Monday, November 14, 2011

7 things we can learn from Nehemiah’s Prayer

Preamble: This write-up has been preached on a number of occasions [by me], including this coming time of 20/09/2014 for a divine healing service.  For the several times that this set of words was given, the Lord was pleased to come and minister and brought break-throughs for people, in their situations.  I personally believe it has in it, a set of understandings, fundamental to the faith, that the Lord would want every believer to embrace, and so, when it is preached the Lord is pleased to come to attest to it, with signs and wonders, and breakthroughs for people.  By the way, to-date, this is still one of the top articles read by people on this blog site, although the title was not worded as expediently for common search [like starting it with "Nehemiah's Prayer ...."].  I hope you will be blessed when you read this article [this preamble added on 16/09/2014].]

In the study of Old Testament (OT), even as we are to understand the history and stories of the times, at the end of the day, where possible, we should address its application in our present day life. If we do NOT do that, then reading of OT accounts of events may appeal to us only like fictional stories, to be read like a fictional novel; surely the OT is more than that.
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Since the church (the church I attend), has just completed a study of the Book of Nehemiah, I thought, apart from what was gleaned from those preachings from the pulpit, I would like to, at least, put up an application article on the Book, by just looking at the Prayer of Nehemiah in Nehemiah 1. Earlier, towards the end of September 2011, I wrote an article on “The Initial Return to Zion”, at the start of the church’s study of Nehemiah. That article served to clear up some of the confusions over the 2 major books (Ezra and Nehemiah) on the subject of initial return to Zion. You may like to read it, if you intend to do a detailed study of these 2 books. Although the series by the church provided great scholarly insights into the meanings and symbolisms of things in the Book (and I appreciate that, my pastor), there was clearly a lack of addressing the application of what we learnt there. I can only say time always limits what we can cover. But I really would like to, as I have indicated in my article on The Initial Return To Zion, encourage people to read with the intent to apply. This article gives us a simple illustration of reading with intent to apply.

Nehemiah’s Prayer
Nehemiah was told that those who survived the Babylonian exile were in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem was broken down, and its gates had been burned with fire. He sat down and wept when he heard those things; for some days he mourned and fasted and prayed before God. Below is his prayer (Neh 1:5-11):

5 Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’
10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king (Neh 1:5-11).

Here I give 7 things we can learn from the prayer of Nehemiah:

1. That God is great and awesome (v5). Nehemiah declared it: that God is great and awesome. Our God is the God of the Heaven, great and awesome. How great and awesome is our God? There are so many aspects to greatness and awesomeness of God; and we can preach sermons after sermons on this subject. But the one aspect that Nehemiah expressed in that one verse is the awesomeness of the all omnipotent God keeping covenant with men. Such is the awesomeness of God that despite we can do nothing to Him, He still cares to keep His promises to us! (Perhaps, one day, I will put up an entry on the greatness and awesomeness of God).

2. That God keeps covenant with those who love Him and obey His commands (v5). Our God is a covenant-keeping God, yet it is NOT a case of God will stick to the covenant no matter what. Nehemiah’s understanding was that God keeps covenant with those who love Him and obey Him. So, the parts that God is supposed to do in a covenant are for those who love Him and obey Him. Are you loving God? Are you obeying God? One angle we should be looking at, before we ask, “How come I do NOT get this or that from God, said of, in the covenant?” is whether we are indeed, loving our God and are obeying Him. If you neither love Him nor obey Him, can you still get from God? Sure, but it is by His grace, and if it is by grace, it is up to God whether or NOT He would give it; it would NOT be He is obligated to give, as in a covenant or contract. If you think it is wrong to even think of God ever NOT keeping His part of the covenant, God did that before, but NOT until the counterparty, the people of God, Israelites, first broke covenant with Him. God broke the covenant (“The Promised Land Covenant”) which He made with the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land, because the Israelites broke the covenant first (Judges 2:1-3 {If you want a full exposition of Judges 2, read this: Judges 2}).

3. That God wants us to confess our sins (v6-7). That was what Nehemiah did, before he put before God, his supplications. We ought to follow Nehemiah’s example, always confess our sins, before we even petition for God’s working on our behalf. Those who teach that 1 John 1:9 is NOT for believers ARE WRONG. (You may want to read this article of mine {1 John 1:9 is for believers}, if you are inclined to believe believers do NOT need to confess their sins after the one time confession, at born-again).

4. That God would remember His words (v8). In our prayers, we refer to the Word, refer to words we have received from God; God will remember them and will honor them. Nehemiah called to God to remember.

5. That God is a forgiving God, that if we would return to Him and obey Him, He would once again move to restore us (v9).  I want to stress here that we need to return and obey.

6. That God would give ear to the prayer of all those who delight in revering His name (v10-11). You do NOT think God “shama” (H8085) you, or (less accurately) “listening” to you? One angle to look at is, “Are you revering His name in delight?” Or are you just begrudgingly honoring His name?

7. That God would like us to talk to Him first before we act (v11). That was what Nehemiah did: He was intentioned to talk to the King about the plight of the remnants and the city of Jerusalem, but he talked to God first about his intention. It is involving God in our affairs, and NOT, we just do our thing and when we get into trouble, we run to God for help; NOT that we should NOT do that, run to God for help, if we indeed, we get into trouble (for it is better to get help from God still – late better than NOT!). But it is honoring God to talk to Him first, before we proceed.

You see, regardless you are going or NOT going, to rebuild the wall of the city or your church, your family, etc, you can take in the above 7 important understandings, and apply them in your life.

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Anthony Chia, high.expressions – Lord, may
you impress upon your teachers and preachers, that a way to pass down the legacy and heritage of our faith is to pass on the understanding to read with the intent to apply. Amen.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Matt 22:36-39 - No oxymoron here, but the very essence of love

Article text: Matt 22:36-39 -

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Where got room anymore
There are people who have problem with this Matthew passage (Matt 22:36-39): They say it is oxymoron or self-contradictory! The argument is that we are called to love God with all of us, with all of our heart, all of our soul and our mind, and then we are told to also love our neighbors; “where got room anymore!” Since all is used up in loving God, can there be any room left for anything, including loving our neighbors?

His righteousness
Call Him a jealous God, call Him a demanding God or call Him a “all or nothing” God, the point is that He is God and is a holy God; and principally, His wisdom and His holiness, working together give rise to His righteousness. