The LIFE TRANSFORMING Lesson I Discovered While Reading a List of Names in the Bible!

Have you ever caught yourself reading through the Bible and you come to a long list of names and you think, “Do I still get credit if I skip these? There are a few passages in the scripture that can make you pause and wonder if there is really anything to be gained by reading a particular list of hard to pronounce biblical names? (Before you comment… I know all about the genealogy of Jesus and the four women mentioned there as well as characters of biblical  significance.) I’m talking about the lists in the Old Testament where someone’s name is mentioned once and never seen or heard from again! Places where we have NO history other than a name thrown in among dozens if not hundreds of other names. To be honest, I never doubted that these lists were scripture and were profitable some way, but I figured that I didn’t have the biblical chops to know exactly who Nephishesim was and why his name was in the bible. But then I messed up…

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I told a bunch of students that we would go chapter by chapter through the book of Nehemiah! I had read Nehemiah dozens of times, but I always skipped the long list of names, therefore I forgot that Nehemiah chapter seven actually contains a long list of names! (It takes up over two whole pages and four columns in my bible!) So there I was, stuck with a commitment to go through this book chapter by chapter and I came to chapter seven and I had to prepare a message for our students or eat crow and explain that I had forgotten about this chapter or worse, I would have to admit that I was in over my head. I firmly held then (and even more so now)  that ALL Scripture is, “God-Breathed and useful” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)but this put it to the test.

I stared blankly at the text. I begged God. I looked up name meanings realizing that perhaps this was a stretch. I asked “Why?” a whole lot. When I was about to give up… He Spoke through the names!

They were there, because they mattered! I know, simple right? These people were listed because they were there! In this instance, they were there building a wall with Nehemiah. Then it hit me, the book might have Nehemiah’s name as the title, but it was just as much about the faithful who responded to his leadership. These folks weren’t only witnesses, they were participants.

I realized a two things:

  1. God cares about people.
  2. It’s incredibly good leadership take time to recognize and remember the work of the people you lead.

I still can’t pronounce half the names on that list, but I know this, seeing their name has impacted me and changed the way I lead. Maybe one day I’ll get the chance to tell them that God used a list with their name on it to bless me! Until then, I write thank you notes, applaud and do my best to encourage everyone who participates in the life of our church. After all, these people belong to God! I may be the leader up front at our church, but I am not the only one serving God.

So today I am thankful for a long list of names in the bible because it helps me really see the people around me.

Acts 4: The Cornerstone

The healing of a beggar in chapter three provoked a commotion and all the officials come to see what is going on. They demand to know by what power these things are being accomplished. The Apostles declare plainly through the power of the Holy Spirit that it was in the name of Jesus. (Notice that the Holy Spirit empowers them to testify about the resurrection of Jesus… Make no mistake the book of Acts is about Jesus.)

Peter presses in to the rulers that they are the ones who crucified Jesus. He references a teaching moment of Jesus just prior to his death, burial and resurrection (2 months before this event… You can find it in Matthew 21:33-46). Jesus tells a parable about wicked tenants who reject the owners right over a certain property and ultimately kill the owners son. He then goes on to quote Psalm 118:22-23 and says “the stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” implicating the Pharisees rejection of Jesus (and by association murder).

Now Peter throws it out again, this time spelling it out just in case they didn’t get it. “Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the chief corner stone” (Acts 4:11, ESV). Any attempt to build a platform to reach up to Heaven must have the Risen Christ as the corner stone. These men in the temple not only rejected Jesus but among them were men who set in motion the false arrest, trial and murder of Jesus.

These are some wicked dudes and Peter lets them know. But here is where the real power of the gospel lies… The sovereign plan of God takes the most wicked sin imaginable (the murder of GOD – John 1:1-3) and uses that very same act to cause the greatest good man has ever known (redemption and the forgiveness of sins) through the resurrection… They meant it for evil… but God intended it for good.

What a glorious God we serve. Every attempt to trump the gospel is turned on its head and proves the gospel even more true: Injustice is transformed into lavish grace, where men pour out their hatred, the love of God is made manifest, where men fight to exercise control, God proves his sovereign plan.

Is Sunday Morning for Discipleship or Evangelism?

