God’s Exclamation Mark – Revelation 3:13-14

It’s been a couple of weeks now, so I am hoping you are familiar with Emmanuel Cleaver’s prayer at the opening of the 117th session of Congress. It was all over social media, evoking comments from all kinds of people, including President Trump. Cleaver, the former mayor of Kansas City, is a Democratic representative in Congress and a Methodist minister – which says something about Democrats, Methodists and Congress. During his prayer he asked for divine help so that Congress would not do anything unworthy of the office, and of course seconds later Cleaver brought shame upon that “august body,” as he called it, and upon the nation of the United States, at least as far as I am concerned. As I watched I his prayer, it became obvious that he was reading something he had previously written. So this was no slip of the tongue under the bright lights of Congress and the media. He knew exactly what he was doing. As his prayer was winding down, this Methodist minister referred to the “monotheistic god who is known by so many different names and faces” – but he didn’t mention “Jehovah” or “Jesus Christ.” And then he concluded by infamously saying, “Amen and awoman.” Later Cleaver said that he couldn’t believe that this words were causing such a fuss. He said that it was just a pun, pointing to the large number of women who are now in Congress. It was a sort of joke. Now, I have to admit to having a Canadian sense of humor, and I don’t mind employing it now and then. But there...

The Christian Wrestler – Ephesians 6:10-18

I’m going to piggy-back this devotional onto Brother Fulton’s lessons about running the Christian race. This scripture refers to wrestling. It doesn’t happen very often these days in the highly technical world of Olympic Sports, but it used to be that really good athletes competed in more than one sport – not just different events, but different sports. For example, a really good swimmer or runner today might enter several related races – 200 meters, 400 meters and a relay or two. But as far as I know no marathoner also entered the boxing or wrestling arena. However, when it comes to allegories of the Christian life, we get to do that. Bro. Austin’s lessons from Hebrews 12, about running with patience the race that is set before us, have been a great blessing. Was Austin using the words of Paul in the Book of Hebrews and that allegory about running? Were those Paul’s thoughts as directed by the Holy Spirit or did someone else write Hebrews? The Bible doesn’t tell us, and there are arguments both pro and con. But if we assume that Paul brought up the subject of running the race, and also about wrestling and even boxing, one might wonder if he was a nominal sports fan. Do you question my reference to boxing? Didn’t Austin refer once or twice to I Corinthians 9:24? “Know ye not that they which RUN in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to...

Penniless Preachers – Nehemiah 13:10-13

The title of this lesson is “Penniless Preachers.” Twenty years ago I would have had a hard time preaching this message because of the connection it would have exposed between you and me. It might have appeared to be self-serving, worldly or even downright greedy on my part. Not only didn’t I have any money, but the church didn’t either, because none of you were particularly rich, and there weren’t very many of us. But today, things are much different. This is not about you, and it isn’t about me. It is about other churches across this country and around the world. It is always easier to preach about other people and their sins than it is about us and our sins. When Nehemiah originally left Persia, he told King Artaxerxes he would be gone only a certain length of time. After the completion of the wall and certain other things, he was obligated to return to Sushan the palace and to make a report to his boss. But obviously, by that time Nehemiah’s former position as cupbearer had been filled by another, so he wasn’t returning to his old job. Artaxerxes apparently didn’t have need of his services any longer. So permission was granted for him to return to Jerusalem as governor – perhaps as a permanent position. We aren’t told how long Nehemiah was away, but it was probably more than a year and perhaps longer. Upon his return, just as he had the first time, Nehemiah made an inspection of the city. But this time, he was not looking so much at the physical condition of...

Thanksgiving at the Beautiful Gate – Acts 3:1-10

  If I asked you, “What is the CHIEF purpose of man?” how would you answer? Many of us raised in Episcopalianism would instantly know the answer from our catechism. The chief purpose of man is to glorify God. I Corinthians 10:31 – “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” That ALL we DO as Christians should be done for the glory of God is a relatively simple concept. ”Ye have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s.” The idea is simple and obvious, but the practice of this principle may be a bit more difficult. More specifically, I Thessalonians 5:18 speaks about thanksgiving, opening the door to unlimited praise. “In EVERYTHING give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” The only things for which we cannot and should not praise the Lord are sinful things. But does this mean we should praise God for only for the GOOD things that happen to us? No, we should be thank for both the good and the unpleasant. For good food and Christian friends as well as for toothaches and surgery. “In EVERYTHING give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Years ago, I became acquainted with an interesting gentleman living down in Georgia. We still have not yet met personally; our only contact in this world was through our church web-page. Bro. Jack Gregory has now passed away, but at the time he was in his 70’s,...

