Friday, August 1st

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10 Minutes with God:

Friday, August 1st, 2014



I used to run cross-country. This will come as quite a surprise to many of you that know my complete and total aversion to physical activity of any kind these days. I signed up for the team my senior year of high school mainly because several of my friends were on the team and I had nothing better to do. This is a perfect example of negative peer pressure. I thought it sounded fun but seriously under-estimated the amount of running that was involved. Considering I spent most runs in the back of the pack, my grandpa used to say I spent all my time staring at elbows. He was very supportive of my running career.



If you have ever been to a cross-country race, you know that the finish line is typically marked with a large, bright banner that was hung as high as possible so that it would be visible to the runners.  This was always a critical point in the race for me.  Primarily because I was in a heated battle to avoid finishing last.  When there are 100+ runners in a race, it looks really bad to finish last.  Secondarily, however, the moment that my eyes could see the finish line I had hope.  It was always at that moment that I knew I could make it. As soon as I could see the finish line, I ran with more purpose, commitment and determination (but unfortunately, the same speed).



As we conclude our time in 10 Minutes with God this week and the consideration of Nehemiahs example of a purposeful and focused life, I want us to take a few moments to consider how we live this type of life in our own relationship with Jesus and in our own call to model the gospel.



Lets take a look at Hebrews 2:1-2:



Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.



Ironically, the author of Hebrews uses the example of running a race as a model for how we can/should live out our lives in Christ.  These verses follow the list in Hebrews 11 of those who had gone before them and demonstrated a focused and purposeful faith.  People like Enoch and Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Rahab, Samson, Gideon, David and others whose focus was fixed on God and that ultimately guided their actions and their choices.  In light of this great cloud of witnesses, Hebrews essentially instructs us on how to run.



There are a couple of things that stand out to me in these verses.  The first is the need to get rid of that which is slowing me down.  Most of the week we have talked about distractions.  The author of Hebrews calls it sin.  I love that these verses are blunt.  Sin in our lives is the equivalent to running a marathon while carrying a backpack full of rocks.  It makes it really difficult to progress, to keep running.  The solution is clear here: get rid of it.  If we are to run with the sort of effectiveness and impact of those who have gone before us, we have be willing to identify sin in our lives, confess it as sin and receive forgiveness.  Confessed sin is weightless and consequently we can run freely.



Lastly, and I think most critically, we are taught to look to Jesus.  In the NIV translates this phrase by saying fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  In the immediate context of the book of Hebrews, at the conclusion of a marathon there would oftentimes be a public figure or a celebrity of some sort seated on an elevated throne, ready to greet the runners at the conclusion of the race.  Drawing from that imagery, these verses remind us that the key to running is to understand what we are running towards, to see the finish line and not to take our eyes off it.  Herein lies the essence of purposeful and focused living: we look to Jesus and we dont remove our eyes from what awaits us at the finish line.  2 Corinthians 4:18 says it this way: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.



Run well.



Pastor Sterling Moore

Wednesday, July 30th

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10 Minutes with God:
Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Do you ever have moments when you go upstairs to get something and by the time you arrive, you have completely forgotten what you were looking for?  That seems to be happening to me far too often these days.  Somewhere between the time that I decided that I needed something and arriving at the place to acquire it, enough has gone through my mind that I am distracted to the point where I can no longer remember my original purpose.  It can be immensely frustrating.

On a spiritual level, I notice this most often in times of prayer.  I can be in the middle of a conversation with God and somewhere in the middle of the prayer, a random thought pops into my head.  The next thing I know, I have been thinking about my next day’s agenda, what I had for dinner last night, whether or not I remembered to DVR that new show that looks like it might be cheesy but also looks like it might have potential or if the Cubs are ever really going to be a relevant team again.  Somewhere in the midst of my mental rabbit trail, I remember that I was praying and apologetically return to my conversation with God.  Imagine if we did that in a conversation with a friend…we would have a lot less friends.

This week during 10 minutes with God, we have been looking at the example of Nehemiah as someone who demonstrates purposeful and focused living.  We reminded ourselves that we, as the Body of Christ, have an ever-present and great calling to proclaim the gospel in our communities, our families, our schools and in our church.  At the same time, there are many distractions that seek to draw our attention away from gospel living.

