Do You Belong Here? (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

Do You Belong Here? (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

I was out to eat a Cracker Barrel as a young teenager. I had to use the restroom and so I excused myself and went in what I thought was the “men’s room” it was on the left just like the “men’s room” at the Cracker Barrel back home. If I had looked around I would have found it odd that there were no urinals, but I had to go! After I finished business I was washing my hands and a woman came in the restroom. Feeling slightly embarrassed for her I said, “excuse me, I think you are in the wrong restroom.” She did a double take stepped back out, came back in and said, “No, You are in the wrong restroom!” Horrified I looked at the wall and where the urinals should have been, there was a mirror! I sheepishly tried to escape the bathroom without anyone noticing that I had gone in the wrong restroom but I couldn’t help but feel like everyone was staring at me. I had gone to the wrong restroom!

I don’t know if that has ever happened to you, but I can let you know that it’s a life scarring event that you will need to blog about or seek therapy for later. As bad as it was though, can you imagine what it would be like to be cheering on the rebuilding of a city only to find out that you don’t belong there? It comes time to fill the city of Jerusalem and only those who meet the qualifications can live there.

Cover

The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it: These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. (Nehemiah 7:4-6 ESV)

The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer, but they could not prove their fathers’ houses nor their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Also, of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by their name). These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but it was not found there, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. (Nehemiah 7:61-64 ESV)

There was a shortage of people in Jerusalem. This was a problem because if the city came under attack it would need able bodied people to defend the city. Rather than putting out a call all over the land to allow anyone to live in the city. Nehemiah goes back to the records to determine who had the right to live there. It was important that those who lived in the city had a genealogical right to live there. If they allowed anyone in, they may as well have not built the wall because the enemy would be living inside with them. It was important to know who your ancestors were.

In the New Testament Jesus sets up a different standard for the Kingdom of God. He tells a man named Nicodemus that genealogical pedigree doesn’t matter as much as if he has ever been “born again.” Jesus issued a new standard: Not, who were your parents? But, who is your Savior? To be part of the kingdom of God, Nicodemus would have to recognize that his Jewishness wasn’t enough, that he had to come by faith in what Jesus could and would do for him on the cross.

Like Nicodemus we will be judged not on our birth, but on what we have done with Jesus. Like Nehemiah we will or won’t be allowed into the Kingdom of Heaven based up on our qualifications. Either we will try and enter on our own merit or we will plead that Jesus is all the merit we need.

Who or what are you depending on getting you to Heaven today?

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family (A REVIEW)

parenting

I’ve read a few parenting books now. Not because my parents were awful at parenting but because I’m not sure I’m that good. It always helps to get biblical insight into our everyday routines and practices and that is what I love most about this new offering by Paul David Tripp. This book is real, it’s practical and most importantly the author consults the scripture for application specifically relevant for parenting in this generation.

I’ll be honest it starts a little slow. If you are used to reading fiction or don’t read much the first few chapters, while beneficial, will be difficult to wade through. However, by chapter three the reading pace picks up and more ‘drama‘ is introduced to each of the chapters. Dr. Tripp provides modern stories of parents and children of varying ages and how different situations play out. You find yourself reading deeper and wondering if he has secretly been watching your family. Thankfully he admits his own faults as a parent along the way and comes off as a humble guide rather than condescending.

I really appreciate the tone throughout the book, while laying out gospel principles in parenting where you may feel like a failure he is ever extending grace (a gospel component no doubt). And in those moments when you feel like you could have written the chapter because these are things you were already aware of, He reminds you that this too is by grace. I especially appreciate that he doesn’t leave off the subject of parenting teenagers and young adults but includes theses stages of life and development.

So if you are a parent or would like to be a parent one day, I highly recommend this book to you! It’s great! No matter how discouraging your past, it will leave you encouraged with hope for the future. And even if you came from a great Christian home with wonderful gospel centered parents, this book will provide fresh reminders for a whole new context of parenting.

I  highly recommend Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles to any parent or future parent.  I can see it being especially helpful and encouraging for parents and ministers to children. The retail price is $22.99 (hardcover), and is available around the web in places like Amazon.com for $16.30.  I gave it five stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

What’s Best Next? (REVIEW)

_225_350_Book.1237.cover It is easy for me to focus simply on getting things done. I’ve read tons of productivity books, dialed in on TED talks and read tons of blog posts to learn tips and tidbits on productivity. The real jewel to this book, “What’s best next” by Matt Perman, is that it focuses on what’s EFFECTIVE. You can be busy doing stuff, but the key is being effective at what you do.To be sure there are tons of suggestions, ideas and tips, but the key is answering the question, “what is effective?”