The Importance of Clean Feet – Nehemiah 12:27-47

Just before Jesus’ final earthly Passover, He gathered His disciples together for a catered meal. This was Jesus’ church, just as we believe Calvary Baptist Church is a church of Christ. So, the events of that night relate to us in several ways. Of course, those men had shared hundreds of picnics, fellowship meals and pot lucks, but this was special. This was the Passover, but it was unlike any the disciples had ever had before. There was some special instruction that night – for which the men were still not prepared. There was the Lord’s supper, and then Jesus did something unusual. When the supper was finished, Jesus arose and took off the wonderful seamless robe which He usually wore. He was probably bear-chested; perhaps He was wearing only some underwear. That was probably surprising to the disciples in itself. Had they ever seen Him this way before? As they gaped at him, Jesus took a large towel, wrapping it around his waist. He picked up a bowl and went to the large water pitcher, filling it. Then He began with the man at the end of the table, pouring a little of that water on his feet, rubbing and massaging it over the arch and soles of those feet, washing off dust and dirt, before drying them with the towel. When He had finished with several of the brethren, He came to Simon Peter. “Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou...

The Dedication Service – Nehemiah 12:27-47

I am going to skip over what could potentially be an interesting lesson from chapter 11. I am skipping it because I have enough ignorance and skill to turn make it very un-interesting and tedious. But here is a quick synopsis. Scattered across Nehemiah 11 are hints of the organization of Judah, Jerusalem and the temple services. Verse 9 names Jerusalem’s overseer and his assistant – whatever they were – is that governor???? Verse 19 speaks of the porters and gate-keepers of the city. Verse 3 tells us that there were chief men living in the provinces. How were they chiefs???? And Verse 14 names a few “mighty men of valor” – which may, or may not, indicate some sort of militia. And when it comes to the temple, we have the names of many priests and Levites. Verse 11 says that Seraiah was the ruler of the temple, whatever that office might have entailed. But verse 16 tells us two Levites had the oversight of the OUTWARD business of the temple. Were they in charge over “the brethren who did the work of God’s house” (verse 12) and if so what exactly was that? I have 5 or 6 books whose theme is the temple or the tabernacle and their ministry, but they don’t explain any of this. We are told about people who had the responsibility of singing and thanksgiving – verses 17, 22 and 23. I wish I knew more about Mattaniah whose ministry was to “begin the thanksgiving in prayer” – verse 17. Chapter 12 adds people who had the responsibility of “watching” the gates...

Living in the Holy City – Nehemiah 11:1-36

Obviously Nehemiah 11 follows chapter 10. And as such we could make this message is a continuation of our last lesson – which, as you know, followed logically its predecessor. Last Wednesday we looked at the promises which Israel made to God, comparing them to the relationship we have to the Lord – within the context of the our church. Israel’s concluding promise was – “and we will not forsake the house of our God.” Tonight we could look at the entire 11th chapter in the light of that promise. But I’m going to try not to do that. Let’s make it stand on its own two legs. The first half of Nehemiah 11 is a list of people who began to live in the rejuvenated city of Jerusalem. The second half of the chapter, beginning with verse 20, names many of the residue of Israel, including priests and Levites, who chose to live elsewhere in Judah – as far away as Keilah and Beersheba. Before reading the chapter and learning the context, we might assume that the second group – those who chose NOT to live in Jerusalem – were making sacrifices to live in the country villages. But it was the other way around – the residents of the city were the brave and self-sacrificing people. And this lends itself to one or two 21st century lessons. Consider, first, the city of Jerusalem. Remember that it had been rased to the ground by the Babylonians about a century earlier. The temple had been destroyed, the walls of the city were torn down, the houses rifled and burned....