Today, I want to consider an example from the New Testament.  The disciples were receiving some criticism because some of the widows in their community were not receiving the same care and attention as others.

Let’s take a look at Acts 6:1-7:

6 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists[a] arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers,[b] pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.


The reply in verse 2 has always stood out to me.  The disciples said “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.”  At first glance this almost comes across as condescending, like the work of taking care of the widows is below them.  Upon further reflection, I think that quite the opposite is true.  I think that the disciples understood that importance of this potential conflict and the ramifications if the matter remained unresolved.  However, when determining a solution, they also understood what demanded their immediate attention: “prayer and the ministry of the word”.  Their decision to appoint qualified and spirit-filled leaders wasn’t because this work was below them.  They appointed these leaders because they understood and were committed to the specific responsibilities that they had in the church.

I find a bit of freedom in these verses.  If it wasn't  an expectation on the disciples in the early church to personally meet every need, then it probably isn’t the expectation for you or I either.  Honestly, I actually think that it is my pride that gets in the way here.  “If I don’t respond to this need” or “If I don’t meet with this person” then crisis will certainly ensue.  The model that we see lived out by the disciples reminds of two important truths.  First, the disciples had a clear understanding of the role that God had placed in their lives. Second, they were completely committed to staying focus on that call.  They did not ignore the issue but they did not compromise their calling to respond to it either.

I mentioned this week in the sermon that Nehemiah was uniquely qualified to lead the effort to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem.  In his position as cup-bearer to the King, God had given him influence and opportunity.  Where has God given you influence and opportunity?  Where ever that is in your life, you can bet (at least in part) that is where God has placed you to accomplish His Kingdom purposes.  Don’t miss your opportunity for impact by losing sight of the calling that God has created specifically for you.

Tuesday, July 29th

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10 Minutes with God:
Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

I don’t know if you have noticed this or not but it seems that everyone is really busy these days.  I know that I am.  As a matter of fact, one of the most common answers that I hear when I ask someone how they are doing is “Good, just really busy?”  That is probably the most common answer that I give when I am asked the same question.  We live in a seemingly perpetually overwhelmed culture.

In a men’s small group that I meet with each Wednesday morning, we recently read a book entitled Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung.  As you can probably guess from the title, the book is addressing this very same issue.  At the conclusion of the book I felt a little disappointed.  Despite the fact that the author had warned early on that he would not be offering conclusive and simple steps on how to resolve the issue of business, that is exactly what I was looking for.  I wanted someone to offer 5 easy steps to a less busy life.  I am not sure that this is available.

DeYoung however does very effectively expose much of what is at the root cause the the business epidemic.  One of the primary culprits is our propensity to say yes to the good at the cost of the great.  There are more opportunities than we can count coming at us every day.  Good, meaningful opportunities that anyone could (and they do) make a compelling case warrant our involvement.  The issue is not that the opportunities are negative or destructive (although those are available as well), it just that they shrift our focus from that which is primary, “the great work” that God has set before us.

This brings us back to the book of Nehemiah.  Yesterday we looked at how Nehemiah models focused and purposeful living.  Look at again at the efforts that his enemies make to slow or stop the work that he is doing to restore the wall that surrounds Jerusalem:

Nehemiah 6: 1-12:

6 Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. 3 And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” 4 And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. 5 In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 6 In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem[a] also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. 7 And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” 8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” 9 For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God,[b] strengthen my hands.

10 Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” 11 But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live?[c] I will not go in.”


In these verses, Nehemiah’s enemies try three different times to distract him from the work that God had set before him.  Each time Nehemiah is resolute and remains firmly where God has placed him, on top of the wall.  As we discussed in yesterday’s 10 Minutes with God post, in contrast to Nehemiah’s unwavering focus on the work at hand, often times I feel like my eyes are constantly shifting between warring priorities.

Ultimately, what I am coming to understand is that the problem is not that I am busy.  In many ways, I should be busy.  Nehemiah was busy.  You don’t rebuild a wall in 52 days that had been laying in ruins for over a century and a half by working half-days.  There is a lot to do in our families, in our community and in the church.  The question that I need to ask and deal with honesty is not whether or not I am busy but rather if I am busy with the right things?  Have I taken my eyes off of that which is primary in the pursuit of that which is secondary?  When properly ordered in our lives, we like Nehemiah, can say to all the distractions around us…”I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”

Monday, July 28th

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10 Minutes with God:
Monday, July 28th, 2014

There are reminders posted along highways and city streets informing drivers of the dangers of distracted driving.  Studies have shown that distracted driving is as dangerous if not more dangerous that driving while intoxicated.  It’s a pretty serious issue that we really couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago.  Cell phones and ipods, while offering many benefits, have the unintended consequence of causing many people to take their eyes off that which needs their undivided and complete attention-- the road.

As dangerous as distracted driving is, distracted living has an ever greater potential for harm.  One of the principal themes throughout the book of Nehemiah is that focused living produces Kingdom results.

Take a look at Nehemiah 6:1-4:

Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. 3 And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” 4 And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.

I love Nehemiah’s reply to his enemies when they attempt to stop his work: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”   As we look at the example of Nehemiah, it occurs to me that that one of the critical aspects of focused living is the understanding and awareness that we are part of “a great work”.

In all honesty, I think that I live much of my life only partially aware of the reality that God has called me to be a part of a great work.  As the church, we have been left with the responsibility and calling to represent Christ and his ministry to the world around us.  Ephesians chapter 5 (vs 17-21) articulates the this great work this way:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling[c] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

What strikes me in these verses is the fact that the calling, or great work, that we are about in our lives and in the church is as clear and it is vital.  Oftentimes I look at the example of Nehemiah and think, “if only God would speak as specifically and as powerfully to me; then I could live with that degree of commitment.”  But God has spoken to me just as clearly and the work is even greater than the task that was set before Nehemiah.  As the church we are in fact the very ambassadors of Jesus Christ.  We carry the message of the gospel- the message of life into a world that is dying. There can be no greater calling and no more important task.  This is our primary calling, our great work.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the the themes that has impacted me the most from our study of Nehemiah is that focused living produces Kingdom results.  As I process the example of Nehemiah, there are a few questions that have emerged for me that you may find helpful as you consider your own awareness and understanding of the calling God has placed in your life.  If you are someone who likes to journal, it may help to write our your responses to these questions.

  • How do I define or understand the “great work” that God has placed in my life?  What does it mean for me to be “Christ’s ambassador”?
  • How does my awareness of God’s calling in my life to live out the Gospel and represent Him impact how I approach my life?  How does it impact the way I approach today?
  • What takes my eyes off of the “great work” that God has given me?  What distracts me?


As we continue through the week, I want us to consider more specifically some of the distractions that prevent us from maintaining our focus on our great work.  What causes us to take our eyes off of the gospel and to settle for something less than living as the very ambassadors of Jesus Christ?

Friday, July 25

Friday
Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised.  I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!” At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.  Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor.  But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels[a] of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we[b] did not acquire any land. Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.  - Nehemiah 5:12-18

I love Nehemiah 5:12 because it shows that they really wanted to do what was right and didn’t have to wait and think about it: “We will give it back and we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” Since the brokers promised to obey, Nehemiah made them take an oath in the presence of the priests. This was a way of saying that the promise was not just between the bankers and the builders but between them and the Lord. Nehemiah then concluded this special business meeting with three actions in (5:13) that lifted up the seriousness of what they had decided to do:

• Nehemiah shook out the folds of his robe, which symbolized what God would do if they broke their vow.

• Next, the congregation responded with a collective “amen” which was a solemn assent to what had been said. The word literally means, “So be it” and it made the entire assembly a part of the decision.

• Then they praised the Lord in unison. What started as a great cry of outrage led to a confrontation which led to a commitment to change and concluded with shouts of praise in a corporate worship service.


In describing his own lifestyle during this period, Nehemiah’s memoirs tell us how he behaved. He was motivated by two biblical principles during the 12 years he was the governor in the land of Judah. He was devoted to the Great Commandment as spelled out later by Jesus in Mark 12:30-31, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Before thinking about how he could make a profit, he considered what was pleasing to God. In (5:15) he describes how previous governors got wealthy at the expense of the people. When comparing himself with what others did, Nehemiah stated, “But out of reverence for God I did not act like that.”

In Nehemiah 5:17-18 we see that he did not live extravagantly but instead lived generously by providing meals for others and not using his expense account to do so. Because he loved and revered God, he also loved the people he was called to serve.

That’s a great example for us to follow as well. Start first by focusing on God and your relationship to Him. As you do, you will have more love and compassion for others – even for those you have conflict with.


Jeff Frazier

Thursday, July 24

Thursday


 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.  I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say.   - Nehemiah 5:6-8


This passage shows us that Nehemiah, though angry, was committed to dealing with the issues in God-honoring and Biblical manner.  Jesus laid out this process for us in the Nw Testament. 
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.   - Matthew 18:5-7
It’s easy to get angry but then to cool off and do nothing. After all, it is difficult and uncomfortable to confront those who are causing a problem. It is especially difficult to confront those who happen to be rich and powerful, as these men were. What if they got defensive and withdrew their support of the project? What if they began to view Nehemiah as an enemy? They could use their clout to cause a lot more damage. Maybe Nehemiah should stall for time until the wall was finished. But he didn’t do that.
First, he privately confronted those guilty of mistreating the poor (5:7). We do not know whether this involved a single meeting or a series of meetings, and whether Nehemiah was alone or whether he took some trusted leaders with him. But the biblical pattern for resolving conflict is, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you” (Matt. 18:15-16a). While Nehemiah did not have our Lord’s teaching on this, he seems to have followed this pattern of private confrontation before any public confrontation.
Did Nehemiah succeed in private? We don’t know for sure, but probably not. There is no recorded response from the nobles at this point. So Nehemiah moved to public confrontation.
He called a great assembly and spelled out the problem. He rebuked the leaders (5:8) by pointing out how he and others had redeemed their Jewish brothers who had been sold to the nations, but now it was Jews themselves who were selling their brothers into slavery. They could not find a word to answer. He further stated that their behavior was not good in that their enemies would mock the Jews for their mistreatment of their own people (5:9).
Some think that Nehemiah (5:10) is admitting his own past failure in lending money at interest to his fellow Jews (based on the plural “let us leave off the usury”), but I think that he is just using the plural to identify with these men. Nehemiah had loaned money in accordance with the Law, without charging interest. He is appealing to these wealthy men to join him in doing the same. He asks them to give back to the poor their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and houses, along with the interest that they had charged.

There are many Christian leaders who are afraid to confront sinners with their sin, whether in private or in public. This fear in-creases when the person in sin is rich and powerful. But we must follow Nehemiah’s example of confronting those who are in sin. Nehemiah exhibited proper righteous anger under control. His anger gave him the courage to confront those who were wrong.

Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, July 23

Wednesday

 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.  I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say.  So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised.  I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.   - Nehemiah 5:6-13

This passage tells the story of how Nehemiah responded to the fact that some of the Jews were taking advantage of the misfortune of their brothers and sisters, and exploiting them for financial gain.  

It must have been terribly discouraging to Nehemiah to see that the people could stand strong together in the face of an outside threat (Neh. 4) and then turn on each other when times got tough.  After all they had been through together, were they now going to be undone by their own greed, selfishness and lack of compassion.  I wonder if Nehemiah had the words of Psalm 55:12-14 in his heart when he considered how to respond...

For it is not an enemy who taunts me
    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me
    then I could hide from him. 

But it is you, a man, my equal,
    my companion, my familiar friend.

We used to take sweet counsel together;
    within God's house we walked in the throng.



It is not at all a stretch to say that this is the most significant and dangerous threat Nehemiah and the people of God have faced yet.  Even in the church today, external opposition often has the effect of rallying people together, but it is often in-fighting and internal conflict that destroys us.  Sometimes, our greatest battle is not the struggle with the world outside, it is the struggle within!

Jeff Frazier