Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Shame of It All - Timothy Dubeau

As with many books in Scripture, the opening verses typically set the stage for what is to follow.  Nehemiah is no exception.  Early in the first chapter we hear Hanani’s reconnaissance report to Nehemiah in which he says “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame” (Neh 1:3 ESV).  This word combination of “trouble and shame” is variously translated in English versions as “trouble and disgrace” or “distress and reproach”.  For the word here listed as either “trouble” or “distress”, the Greek version of the Old Testament (LXX) uses the word poneria, meaning wickedness, maliciousness, sinfulness – the intentional practice of evil.  For the word listed as either “shame”, “disgrace”, or “reproach”, the sense is that the remnant brought this unfavorable situation upon themselves and are now suffering the consequences.

The subject of shame pops up for the first time in scripture in Genesis 2:25.  There we read “And the man and woman were both naked and were not ashamed.”  Here the implication is that of total innocence.  Thus, to be ashamed or in shame carries the sense of guilt - in particular the guilt that comes about through broken relationships – not only between one another (as with Adam and Eve) but more importantly with God. 

Shame is not only a moral state reflecting the effects of sin, but it is an emotional state as well.  According to Paul, to not be ashamed of one’s own sin, i.e. to “glory in their shame” makes “one an enemy of the cross of Christ” whose end is “destruction” (Phil 3:18-19).  But though sin leads to shame and reproach, forgiveness which comes through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” allows us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Heb 12:1-2).

Another kind of shame comes from outside of us.  It is shame that is imposed upon us.  We who have parented children may have used such expressions as “shame on you” or “you should be ashamed of yourself.”  Such expressions are meant to bring about an awareness that might not otherwise be experienced by the child.  When such an awareness of ones sin takes root, the door is opened for the acts of confession and repentance.  Nowadays, such an approach might be regarded by some as child abuse.  This reflects the age in which we live – an age of shamelessness.  Think of this in relation to our culture today.  There is a lot of “shaming” taking place.  And yet there is very little evidence that the “shamers” have any sense of their own sin.  The marginal relationships sustained in this culture with one another and with God seldom translate into shame. 

In the Bible, shame is often associated with justice.  On the one hand, the one who carries their shame without remorse is the one who is under the judgement of God.  On the other hand, we could say that shame itself is a deterrent – an unpleasant condition that every child of God wishes to avoid.  The recognition that we ourselves are culpable for our sinful actions and thus subject to God’s judgment ought to bring about a sense of shame which we should be eager to eliminate.

The remnant who are at the center of Nehemiah’s account were ashamed.  Whether it was self-inflicted or brought upon them from outside we cannot say.  I’m inclined to think that for them it was a double – whammy.  They were brought low by their own shame because of past sin and they were shamed because their present circumstances showed a lack of unity with one another and with God.  They had all but forgotten who they were as God’s chosen people and had failed to bring Him the glory He deserved by completing the restoration of Jerusalem.  A friend of mine summarized it all by saying that the city which was ordained to represent God’s magnificent glory “lay in shambles because of their sin.”  Brought low in shame, they were now in the place where God could do a mighty work in their lives.  First came the physical restoration of the wall.  Then God would embark on the spiritual restoration of their hearts, and as a result eliminate the shame they carried. 

The world is inclined to worship itself far more than to worship the one true God.  Having no place for God, there is no room for shame and thus no path to forgiveness.  In its attempt to “make the world a better place”, humanity has left God out of the equation.  Instead of building a New Jerusalem, the world has succeeded only in building another Babylon.

As those who represent the church of Jesus Christ, may God grant us the discernment, strength, courage and resolve to make His Name great among the nations.  Instead of trying to build a city with human hands in this age – which by the way, none stand a chance of surviving into the age to come- let us work to receive the Kingdom that has already been established and is ours by inheritance.  And let any shame we may experience due to our sin be the catalyst that drives us ever more into the arms of our Savior Jesus Christ where salvation full and free rests.

Questions for reflection:
1. What is the purpose of shame in God’s economy?
2. Are we too easily apt to be “shamers”?
3. How is shame lacking in our own culture?
4. How is shame lacking in our own lives?
5. Is shame healthy or harmful?
6. Is there a “cure” for shame?
7. When will we be truly unashamed? 