The House of God – Nehemiah 10:39

Our theme for this evening comes from the last four words of this chapter. Remember, this is a part of the “sure covenant” Israel was making with God – Nehemiah 9:38. In its conclusion, these humble, sincere, repentant Jews vowed to NOT forsake the “house of our God.” Lord willing, I will come back to the “not forsaking” part of this verse next Sunday night. But right now I’d like to focus merely on the “house of our God.” What does that mean? The word “God” is what you’d expect – “Elohim.” There is certainly nothing surprising there. But the very common word “house” is interesting, because it has some very uncommon translations. It is rendered “house” 1,881 times. As I say, it is a common word. But 16 times it is translated “prison,” which is not a place most people would like to call “home.” But Joseph’s Egyptian home for a few years was a prison. And by the way, our Hebrew word is translated “home” 25 times. Then as you might expect from its use here, the word is also translated “temple” 11 times. But the Hebrew word isn’t confined to a building – it also speaks of the residents within that building. In fact, it is translated “within” 22 times. Its second most common rendition, after “house” is “household,” and it is even translated “family.” Psalm 68:6 – “God setteth the solitary in families…” Many of God’s people claim this verse after becoming members of one of God’s churches. For some people, it is the only family they have in this world. And do you remember...

The Abrahamic Covenant – Nehemiah 9:7-8

  I keep referring to this man, who is leading Israel in prayer, as “our worship leader.” This evening I’m going to alter that just a bit – for this message, he is “Israel’s worship leader.” He refers to the covenant which God made with Abraham. As we shall see that is an agreement which involves Israel only – not you and me. But it is so important, that I want to bring it to your attention. To misunderstand the Abrahamic covenant creates doctrinal problems affecting a great many other areas. For example, if we get this wrong our approach to Bible prophecy will be inaccurate. And for a great many people, to be wrong about this makes them wrong about the Lord’s church. On the other hand, to correctly understand the covenants of God should create in us hearts of praise. God’s covenants are examples of His grace. In God’s covenants we see His handiwork. And in the completion of those covenants we see the omnipotence of God. There are many reasons to study the covenants of God, and yet admittedly this is not among the most exciting of Bible subjects. There are several divine covenants, but our consideration tonight is only with the one mentioned in this prayer. “Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him.” The Abrahamic covenant begins in Genesis 12:1-3. “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy...

Neither Were Mindful – Nehemiah 9:17

As the congregational prayer-leader was led by the Spirit of God that autumn day, he confessed many of Israel’s sins. Despite Jehovah’s blessings on that nation, her citizens had rebelled against the Lord. And now these people in Nehemiah’s day, their children, were suffering the consequences of those sins. Did this man see those sins of the past creeping into his own generation? Can we see those sins being repeated today by both heathen and professing “Christians” ? After recounting blessing after blessing on the people, verse 17 begins with “but.” “But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments, And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage…” Then after speaking of the blessings of God in the Promised Land, verse 26 begins with “nevertheless.” “Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations.” Later in verse 28 – “BUT after they had rest, they did evil again before thee.” Several more times in this prayer we read the words “but” and “nevertheless.” I have no doubt that the Lord could teach us today a few lessons from Israel’s example in all of these. But there is one statement in verse 17 that I’d like to sit upon for a few minutes this evening, because the application can be a little more specifically applied....

Deep-seated Theology – Nehemiah 9:5b-38

One of the weaknesses of modern Christians is our lack of God-consciousness – God awareness. How often do we see something equally beautiful, like a flower, a sunset, or a mountain landscape and our minds go to the Creator before thinking of something else? When something good comes our way, at what point do we move from the person through whom the blessing came to the God from whom it originated? And conversely, when something problematic arises, do we immediately try to think of human or physical solutions, or do we turn to the Lord who has the only guaranteed solution? How quickly does your heart turn to the Lord? In my message Sunday night I said that our prayer-leader extolled the Lord, but only at the beginning. I said that the rest of his prayer was basically a history lesson. But as I was reading through this chapter once again, the Holy Spirit brought me to see my mistake. This prayer is filled with theology, but it’s not the organized – seminary – in your face – type of theology. It is deep-seated, in the sense that it is there – but it is under the surface for the most part. This man’s knowledge of the Lord permeated his prayer, but only once or twice after the opening sentences was it his direct theme. This lesson will be quite different from our usual. Let’s read through this prayer a bit more slowly and try to look for references to God and His attributes. But before we do, I need to point out that just about every theologian has...

