. If we have any desire to live out the Christian faith, we can not do it without properly orienting our minds. Don’t believe me? Listen to what Paul says on two different occasions in the book of Romans:

 [5] For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6] For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6)

 [2] Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

 What happens with our minds is a matter of life and death. And the only way to experience true change, is to change our minds. The central idea of these four verses is clear, simple, and direct: Seek and set your mind on the things above. The only was to live out who we are in Christ is to orient our minds toward heavenly thinking.

 Now chapter three is a bit of turning point in the book of Colossians. In the first two chapters, Paul has laid out for us, in glorious terms, the doctrine of Christ’s supremacy. And from this point forward Paul is going to apply that doctrine to everyday living. And that’s not to say the first two chapters were impractical or wanting in application. But as the letter builds you begin to see an indispensable reality - believers are united to the supreme, sufficient savior who is is the center of the universe. And without that, all of our attempts at Jesus shaped living are a waste.

Christian Living in Him Alone

Christian Living in Him Alone

What could you add to somehow complete salvation? Or, to ask it another way, what is missing from God’s work of salvation that we must contribute? Perhaps, this seems like a foolish question, at least initially, because there is nothing missing. God, the creator and sustainer of the universe has considered the work of salvation through Jesus Christ complete. On the cross, Jesus, knowing that all things were accomplished, declared with his dying breath, “It is finished” (John 19:28-30). For the repentant sinner, who has confessed with his mouth and believed in his heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, there is salvation (Romans 10:9). We bring nothing to the cross  but still, Jesus graciously becomes the center of the believer’s life. We know this. And yet, isn’t it interesting how quickly human nature is enticed to grasp at new teachings that suggest otherwise? How tempting it is to think that we must somehow add something to salvation. How easily a person’s life can center on things that have the appearance of religion rather than the person of Jesus Christ. 

 This week we will continue our study of the book of Colossians. As you remember, the Apostle Paul likely penned this epistle from prison in the city of Ephesus. The letter is a response to a report that he had received from the faithful minister Epaphrus. It is likely that Paul had never met the believers as Colosse, yet just imagine his frustration as he was unable to personally address issues surfacing within the church. Of these issues, the most prominent seems to be the danger of false teaching.  Many commentators conclude that this teaching was a strange concoction of Christianity, pagan practices and distorted Jewish thought. Through what Paul labels “empty deceit” (2:8) these young Christians were being “deluded” (v 2:4) to stray from the clear message of the Gospel and consider Old Testament legalism, pagan mystery-cults, angelic worship, and the practice of denying physical indulgence to somehow achieve greater spiritual enlightenment. 

 In response to this, Paul gives the church three important exhortations:

  • Don’t let anyone judge you with regards to the law (vv 2:16-17)

  • Don’t let anyone disqualify you on the basis of asceticism (vv 2:18-19)

  • Don’t submit to legalism (vv 2:20-23)

 Today, we will examine each of these exhortations in turn. Yet, in order to do so we must consider Christ as the basis for our freedom. 

Union With Him

Union With Him

Do you not realize that Christ is in you? That’s a question the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his second letter to them. Do you not realize that Christ is in you? As we study our passage this morning, I think that’s a helpful question for us to consider. My fear is that many Christians live each day without an awareness of the indwelling Christ. And when we live without an awareness of this reality, we also miss out on fully experiencing all that belongs to those who are united to Christ.  

 When we talk about salvation, we often speak about it primarily in terms of what Christ has acquired for us. And certainly this isn’t wrong. Essential to the gospel is the fact that Christ has reconciled us to God through his sacrificial death. He has purchased redemption for us. He has saved us from our own sin, and from the condemnation and judgment reserved for unbelievers. But when we speak about our salvation, do we also talk about the reception of the living Christ? Do you we grasp the reality not only of the gift we receive in the gospel, but the giver who now lives in us.

 Rankin Wilbourne says it so well: “The greatest treasure of the gospel, greater than any other benefit the gospel brings, is the gift of God himself.” You see, Christ’s saving work is of no benefit to us unless we are one with Him. Central to our salvation is the fact that the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and reigning Savior is living inside of us!

To give you an idea of how pervasive this is: Guess how many times the word “Christian” appears in the New Testament? Three. Guess how many times the phrase “in Christ” appears in the New Testament? One hundred and sixty five. In the eight verses read this morning, six times we find either “in him” or “with him” being used. So as we look at this passage, my hope is that we would walk away with a deeper understanding of the riches of our union with Christ. Because it is only when we begin to grasp the reality of Union with Christ that I believe we can say confidently, “He is sufficient.”

Walking in Him

Walking in Him

Walking is just one step away from falling. At least that’s why I learned when our son began to take his first steps. If you have children you know exactly what I’m talking about. When they begin to walk they are stepping out on unsteady legs. It takes some time, and a whole lot of falling, before walking becomes second nature to them. But they have to begin somewhere. Those months where our son learned to walk gave me the most to anxiety in my short time as a parent. And i’m sure that when he reaches adolescence I’ll have a lot more to worry about it!

 Similar to learning to walk as a child, is learning to walk as a Christian. We put our faith into practice one step at a time. Upon becoming a new Christian, there is a radically transformation that takes place. So much so, that Jesus described it as being born again. Not of flesh and blood, but by the Spirit. It makes sense then, that if we’re born again, we need to learn again how to walk. We need to learn what it means to live life differently.

 When a person becomes a Christian, regardless of age, we’re all infants. And the Lord does not save us so we can remain in that stage forever. Jesus did not sacrifice his life on the cross so that we could remain apathetic or be neutral. He died so that we could live not only in eternity, but to also live for Him now. The one who began a good work in us will continue to do so until the day of competition - the day He brings us into his eternal presence.

 Verses 6 and 7 of chapter two have much to teach us about walking with Christ. Now you have to keep in mind that Paul is writing out of a pastoral concern. In the same way that an overly anxious parent like myself fears their child will take a tumble, Paul is concerned that the believers in Colossae will succumb to false teaching. There’s a group causing trouble in the Colossian church. They’re trying to sell them on the idea that in order to really grow in the Christian faith they need to move beyond Christ. They need to supplement their faith in Christ with some mystical teachings - new teachings that promise to give them greater fulfillment and understanding.

 And this isn’t just an issue only common to the first century. The Church has always dealt with this. As C. S. Lewis once said, “Old error in new dress, is error nonetheless.” In fact, just this week someone forwarded me a link to some website being circulated, promoting the very same heresy. The person behind the blog claims to have had a dream where he claims that the Lord was inviting him and others to “to a new level of intimacy and revealing hidden revelations this year.” And if we would only add certain things to our faith in Christ then we could experience these things. Well, that may come across as appealing to some. But first off, the Lord has already revealed what needs to be revealed to you and it is in the person of Jesus and the pages of the Bible.

 The Apostle Paul combats that kind of error right here. And he does it by showcasing the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. If Christ is truly preeminent and the reconciler of all things then we need not look anywhere else but to Him.

 Here’s what you need to know more than anything else as we study these two verses: Your daily walk should never take a single step away from the gospel. In other words, the pathway to a deeper, and more fulfilling, walk in the Christian life is not to begin with Christ and move on to something else. No, it begins with Christ and remains dependent upon him every step of the way so that every time we put one foot in front of the other we are becoming more conformed to His image.

Complete in Christ

Complete in Christ

God is more interested in your maturity than he is your success.

What are you striving for? With rare exception, all of us are striving for something.  

In verses that were just read, Paul gets more personal - explains his ministry of struggle and suffering. For one reason - maturity in Christ.

Review: Colossians shows is all about the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. And that should shape every part of our lives. But in the background are those who would tell the them otherwise, and are trying to get them to look outside of Christ. Completeness found elsewhere.

But he has not left us without everything we need to be complete in Him.

Stable and Steadfast

Stable and Steadfast

In 1914, not long after the sinking of the Titanic, Congress convened a hearing to discern what happened in another nautical tragedy. In January of that year, in thick fog off the Virginia coast, the steamship Monroe was rammed by the merchant vessel Nantucket and eventually sank.  Forty-one sailors lost their lives in the frigid waters of the Atlantic.  While it was Osmyn Berry, captain of the Nantucket who was arraigned on charges, in the course of the trial Captain Edward Johnson was grilled on the stand for over five hours.  During cross-examination it was learned, as the New York Times reported, that Captain Johnson, “navigated the Monroe with a steering compass that deviated as much as two degrees from the standard magnetic compass.  He said the instrument was sufficiently true to run the ship, and that it was the custom of masters in the coast-wise trade to use such compasses. His steering compass had never been adjusted in the one year he was Master of the Monroe.” The faulty compass that seemed adequate for navigation eventually proved otherwise.  The realization partly explains a heart rendering picture recorded by the Times: “Later the two Captains met, clasped hands, and sobbed on each other’s shoulders.” The sobs of these two burly seaman are a moving reminder of the tragic consequences of misorientation.[1]

 Why do I tell you that? I think illustrates how the human heart, like Captain Johnson’s steering compass, has the propensity to drift. The slightest two-percent drift can produce catastrophic consequences. Our hearts need constant re-calibration.  We need to be set on a rightful trajectory. We need a sufficient compass. And that compass is the supreme and sufficient savior Jesus Christ who has been revealed in the pages of Scripture.

 And that’s why Colossians is so important. Paul is writing to a good church, but a church struggling against those who would try to get them to deviate from the truths they received at salvation. And the essence of Paul’s letter is to say, “Jesus is the supreme center of the universe. He’s everything you need. Everything about your life should be shaped by Him. And the moment you begin to forget that - as soon as you begin to diminish his supremacy - you will find yourself drifting in the wrong direction.”

[1] James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016), 20.

Jesus is Everything

Jesus is Everything

I have a singular goal this morning. My aim is that you would walk away from this passage with a much greater sense of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ than when you walked in this morning. Those two are inextricably linked together. We cannot come to the place where we realize Jesus is all that we need, unless we have a grasp on his supreme worth. And if we grasp his supreme worth, even in part, the natural response is to say, “Jesus is everything.”

 Now, we need to keep in mind that you and I cannot make Christ anything. He is what God has declared him to be. Christ is Lord. He is the center. We often make statements such as, “I made Christ the Lord of my life.” I know what is meant, and I’m not trying to play semantic games or say that is completely wrong. But the reality is that we cannot make Christ anything, much less what God has already declared him to be. And so the question is not what I make Christ, the question is will I rearrange my life around the reality of his supremacy? Will I give him first in everything.

 Our passage that was just read is undoubtedly one of the most important passages about the person of Christ in all of Scripture. Some argue that it was an ancient hymn. Some say it wasn’t. Either way, we should respond with greater worship.

 When Paul wrote to the church at Colossae they were faced with a question: Will they believe that Jesus is something or that he is everything? That was a question they had to answer because false teaching had made its way into their midst. Now we don’t know the exact nature of the false teaching. We can only gather so much from the text. But one thing seems to be clear: whatever this false teaching was, it put Christ on the periphery. They were taking the focus off of Christ and placing it on something else that promised to give them a deeper, more meaningful experience. And if we’re not careful to constantly giving our minds over to the glorious realities of Christ, we too will put Christ off to the periphery in our lives.

 What we need is glimpse of his supremacy. The only way to live a consistently Christ-shaped life is if we ponder his supremacy. Want to send our time, lingering on His supremacy with the goal that we would combat our fallen tendency to try and push Christ to the side.

How to Pray for Others

How to Pray for Others

It’s been said before that prayer is a window into the soul. What we pray about most, we care about most. We pray for the things that concern us. And likewise, the matters we don’t address in prayer are the things we care little about. That’s a sobering reality isn’t it? Because I can tell you how much something means to me - how important it is - but if I never bring it to the Lord in prayer, do I really care about it? We tend to pray most about that which we care about most.

 So as we come to Paul’s prayer for the church at Colossae, we can assume that what he is praying on their behalf is what he cares about most. More than anything else, this is what he wants for this church. As the passage was read for us this morning, you probably noticed that Paul’s prayer did not include a request for financial well being, physical health, safety in traveling, or for the Colossian kids to get into a good college. Now, it’s not that those things aren’t important. I’m not trying to dissuade you from praying about those things. But I would argue that those things are less important than what Paul is praying for in this first chapter of Colossians. This is a prayer that is so rich, that it should form the fabric of our prayers for one another. It should inform the way we pray for fellow believers, spouses, children, and oneself.

 I hope we understand that one of the reasons why every person in this church has a ministry, is because every one of us can pray. You and I can play a role in the spiritual growth of other people, even without seeing or speaking to them. Even when we don’t know the specific circumstances a person is facing or how they’re doing, we can still pray for them in the same way that Paul is praying for this church. Often people will ask me how they can be praying for me. And normally there are a couple current things that I certainly wouldn’t mind intercession for. But more than anything else, I need you to pray for me what Paul prays for the believers at Colossae. And you need to know, that this is my constant prayer for you.

 What we’re going to see in this passage is that the most important prayer for the church is that believers would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, and as a result live in a such a way that pleases Him. The most important prayer you can offer up for others, is that they would know and please God. And you have to keep in mind that Paul is working from the viewpoint that Christ is the supreme center of the universe. And when we recognize that - when we view all things through the lens of Christ death, burial, and resurrection- our prayers are going to reflect that.

Grounds for Gratitude

Grounds for Gratitude

What does it look like to live with Jesus at the center? If I could choose one over arching question that the book of Colossians answers, it would be just that. In your life, what does it look like for Jesus to be at the very center of all things? Let’s be honest for a moment. Many of us have heard, or used, the phrase Christ-centered. It’s become a bit of a cliche. Churches put it in their mission statement. Christian authors put it in the title of their book. But what does it actually mean? Colossians helps us answer that question. But Colossians also shows us what it looks like. That’s why I chose to call this series “Jesus Shaped Living.” The glorious truths of Jesus give shape to how we live - our attitudes, our actions, life inside the home and outside the home, ministry and everything else.

 Of course, it’s a lot easier to talk about Christ being at the center than to live that way, isn’t it? In the mundane moments of everyday life, a whole host of other things compete with Christ for center stage in our lives. And so my aim, and my prayer, for our study in Colossians is that we make the connection between what we know to be true about Jesus, and how we live. That we would recognize that Jesus is not someone we place at the center, but he is the center. And that the shape of our lives would reflect the incomparable nature of Christ Jesus

Back to Square One

Back to Square One

And they all lived happily ever after. It would be nice if that was how the last verse of Nehemiah 13 read. But instead we find an ending to this book that is all together different. It’s unlike most Hollywood movies. It doesn’t resemble most paperback novels. It’s anticlimactic. It has nothing of the predictable storyline that runs throughout most Lifetime movies. Having experienced a revival of great proportion, the people of Jerusalem take ten steps backwards and revert to their old ways. Whereas they has experienced a spiritual renewal, the book ends with the people of God once again in spiritual decay. What we’re going to see in this chapter is that all of the promises and all of the commitments that were made in chapter 10 have now been broken. They are, in a very real sense, back to square one.

 But how does something like this happen? How did the people of God move from renewal and revival to spiritual decay? And that’s an important question because the experience of the Israelites is not foreign to us. In fact, you don’t have to be a Christian very long before you become familiar with the ups and downs. The Lord may bring a season of renewal in your life. You’ve committed to live according to his Word. You’ve begun to see old habits put to death. But before you know it, the very things you said you would never do again…well, you’re doing them again. The reality is that even when we experience seasons of great revival, either personally or corporately, ew haven’t made it home yet. And there is an ever present need for us to persevere until the coming of our Lord Jesus. J.I. Packer rightly puts it this way, “Where God has sent reformation, Satan will work, behind the scenes if not overtly, for deformation of all that was made new.”

 So as we read chapter 13, I want us to not view it as a disappointing end to the story. Instead, let’s look at it as a sobering warning about the nature of sin. A reminder that we are a people in constant need of revival. A reminder that we are prone to drift. And yet, a people whom God has been very gracious too.

Great Sacrifice and Great Joy

Great Sacrifice and Great Joy

What do we do with the lists? Well, for most of us we skip over the lists of names because they seem insignificant and unexciting. If you walked in this morning excited because you knew chapter 11 and 12 contained long lists of name, you’re probably in the minority!

 Now there’s a reason why these names seem insignificant and unexciting (besides the fact they are difficult to pronounce). It’s because these are ordinary people. They’re not celebrities. There’s no glam. They’re ordinary people, who worked ordinary jobs, and lived ordinary lives. In a sense, they’re just like us. Ordinary people, ordinary jobs, ordinary lives. But that shouldn’t come to use as a Debbie Downer. One of the major themes that runs throughout Nehemiah is that God is fulfilling his promises. Think of Nehemiah as the unfolding of what God specifically said he would do through his people. It’s an integral part of the redemptive story line of the Bible. And as God has been rebuilding a broken city, His city, he’s done every bit of it through these ordinary people.

 God is still at work in the world. But instead of building temples and walls, he’s building his Church. He’s building the kingdom of God. And brick by brick, the kingdom of God is growing as people come to faith in Christ, as the body of Christ is built up and edified. And guess who the Lord is using to make that happen? He’s using ordinary people, with ordinary jobs, and ordinary lives. God’s intention for building his kingdom is to use you. Of course, our being used of God doesn’t come without great sacrifice. But, as we’ll see in our text this morning, it also is accompanied by great joy. In fact, it was so great, the text tells us that the “joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.” So what kind of sacrifices did they make, that they would experience overwhelming joy?

Easter Sunday

When It’s Hard to Believe

If something is worth believing, it’s worth questioning. Now, what I mean by that is this: don’t let your questions about Christianity slip away unanswered. There’s a good chance that some of you are not convinced about the the resurrection. You have your doubts. You have your questions. And one way of dealing with that is to…well not deal with that. And simply let your doubts and questions turn into cynicism. Another way of dealing with your doubts is to wrestle with them and look for answers.

 By the same token, if you call yourself a believer, you might have your doubts. And one way of dealing with them is to settle for pat answers or emotional experiences. But to not wrestle with our doubts can easily lead to a set of beliefs that is detached from the everyday struggle of faith. And when our beliefs are loosely held, they can easily crumble the day life’s struggles hit hard. And so whether you a skeptic or a believer, or somewhere in between - to wrestle with our doubts is the most responsible thing we can do. If something is worth believing, it’s worth questioning. And the reason why that is so important to consider on a day like today, is the fact that if the resurrection of Jesus Christ  actually happened (and I believe it did!) - then that truth changes everything.

 The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the greatest miracle of all time. In 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul calls says its of first importance. The fact that Jesus literally, physically, rose three days after being in the tomb is a guarantee of live beyond the grave for us. It is a witness to the ultimate power God has over life and death. It is the validation of everything Jesus claimed to be - the Messiah, the Son of God. It proves that God has accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. You see, everything about the Christian faith rests on whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection is a dividing line, so to speak.

Covenant Renewal

Covenant Renewal

Why is it that for some many, change rarely takes place? If I asked you individually, many of you could tell me about changes that need to take place in your life. You’re probably aware of sinful habits that need to die and priorities that need to be reordered. And yet, for so many, there is so little progress in our spiritual lives. It’s not enough to recognize that change needs to happen, you have to want it to happen. There has to be a commitment on the part of God’s people. James Boice, the late presbyterian pastor wrote that “There must be commitment to something different or bigger or grander than ourselves if we are to make progress in our lives.” A renewed life, requires nothing less than a radical commitment to God and his glory. And we see something of that as we open God’s word this morning as we turn to Nehemiah 10.

 Let me remind you, we’re picking up in the midst of a revival. The city has been built. The construction campaign is over. But now the more difficult work of rebuilding the people has begun. You see, more important than the wall around the city or the temple, is that God’s people are living in right relationship to Him. But once you’ve been estranged from God - as the Israelites had been at this point in history - how does that happen? How do you experience a genuine revival?

 Over the last few weeks we’ve seen it play out in this way: First, there has been a return to the Word. In chapter 8, the people come together and ask Ezra the priest to bring out the book of the law. He reads and teaches from it for six hours. The people listen intently. They Levites made certain everyone understood it and knew how to apply it. It caused an awakening of sorts to stir within. All of a sudden, they had been awakened to the gravity of their sin. For the first time in years they came to see in the beauty of God’s law, the ugliness of their sin.

 But second, after a return to the word there is a genuine brokeness. In chapter 9, the longest prayer in the Old Testament, is a prayer of confession. In fact, they confessed their sins for three hours. The rehearsed how over and over again they rebelled against God, only for their rebellion to be met with a greater outpouring of God’s mercy on them.

 And now we come to the third step in chapter 10. A revival is not complete unless the people of God commit themselves to live differently. Revival has not taken place unless there is a renewed commitment to live for the glory of God. And when there is that sort of commitment, then and only then can we make progress in our lives.

An Awakened Conscience

An Awakened Conscience

What do you do when things accumulate? Unless you happen to be the world’s cleanest person or you hire a maid service to come to your house, you know what I’m talking about. The laundry easily accumulates and you never feel caught up. There always seems to be an accumulation of dishes in the sink - especially after dinner. No matter how many times you take out the trash, it’s not uncommon to find it overflowing. Well, when those sorts of things accumulate we know what to do. Throw the clothes in the washer. Scrub the pots and pans. And walk the trash to the curb.

But laundry, trash, and dishes aren’t the only things that accumulate. Think about your sin. Think about your transgressions. Picture with me for a moment, that over the course of your life sin has piled up on sin. Imagine that your sin, over the years, has amassed into something of a personal landfill. It’s dense. It’s massive. It’s weighty. And it stinks. It hangs over your head with the potential to crush you at any moment. Yet, the mercy of God is the only thing keeping it at bay. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).

What do you do when your sin accumulates? We pick up in Nehemiah 9 this morning. And in this scene the people of God begin to rehearse the accumulation of their sin. It’s been about three and half weeks since the revival at the Water Gate. In chapter 8 there was a recovery of what it meant to be a people under the Word. The Book of the Law was opened for the first time in years. They gave their full attention to it. And as the Word was read, explained, and applied, they wept. That’s what happens. When you and I begin to take the Word seriously. When we learn to interpret the Scriptures, the Scriptures begin to interpret us. We are brought face to face with our sin as it’s exposed by the Word. And in a sense, our conscience is awakened. 

In fact, think of revival as happening in three parts. #1, there is the preaching and hearing of the Word of God. We saw that in chapter 8. #2, there is sorrow for sin and repentance. We’ll see that in chapter 9 this morning. And #3, there is a recommitment or renewing of the covenant. And we’ll see that next week. 

Bring Out The Book

Bring Out The Book

“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Those are the words of David in Psalm 85:6. And those are the words that I hope are on our lips by the time we conclude our study this morning.

 It is not uncommon for believers to at times drift into periods of weakness and indifference. For there to be stretches where there is little passion for the things of God, and little concern for how we might live for the glory of God. There are times when when we would best describe our spiritual life as dry, stagnate, and lifeless. And yet, the believer is not ok with this. The heart inevitably speaks, “Will you not revive us again?

 My guess is that some of your are in that very spot. The things of God do not interest you much like they used to. Bible reading is a chore that never gets done. Serving in the body is a burden. Old habits are becoming regular again. And your interest in the truth has wained. And what you need more than anything else is a fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit. You need a revival.

Now when I say the word “revival,” for some, that word conjures up images of big tent meetings with a preacher who can raise their voice a lot more than I can. Scheduled meetings where special services are held for a week, maybe two. People going door to door, handing out tracts. And that’s all well and good. But in Nehemiah 8 we see a revival of a different kind. There’s no tent. There’s no fiery evangelist. Instead, there’s a recovery of - and return to - the Word of God. Up until this point, the focus in Nehemiah has been on the re-building of the walls. But now, the story takes a decisive shift and it’s no longer about physical restoration, but spiritual restoration. The first six chapters are about the building of walls, and now the rest of Nehemiah is about the building of people.

 And what happens in chapter 8 is unique. It had been two hundred years since something like this had taken place. The last time would have been during the reign of King Josiah and the scribe Shaphan found the Book of the Law. Keep in mind that al these people who had returned to Jerusalem had been spent the entirety of their lives in captivity. They’ve lived with Babylonians, without a real awareness of what it means to be the people of God. Life for them was not the same as it had been for their ancestors. They knew they belonged to God but they were literally starving because what was missing was the Word of God. And so, as J.I. Packer so aptly says regarding this chapter, “God broke in.”

Pressing On

Pressing On

The famous Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe was no stranger to adversity. Growing up in the early 1900's as a Native American, Jim experienced the horrors of racism and prejudice. Not only that, he had to deal with the reality of death at an early age. His twin brother died when they were only 9 years old. And before he reached adulthood, both of his parents also died, leaving Jim an orphan.

 But God blessed Thorpe in one particular way—his athletic ability. He was one of the first players to ever play professional baseball and football. He was one of those rare athletes that excelled at whatever sport he tried. And among all of his accomplishments, perhaps his greatest was his two Gold medals in the 1912 summer Olympic games in Stockholm Sweden. Shortly before he was to start in the pentathlon, someone stole his shoes. Instead of giving up, Jim went to the trash and found two shoes … of two styles. One was an athletic shoe and another was a loafer. Each shoe was a different size. He compensated by adding an extra sock. He was determined to run the race that he had been asked to run. His perseverance and resolve to finish the race is what enabled him to run it. Jim was determined to run the race set before him with no excuses.

 You and I, have a race set before us. In fact, more than once the Bible uses this kind of imagery to describe the Christian life. The Apostle Paul, when nearing the end of his life said this: [7] I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). His life was focused on the one event which truly mattered - the mission that God had set out for him. Or consider what Paul said to the church at Galatia: [7] You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? (Galatians 5:7). You see they had believed the truth of the gospel, they were applying that belief to their behavior - but someone had hindered them. An obstacle had been thrown on the track.

 If the Christian life is akin to running a race, the obstacles are endless. We get begin to run well after righteousness, and yet find ourselves sidetracked by a besetting sin. We begin to run well seeking to know the truth of God, and yet find ourselves floundering to read the Bible. We begin run well living out the gospel in our lives, and yet find ourselves sidetracked by the schemes of the enemy.

An Internal Threat

An Internal Threat

Mortgage crisis. High lending fees. Foreclosures. Payday loans. Oppression. Corporate greed. One might think I grabbed those words from headlines in the news this week. But in reality, they’re an excellent way to summarize the problems in Nehemiah chapter 5. And at the same time, I doubt anyone would argue the contemporary nature of those problems. Once again we see that the book of Nehemiah, although removed from us by time and culture is in fact a very applicable book.

 As we resume our study this morning, let me remind you of where we’ve been. The people of God spent a good number of years in exile as a result of their disobedience. God had warned them time and time again. They ignored his warnings and broke covenant with him. But even in the midst of God’s just punishment, he promised to one day bring the scattered people of God back together to rebuild the city of God - as well as their lives. And because God is always faithful to his promises he does just that. He raises up Nehemiah. A man who studies his Bible and prays. A man with a passion for the glory of God. And he uses Nehemiah to lead the people in the rebuilding effort. And they get to work building the walls of the Jerusalem.

 But what proved true for Nehemiah and the people - what is always true for us - is that opposition is inevitable. Anytime you do something good for God, opposition will come. We’ve saw that chapter 4 especially as they people of God face verbal abuse and physical threats. But they didn’t give up. Nehemiah led them to work hard and trust hard. But what we’re going to see today is that the opposition continues in chapter 5. And this time it isn’t opposition from the outside - its opposition from the inside.