Reverend Timothy Dubeau

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

On Reading the Old Testament - Henry Knapp

I’m sure we have all heard it plenty of times (perhaps, we have also said it ourselves)… The Old Testament is hard to read! It’s confusing. It’s bloody. It’s boring. It’s… well… it’s history. We know it is God’s Word, and know that we should cherish it, but, frankly, it is just too… unreadable!

Intellectually and theologically we might know better. We know that this is the Bible Jesus used. It’s the book of which He said, “Not an iota, not a dot will pass away until all is accomplished.” The Old Testament is as much the Word of God as the New. These things we might know, but I fear that our practice betrays us. When we read the Old Testament, beyond the Psalms, perhaps some favorite Bible stories, too often we do not experience the joy of hearing from our Father. We don’t encounter the grace of our Savior. We can’t relish this gift of the Holy Spirit.

While I suspect that there are many reasons for this practical neglect of the Old Testament, there are a few reasons I see most clearly in my ministry and in my own life. First, we often don’t know what we are reading. When we approach the Bible as a group of moral stories, or as a history of the Israelites, or even as a collection of inspiring accounts of individual interactions with God, it is no wonder we don’t read it well. The point of the Bible is not our moral interactions. It is not religion. It is not for our inspiration. The point of the Bible is to recount God’s plan of redemption as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. That is what we are reading when we read both the Old and the New Testaments. We are reading of God’s work of redeeming His people through the salvation in Jesus. If we read the Bible looking for the wrong things, it is no wonder we will not understand it.

Similarly, all too often, we do not have a clear grasp on the essence of the Gospel itself. Our understanding of the Gospel message has been diluted, watered down to “how we live our lives.” While our daily lives are indeed to be shaped by the Bible, the Gospel is so much more than just about my daily life. It is about the depth of our sin; our spiritual inability in the face of our sin; the passion of God for His sinful people; the substitutionary sacrifice of the Son; His victory over death; our union with God and one another. The Gospel is beautiful in its simplicity; and, beautiful in its unfathomable depth. If we do not know God’s plan of redemption, it is easy to miss it in His Word.

As we explore the Scripture together, as we learn to submit ourselves to His Word, we will be seeing more and more clearly God’s plan for our redemption, culminating in the Cross of Jesus our Lord.

In preparation for this Sunday’s message, you might want to consider the following:

1. Why does the Old Testament have such a negative reputation?
2. Read Matthew 5:17-20 for insight into how Jesus approached the Old Testament.
3. How can we develop the kind of respect for the Old Testament that Jesus Himself had?
4. Read Exodus 17:1-7. Why would it be easy to read this story as just another example of Israel’s bad interactions with God?
5. How does the depth of Israel’s sin show itself in this story?
6. How does the depth of God’s love for His people show itself?
7. How does this event in Israel’s history point the way to the work of Jesus?
8. In what ways might we respond in faith to this Word?

Looking forward to meeting you on Sunday!


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Power of No - Doug Rehberg

Sirens were beautiful creatures from Greek mythology who lured sailors to their death. The power of their song was so irresistible that it would cause captains to steer their boats into the rocks.

We are seduced daily by proposals, promises, and perspectives that may leave us shipwrecked too, unless we learn and relearn the power of saying no. Investor Mark Suster has warned of the peril of shiny new objects. He says, “Everything you say ‘yes’ to is incrementally one more thing you must support with time, energy, and personal resources. The result is death by a thousand cuts. I strongly believe that your successes will be more defined by what you choose not to do than by what you choose to do.”

Why is saying “no” so hard for us? One well-known psychologist suggests three reasons:
1.       Accommodation: We say “yes” when we want to say no. This usually comes when we value the relationship above the importance of our own interests.
2.       Apprehension: We say no poorly and then feel guilty. Sometimes we are fearful or resentful of the request and overreact to the person asking by saying no when we do not mean it.
3.       Avoidance: We say nothing at all because we are afraid of offending the other party. We hope the problem will disappear, but it does not. We end up obligating ourselves through silence.