The Righteous God – Nehemiah 9:5b-10

I can tell you from experience that the more a person studies the Bible, the more he will see which he has never seen before. Sometimes we learn that our doctrinal perspective is askew. But often there is just new stuff that God has not brought to our attention before. We cannot exhaust the depths of God or of His Word. There are always things to learn. And this week I have learned something about the righteousness of God. Our unnamed worship-leader makes a statement in verse 8 which the Holy Spirit highlighted in my mind. The man said, Lord, thou “hast performed thy words, FOR thou art RIGHTEOUS.” At first I thought – Lord you want me to bring another lesson on this? I thought – this is so simple and elemental that it will be difficult to teach – to keep people’s attentions. But I was wrong – at least in part. I may not keep your attention, but this isn’t simple. First, this has nothing to do with what I initially thought, and I think the subject might surprise you too. Second, in the dozen books which I have on the attributes of God, not one of them deals extensively with God’s righteousness, and most don’t even mention it. And third, there are two hundred scriptures on this subject, opening dozens of interesting doors. When I first read this verse my mind automatically substituted the word “holy” for “righteous.” Lord, thou “hast performed thy words, for thou art (HOLY).” But here is the thing – the righteousness and the holiness of God are NOT the same...

They Confessed their Sins – Nehemiah 9:1-3

This evening we’re going to deal with a word which is commonly emphasized in some denominations, but probably not mentioned enough among fundamental Baptists. For some it is an essential part of their doctrine of salvation. But for those whose salvation is based on grace, this Biblical precept is often ignored. Even though it is crucial for good fellowship with the Saviour. “And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and CONFESSED their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.” Forty-four times the words “confess,” “confessed” and “confession” are found in the Bible. They come from two Hebrew words and two Greek words. Two of those references are here in our text. The two Hebrew words are closely related, and a part of their root means – “to throw open one’s arms.” Picture a guilty man standing before his judge spreading his arms apart and exposing his heart in surrender. The Greek words are “exomologeo”and “homologeo” – both containing the Greek for “word.” The idea is to “speak out” – and in “homologeo” there is the idea of “speaking out with an agreement.” Agreeing with God about sin is a part of repentance. Sadly, some people are willing to confess their sins, but not to repent and renounce their sins. Some people are willing to confess their sins to a priest, but unlike the people in our scripture, they are unwilling to confess their sins to God. Those forty-four references speak about two different kinds of “confessions.” When they are rendered down to their very bones, they are admissions – acknowledgments. You might say that...

Separation – Nehemiah 9:1-5

The book I am currently reading is entitled, “An Anthology of the Early Baptists in Rhode Island.” It is 600 pages of historical documents from 17th and 18th century. To say the least, it is difficult, but sometimes interesting, reading. As you should know, Rhode Island was founded on Baptistic principles. It was the first colony or state in the world to offer total religious liberty to anyone who chose to live there. And as a result, after the first few decades, Quakers, Anglicans, Antinomians, Arminians and others began to move in. And they lived peaceably among each other – totally unlike the colonies around them – Connecticut, Massachusetts and Plymouth. But – when it came to church membership, the Baptist church pastored by John Clarke, received only people who had been born again and immersed in water as a testimony of their faith in Christ. Religiously, the First Baptist Church had spiritual fellowship only with those who held to similar doctrines. Jerusalem, in Nehemiah’s day, was much like early Rhode Island. It was typical of cities around the world – both then and today. Its residents included a wide variety of people – including different races and religions. But for the most part they got along well enough, until their religions got involved. There were occasions when Nehemiah and Ezra demanded that God’s people separate themselves from the unbelievers because they intended to take care of something spiritual. And on 24th of Tishri in about the year 445 BC they again made that demand of the people of Jerusalem. I would not be surprised to learn that the...

The Congregation in Worship – Nehemiah 8:5-6

This evening, we are dealing with a couple things which have always confused me. We have all heard good Baptist people refer to the Sunday morning service as a “Worship Service,” but I’ve often wondered where the worship is. My preference is to think of the 11 o’clock hour as a “preaching service” – a gospel service. The only worship that might take place in the average Baptist Sunday morning service is through 15 minutes of hymns and the 3 minutes of prayer scattered throughout the hour. I’m not proud of the fact, but Baptists are, generally speaking, not very worshipful. Having said that, Nehemiah 8 describes an evangelistic meeting of sorts, where there is a hint of worship. Depending on the hearts of us modern Baptists, perhaps we can join these worshipers. And that leads to my second question of the evening – do you see Ezra “blessing the Lord”? “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God.” What is it to bless the Lord? Maybe you have no problem with the word, but it has confused me, because I know the meaning of the Hebrew word. A great throng of people gathered in the street before the water gate, begging to hear the Word of God. A pulpit had been built so that Ezra and his helpers could be seen and heard by the crowd. The man of God then read the scriptures for about 6 hours. I think we have a summary of the morning in verses 2-4, and verse 5 actually describes how the day began. It appears to me that before he started reading,...