Live With Integrity

(Today’s post by Adam Cooper)

Nehemiah 9:38-10:39

integrityThe commitment of the Israelites that have come out of exile continues to be displayed and in this portion of Nehemiah it is being displayed through the execution of a covenant among themselves. This covenant is their way of recommitting to the Levitical laws that prior generations failed miserably to adhere to; and it was these failures that eventually led to their exile to begin with. Nehemiah has succeeded in bringing the Jews back to their God and now he has a signed document to prove it. As I look upon this act of the Jews it makes me think about baptism; you repent from your sins and accept Christ as your Lord and savior and then you participate in Baptism as a public declaration of your new faith. The Jews repent from their sins and rededicate themselves to the laws of God through this public declaration of placing their names on this document.

It would take a discussion of the Biblical books that follow this period in history to see how seriously this covenant was or was not taken. The return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile makes the third return from exile in Jewish history; Egypt, Assyria (circa 722 BC), and now the Babylonian (circa 586 BC). This history would indicate that the Jewish re-commitment this covenant declares will probably be less than sincere in the long run. However, I may be mistaken, but I do not believe another exile follows although the Jews continue to live as a people occupied constantly by foreign armies; most notably the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans.

As I read Nehemiah I have this “déjà vu” feeling almost like hearing a promise from a friend that has let you down MANY times. Although there is a sincerity in their actions I feel that the actions lack INTEGRITY. (Integrity: 1. firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; incorruptibility, 2. an unimpaired condition; soundness, 3. the quality or state of being complete or undivided.) Even though in the grand scheme of Jewish history their actions may have led to decades, maybe even centuries of dedication to God, they continually struggled with their commitment.

What is God trying to tell us through this Old Testament scripture? Why is this written covenant of the Jewish exiles important to those of us living today?

I feel like one of the biggest enemies of the Church today is the integrity of its members. Hypocrisy runs rampant as people live one way on Sunday and another way the rest of the week. People espouse a commitment to God and the teachings of Christ but walk over others as they attempt to further THEMSELVES rather than glorify God. People reach out to God in prayer when they face hardships but when things are going well they completely forget God is moving within their lives. I can probably sit here and name hypocrisy after hypocrisy but that would lead people to believe that I am judgmental and saying that I am better than everyone else. I fail miserably day after day just like the rest of you. But it is important to realize that the difference between being hypocritical and being a product of living in a fallen and sinful world is the conviction that is felt when one fails miserably. The hypocrisy I talk about is when those who commit these indiscretions do not realize they are being hypocritical in their actions. If we are to have a proper witness for Christ we must maintain our integrity and that means being as real as possible when we do, or do not, represent Christ properly.

Now that the momentary stride upon the soapbox is over, I feel that God is trying to tell us through this story in Nehemiah that it doesn’t matter how much we declare our commitment to Him if we do not live that commitment to Him. Many of you probably wish I had just said that in the first place huh?

My prayer for you and I today is that we allow ourselves to examine our lives, our actions, and our commitment to Christ to discover if we are living with integrity. Ask God to point out any failings in these areas and take action to correct them. Maintain your witness for Christ by being real.

Reaffirmation of the Law & Freedom from Darkness

(Today’s post by Wayne Bunting)

Nehemiah 7-9:21

darknessAfter all of the opposition that Nehemiah and the Jews faced, they finally built the walls, and the city was re-established. Once all of the people had returned from Babylon and settled in, Ezra read the Law aloud to all of the people. In a moment reminiscent of the initial giving of the Law, this moment serves to solidify the whole point of the Law in the first place: God’s covenant with His people. The breaking of this covenant by His people is what caused them to be taken away into exile in the first place. And now that they have returned and their time of punishment is over, the Law and covenant are reaffirmed. I love verse 8:5-6: “Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” In addition to this the Levites “read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” (8:8). It is a tremendous scene.

The reaffirmation of the Law is significant in that it continues God’s work in the Earth through the Jews. He had once told the Jews that through them the nations would be blessed. Not only this, but all of the allusions to the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Law, were to be carried out through the Jews. So the reaffirmation of the Law and God’s covenant with His people is very significant for what is to come.

In 8:13-18 they discover in the Law (Leviticus 23:34) a forgotten festival involving shelters. This festival is what is considered in the New Testament in John 7:2 as the Feast of Tabernacles. It celebrates the time in Exodus when the Israelites lived in the wilderness just after the Exodus, and they lived in booths (hence the emphasis on shelters). During the time of this feast the Jews were to live in temporary “booths” as a remembrance of how the Lord delivered them out of the bonds of Egypt.