But, saying no is far easier when you have the confidence and foresight that comes from the clear goal a vison brings. Steve Jobs once said, “I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as much as things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.”

Someone has said, “Saying no is powerful because it’s so rare.” Instagram founder Kevin Systrom turned down a personal offer from Mark Zuckerberg to be one of Facebook’s earliest employees. This move could have cost him hundreds of millions of dollars. But Systrom believed in his own vision and that staying in school was the right move for his future. As things turned out, years later Facebook bought his company for more than enough money to put any regrets to rest.

People like to be liked. We do not want to offend or make trouble. Rather than saying no, we would rather string people along and hope that they change their minds or forget their request. But nothing is more clear and respectful of others or ourselves than stating our conviction clearly and quickly. And that is exactly what we see Nehemiah doing in chapter 6. When Sanballat and Geshem seek to derail the completion of the building project, they offer to meet with Nehemiah to discuss things. Nehemiah says, “No!” It is one of the most widely quoted verses in the entire book of Nehemiah. It is used by many people, including a lot of preachers, as a “life verse”. But Nehemiah 6:3 is the center of Sunday’s text, Nehemiah 5:14 to 6:9. It is far more than a repository of life verses or morality meanderings. It is a perfect portrait of four frequent temptations that seek to seduce us into abandoning the vision God has set before us. We will be delving into all of this on Sunday in a message entitled, “The Power of No”.

In preparation for the message you may wish to consider the following:

1. Read Luke 9:51-62 and note Jesus’ emphasis on completing the task God sets before us.
2. Do you know the second line of the ditty: “Once a job you have begun, never leave it till it’s done…”?
3. Against the backdrop of “Threats from Within” (last week’s message) what do verses 14-19 tell us about Nehemiah?
4. What is the connection between the governor’s food allowance and the people’s ability to pay?
5. Does verse 19 strike you as a bit egocentric?
6. Why do the unholy trinity wish to meet with Nehemiah and where?
7. How does verse 3, Nehemiah’s response, capture the essence of the work?
8. What does verse 3(b) tell us about Nehemiah’s involvement in the project?
9. Why do the enemies persist with false charges in verses 4-7?
10. How are Nehemiah’s words in verse 8 a perfect “life verse” for ourselves?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Threats from Within - Doug Rehberg

In March of 1993 a large snowstorm blanketed much of the southern U.S. including Birmingham, Alabama. The snow that fell from March 12th to 13th is the largest accumulation Birmingham ever received; 18 inches in some spots.

The man writes, “As an idiotic 17-year-old with a four-wheel drive Jeep with an electric winch mounted to my front bumper, I didn’t see 18 inches of snow as a problem, but a challenge…so I loaded up my Jeep with a friend and set out to explore our hometown.

“It didn’t take us long to discover a lot of people stranded in their cars by the side of I65. With the best of intentions, my friend and I began helping people get their cars back on the road and off to an exit where they could seek shelter…

“Well, what began to quickly happen was that people started to hand us money or toss it out of their window as they drove away. At first what were simply good intentions became an all-out money-making adventure. We were very aware that soon the snow would melt, and the opportunity would be gone.

“One night as we were contemplating how we could increase our revenue, we saw a story on TV reporting a large number of people stranded at the airport. We immediately jumped into the Jeep and headed there. As we pulled up we could see hundreds of people through the windows. Some were sleeping. Others were talking to each other. Others were pacing. They all looked tired, hungry, and disheveled.

“So we walk into the airport and announce, ‘Who needs a ride?’ Suddenly we’re heroes. People start running toward us. They’re yelling, ‘I’ll give you $25 to take me to Homewood.’ or ‘I’ll give you $50 if you take us to the nearest hotel with a vacancy.’ For hours this scene is repeated. We get to the point that we stand there waiting for the bidding to go through the roof. One guy gave us $200 to take him to Childersburg (36 miles).

“I don’t remember how much money my friend and I made that week, but I can assure you it probably exceeded what the two of us, at that point in our lives, could have made in two or three months.”

Now this story comes from a preacher who, when he reads Nehemiah 5, can see himself in it. The parallels are striking. At a time when many of the Jews of Jerusalem who live behind the half-built wall are starving, others of their brethren are exploiting them.

Last week our focus was on chapter 4 and the extreme threat posed by the external enemies of God’s vision. Remember the nature of their threat—confusion, danger, fear. This week the threat is internal. The vision of God is being assailed by evildoers within the city. God’s people are ripping each other off! They are charging each other interest. In the midst of a famine brothers and sisters are exploiting each other, and Nehemiah is ticked. Like those two teenage boys, the pain of the many is the gain of the few. We have a lot to learn in this chapter.

We are going to dig deeply into all of it on Sunday in a message entitled, “Threats from Within”. The text is Nehemiah 5:1-13. As you read it you may wish to consider the following:

1. What are the reasons for the scarcity of food in Jerusalem?
2. What are the charges brought against the exploiters?
3. Who are the profiteers?
4. What is the nature of Nehemiah’s anger in verse 6?
5. What does “I took counsel with myself” mean? (see verse 7)
6. What is Nehemiah’s argument to the nobles and the officials?
7. On what grounds does he rebuke them?
8. How do we know that the Holy Spirit has convicted them?
9. After they make their promise in verse 12 why does Nehemiah threaten them if they fail to honor it?
10. What does it mean to have God “shake us out of the fold of His garment”? (see verse 13)

See you on Sunday!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Standing in the Arena - Doug Rehberg

Remember the 2000 blockbuster movie, “Remember the Titans”? It was based on a true story. I have a friend who was coaching a junior high football team back then. He said, “All the kids wanted to be Titans!” But to remember the Titans requires knowing the story.

In late 1990, screenwriter Gregory Howard wrote a screenplay called, “Remember the Titans.” It was based on the true story of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. After it was purchased by Walt Disney Pictures, Howard admitted that he had made some big assumptions when writing the script.

1971 was a turbulent year in Alexandria. Although the school system desegregated 8 years earlier in 1970, the school board voted to merge three high schools into one, T.C. Williams High School. While racial tensions mounted between citizens, Williams’ newly integrated football players were more concerned with securing a starting position. To further complicate matters, Williams’ white Head Coach was forced to take the assistant coaching position to make room for the new African-American Head Coach. In a compelling example of effective vision-casting the two coaches were able to work together and lead the Titans to victory in the Virginia State Championship Game. While the rest of the nation struggled for peace, the student body of T.C. Williams overcame profound differences and set an example for the surrounding community.

The story of Nehemiah is a bit like that. It is easy to focus on the monumental achievement of Nehemiah and his fellow Israelites. In 52 days they are able to reconstruct the nine-foot thick, forty-foot high, 2.5 mile long wall around Jerusalem. It is a wall that had lain in ruins for over a century. However, that is the end of the construction story. The beginning of the story we have already examined. But now we move to the middle of the story. Nehemiah has traveled 800 miles with his entourage. They have journeyed for over a month to get there. Last week we looked at the eight clear and necessary steps he takes (2:11-20) in planting the vision the Lord has given him in the hearts and minds of his fellow Jews who live in the midst of the rubble of Jerusalem.

This week we find their total buy-in expressed in a whirlwind of activity. Chapter 3 gives us all the detail of the tribes getting to work. Nehemiah is careful to give us all the detail we need to see the historicity and scope of the project. But then we come to chapter 4. Here the “unholy trinity” goes to work attempting to tear down what has been done. It’s halftime! Half the wall is rebuilt. Now it is fighting time! In a message entitled “Standing in the Arena” we will examine the challenge, the charge, and the change of chapter 4.

You may wish to consider the following in preparing to get the most out of Sunday’s message:

1. Read all of chapter 4.
2. Notice the theme sentence in verse 6.
3. What happens to the people’s “mind to work”?
4. Beginning in verse 7 we see the conspiracy of the naysayers. What three weapons do they use to discourage the builders? Hint: The same three that are used widely today.
5. How does Nehemiah face these challenges?
6. What solution were the people offering to the 3 challenges? See verse 12.
7. What change does he make in the second half of the rebuilding project?
8. How does he come to conceive of such a solution to the problem?
9. What is Nehemiah’s message to the builders in verse 14?
10. How does this message parallel Jesus’ message in the Upper Room?

See you Sunday as we gather around His table!