Matt surprises you in how he helps you answer that question. He takes a steady aim at making the gospel central to everything, especially how we view effectiveness. He is a compelling and gifted writer who has studied and applied what he has learned. I’m thrilled to be able to learn from the overflow.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to be more productive/ effective at what they do. It’s a good read for Christian business men, pastors, and leaders of all sorts.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher as part of their Reviewer program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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The First Thing You Should Ask When Approaching God

The first petition in the prayer is “Hallowed by your name.” This is not in the language of a statement, but a request. Everyone knows that we pass around petitions when we want folks to sign their name to something that we will be presented to a governing body. It can be a petition to remove the coke machine from the cafeteria lobby or it can be a petition for congress to address an issue. The idea is the same. It is a request. After the introduction the model prayer becomes a list of six petitions. These are the sorts of things that should be at the top of our prayer list. These are the sorts of things that we should ask from God.

The first thing Jesus lists has to do with the name of God. The word “hallowed” simply means holy, set apart, special, revered, honored. Perhaps the best synonym for this word is “glorified.” You could read this petition as, “May your name be glorified.” The implication of this are profound. The very first thing that we are to ask God for is more glory for his name!

I don’t think you can utter this with sincerity without first looking inward and asking, “do I glorify God?” Do my actions point to Him? Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has already told those in attendance:

Matthew 5:16 ESV In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

There is a contrast here between the deeds of a disciple and the deeds of a hypocrite. Hypocrites perform their works in the hopes that you will give THEM praise. Those who follow Jesus recognize that all Glory, all honor, belong to GOD ALONE!

We should honor God with all that we do in His name. There has been much done in his name that does not bring Glory and Honor to him. Folks have picketed funerals, held up signs that “God hates fags.” Armies have waged wars in the name of God. We should be careful what we say and do in the name of God. Just because we use his name, it doesn’t guarantee that God is with us. Many people who have done things in his name will find themselves kicked out of the kingdom because they never really knew the king (Matthew 7:21)

One of my favorite phrases is, “I don’t have the answers, but I know who does.” This simple response to a friend in crisis has a way of pointing them back to the truth. This was what Joseph said to Pharaoh when he had a dream that needed an interpretation. This is what Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar when he had a vision that needed interpreted. Both men put the glory back on the father and said, “We are powerless, but we know the one who has the power.” This was a way of bringing both kings to glorify God.

By the way, there is something in our hearts that rebels against this notion. Apart from the wonderful work of Jesus in our lives we are very self-centered individuals. We want the glory. Often we make ourselves the center of prayer. The first petition out of our mouth is for something we want. It’s not even for something we need. We beg God for a raise, a promotion, peace to cover over the anxiety in our hearts, we come upset over how we’ve sinned against him again. We offer prayers to him like he is a genie and he has to grant us wishes. I think a large part of our population miss God because they have this preconceived notion that God is like a generous grandpa who is supposed to give us what we wish for without asking too many questions. And so those kind of prayers go unanswered they give up and assume God isn’t real because he didn’t clean up the mess they made. It’s not a prayer aimed at Heaven, it’s not a prayer centered on God’s glory rather it’s focused and motivated on an exchange. “I pray, you give.” It’s how a consumer mindset hijacks prayer. It’s also arrogant because we assume that this is how God operates. We don’t consult him. We don’t go to his book. We don’t seek him out. We simply make demands. We’re like children accusing our parents of unusual cruelty because we’ve been ordered to eat our green beans or even worse we’ve taken a gun and blown a hole in our leg and complain to the surgeon that it’s his fault that we are in so much pain.

Isaiah lived in a society that had experienced decent economic growth for its time. Then when the king died he saw a vision of God in the temple and all he could utter in his presence was:

Isaiah 6:5 ESV “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

The first thing he could utter from his mouth wasn’t, “Man this is awesome!” but a very real prophet of God all he could think was that his mouth had not done justice to the holiness, the glory, the worthiness of God. I wonder if we were to truly grasp the glory of God if we would not have the same utterance. It’s not like Isaiah cussed. He was a prophet and he had treated the name of God casually and when we saw a very real manifestation of the presence of God he couldn’t help but utter a curse on his own head.

Does it surprise you that God cares so much about his name? I mean you care about your name right? I’m fortunate to have one of those simple names that almost anyone can say, but I remember this one time when my wife and I had started dating we went to go see her grandmother. And for the life of me, she could not get my name right. She kept calling me “Jeremy.” At this point a little back story is helpful. Jeremy was the name of one of her’s Ex-boyfriends. Every time this sweet lady said Jeremy part of me was very offended. I had to take a moment to calculate whether or not she was doing it on purpose or if she was truly a forgetful woman. (Now that I know her, there is a very good chance that she did it on purpose).

If you and I can get that way over our name being misrepresented, pronounced wrong, or forgotten, how do you suppose God ought to be over his name that is to be the most highly respected name in the whole universe? Do you think he’s glorified when we let his name slide like a curse word? Is he honored when we use his name to mock others? Especially the name of Jesus when the bible says that at His name every knee will bow and that there is no salvation in any other name.

One of the joys of my job is that I get to coach students on how to impact their campus with the gospel. I’m at three or four schools each week. One week I was at one of our local schools and a student was in the club and he was saying things like, “Oh my G___” and using Jesus’ name as a cuss word. We quickly jumped into a conversation about what it means to “Not use the Lord’s name in vain.” Which is also one of the ten commandments. This particular day was a leadership meeting and we were meeting to establish which students would lead in prayer, and the other various aspects of the club. This student wanted to pray. And we quickly got caught up on the Model Prayer. I said, “Man you can pray, but only if you are repent of how you use have used God’s name. When Jesus teaches us to pray the very first thing we are supposed to ask God for is that his name would be glorified and I don’t see how you can do that while using his name as a cuss word.”

Do Tattoos Matter?

“Is God against tattoos/ body modification?” The question came to me simply enough last year when one of my students came in and shared an experience they had at another church. The youth pastor got up and started railing against tats… This particular teenager felt a little uneasy because they had several family members with tats. So I took some time and we explored what the Bible really does say about tats and body modification.

There are many reasons to not get a tattoo, but the bible doesn’t provide us with God’s explicit thoughts on the subject (It’s not the 11th commandment). The word tattoo is mentioned one time in the whole Bible. In the context it means “to write on yourself.” So if you did that in middle school with a pen then I’m pretty sure you’ve already broken this commandment … but let’s take a serious look at the verse about “tattoos” and use this as an exercise in understanding how to read the Bible in context.

“You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:26-28 ESV)

It is important to understand that the book of Leviticus was written to the nation of Israel and was written with the priests especially in mind. The gist of the whole book is to not look like the pagan cultures around. It is for a specific group of people that lived at a specific time in history. We can learn a lot from it, but we do so at a distance. We are not traveling through the desert about the enter the promised land that is full of pagan people who do these things.

The command prohibits cutting your body for the dead and marking yourself like the people around them were doing. The idea is that when someone died, evil spirits would be around, so you would disfigure yourself so as not to be recognized by the evil spirit. The tattoo stuff implies that you are getting inked with the name of a false god or demon… all of these commands are in the context of how people worship idols and fake gods…. So if you were planning on getting a lotus flower tat to honor the Hindu god Shiva… then I’d say God isn’t pleased with your tat (and that’s really just common sense… based on the first and second commandments). In the book of Revelation we see something similar with the Mark of the Beast (Revelation 13:16-17), to get THAT tat you are permanently marking your body saying that, “I belong to Satan.” So God’s definitely against that… but in those cases I think your bigger problem is your heart that that is living in rebellion to God, not the ink in your skin.

This command in Leviticus doesn’t forbid EVERY kind of cutting and tattoo, only those that are in service to false gods. Because this verse alone doesn’t forbid all tattoos/ body modification, etc. some people appeal to the New Testament where the Apostle Paul tells the church in Corinth that their bodies are the “Temple of the Living God” (1 Cor. 3:17, 1 Cor. 6:19, 2 Cor. 6:16). The logic follows that if your body is the temple of God, then you shouldn’t mark it up with tattoos (or any body-modification for that matter). The problem is that none of those passages actually say anything like that. In context they say, “God doesn’t need a temple like pagan God’s because you’re the temple.” “Don’t sleep around because if effects you more than you think.” And “Don’t worship false idols, it’s absurd to put an idol in the temple to the one true God.” … Nothing about body modification/ tattoo’s, stitches, heart surgery, stints, pacemakers, braces, fillings, etc…. “Your body is a temple” is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misquoted passages of scripture. Seldom do I ever hear it quoted in context, most often it is used to beat someone up.

I actually have it on good authority that God is pro body modification. Every little Jewish boy around 8 days old got a permanent cut called circumcision. The difference was that this cut (body modification) was at the hands of someone else and it was to honor God (not an idol). The first big argument in the church was actually whether or not the church was supposed to force new converts to get this cut. In fact some people were going around saying, “you’re not a real Christian unless you have this painful body modifying cut done.” Check it out for yourself in Acts 15.

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”
(Acts 15:1-5 ESV)

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”(Acts 15:19-21 ESV)

So do you see what is going on here? Someone is going around saying that unless you get the permanent mark on your body, you cannot be saved! (Sounds like a twisted parallel to the message my student heard, “you can’t have a tat and be saved”).  Indeed somebody else stands up and points back to the law of Moses (the law of Moses included the first 5 books of the Old Testament, including the book of Leviticus). The council makes a distinction here and says rather than forcing them to keep all of our customs and laws (which were peculiar to them as a nation), we are going to separate the national law from the moral law… The only thing we ask of someone who converts to Christianity is that they act morally.

This is very important by the way because someone one day is going to take something obscure out of the Old Testament Jewish rituals (which I think all foreshadow Jesus and are worth understanding) and say, “Why do you eat shellfish when they are unclean, or do you wear clothes made out of two types of fabric, etc when the bible says you shouldn’t.” The answer is easy and simple… because I’m not a Jew. God doesn’t require us to do that. Acts 15 tells the story.

I think in the same freedom afforded you to eat bacon affords you the freedom to get a tattoo provided you don’t get one as an act of worship to a false god or idol. I think you would need to ask yourself the question, “Does this honor God?”

For the record. I don’t have tats. I don’t plan on getting any. I don’t want my kids to have them (until they are out on their own and they can make their own decisions)… but all for extra biblical reasons and as a point of personal preference.  Read carefully, I have not made a case for why you should get a tattoo, only that what you have on your skin does not indicate what has or has not happened in your heart. The real body modification that needs to take place for all of us is in the heart (Deut. 30:6, Romans 2:29).

Prayer Involves Community

We are not alone. We do not get to call God, “My” Father as if we had an exclusive relationship. He has saved many sons and daughters. Those who have come to him in faith, belong to him in community. There are no lone-ranger Christians. We are compelled even when we pray to recognize that we belong to God…together.
The “our” here is a large collection of folks. In the context of this prayer it encompasses people from every tongue, tribe and nation (Rev. 5:9, 7:9). It includes men and women (Gal. 3:28). It includes those who have been outcast (Lk 16:19-31). Those who were sexually immoral, those who worshiped idols, those who have committed adultery, those who were homosexuals, those who were thieves, those who were alcoholics, and former con-artists… anyone who has died to self and picked up to follow Christ (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
This is precisely the point where Christianity and radical Hinduism are extremely different. We say there is no karma, just sin. Repent and be saved. They say there is karma and what you’ve done in a previous life has set you up for whatever suffering you get in this life. So the high cast and the low cast people are not equal. Within Christianity everyone is equal. We were all sinners. We all come by the blood of the lamb.
Realizing this we acknowledge that we do not act in isolation. Our actions have consequences that affect the greater body of Christ. We will give an account to our Father about how we have treated our spiritual siblings and others. Earlier in this larger section of scripture known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mat. 5:23-24).

When we pray, we are to recognize that we are not in isolation, our actions for and against our spiritual siblings count. Some of you have hindered prayers because you have grievously sinned against your brothers. It doesn’t matter how great your speech is, or how eloquently you can present your requests to God. When your fellowship is broken with your brother/sister in Christ then you will have difficulty in real prayer… I’m sure you could still get out a bunch of words, but authentic prayer comes from the heart. The Apostle Peter writing in first Peter pleads with husbands to honor their wives so that their prayers won’t be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7). There is no us vs them in the family of God…just us.

Philippians 1:12-14 (Devotional Thought)

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14 ESV)

Paul is writing this letter to the Philippians from prison in Rome. He was arrested for causing a riot. People were angry that he was preaching the gospel. He was a Roman citizen and had a right to appeal to the emperor and Paul claimed that right and was shipped to Rome. When he stands before the emperor he may be released or he may be killed, but at the time he writes this letter he is in prison.

When we go through difficult circumstances because we follow Jesus it can become easy to get depressed and wonder why we are suffering, but not Paul. Paul saw everything that was happening as God’s plan to take the gospel to a place it would have otherwise never gone. He was placed with Roman guards all day and all night, rather than telling them about how he was innocent or trying to convince them to put in a good word with someone, he was telling them about how Jesus had changed his life and could change theirs too! They were listening. Some, like the jailer from Philippi, were responding to the gospel and trusting in Jesus! And while the whole imperial guard didn’t sit down with Paul individually, he was making such big waves with those who were that they couldn’t help but tell the story of Paul, why he was in prison and about this Jesus that he preached. I imagine some people thought he was crazy, but others listened, and many believed.

This had another side effect. Other Christians had been watching Paul and when they saw that he was being bold to share the gospel it encouraged them to be bold as well. They weren’t afraid of what people would say anymore. They weren’t afraid of what people would do.

The gospel changes the way we look at our circumstances. Have you ever wondered why you live in the neighborhood you live in, attend the school you do, or have the interests you do? When you look at them through the lens of the gospel you see the reason you are where you are is to tell other people about Jesus. You may find yourself in a crumby situation like where you are sick and have to see doctors and nurses all the time, or at a school you don’t like. Think about this though, if God can cause use Paul being in prison to further the gospel then he can use you where you are.

What are the circumstances that God has placed you in for the purpose of telling others about Jesus?

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