The events that take place during the Feast of Tabernacles are very important. Most significantly, a priest would take water from the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem back to the temple and pour it into a silver basin (like a colander) which would in turn allow water to flow out of it. This was a reminder of the water from rock event that took place during the Jews’ time in the wilderness (Exodus 17:1-7). The priest would then call on the Lord to provide water (rain) for the people. And provide He does.

In John 7:36-38 Jesus is in the temple during this precise time of the feast of Tabernacles. The Pharisees are trying to kill Him and are arguing His validity as Messiah. During this extremely intense time of the festival, as the Pharisees and the people are arguing over who Jesus is, looking to kill Him, and as the priest is performing the ritual of pouring the water, Jesus stands up and says this in front of all of the people: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (7:36-38). Subsequently, verse 39 says that “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” Wow. When you really start to look into things you really see how the Law and the Prophets point to Jesus.

The symbolic act of dwelling in temporary shelters for 7 days was a reminder of what God had done for His people, delivering them from the bondage of Egypt, and also served as a symbol of the bondage that He would free His people from through Christ, who not only tabernacled among us as a human, but sent the Holy Spirit to tabernacle in us. This is the reason that the reaffirmation in this section of Nehemiah of the Law and the covenant that God had with His people is so significant. Because through this foundation that God laid through the Jews we receive the Messiah, Christ, and subsequently the Holy Spirit. This is a big deal. Ultimately the giving of this Spirit that is spoken of in John 7:38 is seen in Acts 2 during Pentecost, another Jewish festival.

So we cannot be so quick to divorce the Old Testament from the New, because without a proper understanding of the Old Testament we cannot fully understand the New Testament, and the work that is meant to happen through Christ in the world. The Holy Spirit is given to the church so that it can fulfill its mission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I (Jesus) have commanded you” (Matthew 20:19-20). This is evangelization, teaching, discipleship, miracles, and the world coming to know God, and enter into covenant with Him. This is God’s promise to Israel that through them all the nations would be blessed.

Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law, is the light of the world. Now that He has risen, the Holy Spirit has come, and it is our job to carry out this task. We are bond-servants of Christ, and as such we are obligated because we have been freed from the bondage of sin (like Israel was freed from her bondage to Egypt) and given freedom and new life. Just as Israel was in a covenant with God in the Old Testament, so are we in a new covenant in the New Testament through Christ. Remember what God has done for us through sending His son to die to free us from sin, just as during the Feast of Tabernacles the Jews called to remembrance what God had done for them in Egypt.

So this great salvation that we have is not to be taken lightly. Know God; know Him deeply. Do not let sin get in the way of your relationship and covenant with God like the Jews did a long time ago. We are redeemed, but we are not redeemed and freed from sin so that we can do whatever we want and turn back to it, but so that through the work of Christ we can take the gospel to the world. The degree to which we know God is the degree that we will want to serve Him. And since sin gets in the way of knowing Him, it also clouds our ability to show the world Christ. I’m not advocating for legalism, since we are already justified through Christ, but I am saying that if we truly see this Holy God and taste of His spirit, then we will not want to sin because we see who God is. So go church, go into all of the world and show who Christ is, be it here in Covington, or anywhere beyond. We’ve been freed, and now its time to take this freedom to those who are living in darkness.

Haters Gonna Hate, So How Do You Handle Them?

(Today’s post by Chris Queen)

Nehemiah 6

haters-gonna-hateAs Nehemiah and the Israelites worked on the wall around Jerusalem, they encountered resistance from Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab. These three guys tried to sabotage the work on the wall at every turn. In chapter 6, we see them trolling Nehemiah, trying yet again to start trouble even as the wall reached completion.

1 When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it—though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates— 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me;  3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.

5 Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter 6 in which was written:

“It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king 7 and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.”

8 I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.”

9 They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.”

But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

When all was said and done, construction on the wall was complete, and everyone knew who got the credit.

15 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.

16 When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.

Yet, somehow, Tobiah and the others wouldn’t give up, and they kept picking at Nehemiah over and over.

There’s a lesson here in how to handle resistance. We will all have to deal with the haters at one point or another in our lives, just like Nehemiah did. But how do you handle them? Do you engage them? Do you stoop to their level? Or do you handle them like Nehemiah and keep pressing on, praying and counting on God to take care of you?

Let’s face it: the haters are going to hate, like it or not. But how we handle them can change the outcome tremendously.

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