When a pastor stands in the pulpit to presents a message a lot of work has gone into preparation of the sermon.  He stands for one brief moment to draw our attention to the very Word of God.  He stands there as a messenger.  God has spoken and we should hear and respond to God in an appropriate way.

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So during the weeks and months leading up to a message the pastor is engaged in reading, understanding, praying over and discerning the actual text of the sermon.  He might employ his training the Greek or Hebrew language to help pull out the meaning of a text.  He will do a study in geography and historical context when necessary.  In short, He will do as much research as necessary to determine that he accurately opens up God’s Word before us.

A pastor, however, will also study the culture in which he presents the message.  It is not enough to know the Truth… the Truth must also be applied.  Application can be summed up as How someone should properly respond to the message. The application will take on nuances according to the culture in which the pastor is presenting the message. Will there be hearer’s present who are post-modern thinkers?  Will there be audience members struggling with finances? How does the average hearer treat their children? What percentage of the congregation is single?  How many profess a relationship with Jesus Christ?  How many came just because it is Mother’s Day?  How many came because of special circumstances in their lives?  All these and more are questions a pastor may ask when preparing a sermon. (To know the right kind of questions to ask about culture in sermon preparation a pastor will spend a great deal of time during the week with people; both those inside the church and those outside the church).

Now comes the million dollar question:  Will the pastor tailor the message for insiders (the people who are there week to week)? or will he prep the message for outsiders (the people who may be present for the very first time)?  In essence will he be discipleship oriented or evangelistic?

I think we have convinced ourselves that the pastor can’t preach one sermon that is equally as relevant to both major types of people in the audience. The reason is a faulty paradigm that has entered into the Christian sub-culture. Many have rightly pictured the gospel as necessary for salvation, but have failed to also picture the gospel as necessary for sanctification (growth in Christ).  In essence, we are saved by grace, but work “on our own” after salvation to be more like Christ. While few would blatantly claim this to be true, it is non-the-less a prevalent thought in the way many practice and preach Christianity.

The outworking of such thought is an unfortunate side-stepping of the gospel in favor of a “moral of the story.”  In essence, the sermon becomes more like a fable than a message.  The scriptures are read with a deep desire to get straight to some sort of application like, “you shouldn’t lust” or “give to the poor.”  While there are many lessons to be learned from examples given us in scripture, we set people up for failure when we divorce the “moral” from the gospel message (in fact the outworking of this thought is legalism).

You see the gospel is actually everywhere in the Bible (The Old Testament included)!  Yet often we moralize the message and call it “meat.”  Don’t get me wrong.  The morals are there, but they aren’t there to show us how to live as much as how much we don’t live like we should.  The analogy to “face your giants” is actually just an expose on how you don’t face your giant like you should or the call to “get out of the boat” reveals that you are still in the boat.

So just because there is a moral to the story doesn’t mean that you can live up to it apart from Christ.  That is why believers need the gospel every sermon as much as unbelievers.  We tend to forget that Jesus left heaven for us and that the only way we will ever be able to fulfill the moral to the story is by faith in the only one who has ever perfectly fulfilled the moral of the story.  The truth is that no matter how hard you try you don’t have the power to conquire lust, greed, unforgiveness or any other sin in your life.  The moral just reflects how you have failed and even if you set out to achieve the moral you have to admit that you are starting from a position of failure.  You haven’t had the faith to face your giants in the past, how could you face them now with 3 easy points from the life of David?  This is self-help and it isn’t Biblical.  The gospel (and the Biblical message) is about God-help.  You can’t face your giants until you understand the one who stood in your place and faced the only real giant that could ever really kill you!  The gospel message is the only way that you will ever be able to have victory in your life.  It is the hope of “Christ in you” that gives you any kind of chance to actually overcome the sin in your life.

You can’t fight the sin in your life without the gospel. Don’t pretend that you have out grown it.  We need the gospel every day.  It is good for a pastor to sound more like an evangelist than an in-depth Bible teacher,  he maybe proclaiming what mature believers as well as unbelievers need to hear. If you think that you have moved beyond a need to hear the gospel in every sermon, you may want to reevaluate your motives… are you like those mentioned in I Corinthians 3 and 1 Timothy 1? The gospel continues to be good news long after we have first believed in Christ and it is what separates the Christian message from religion and other fables.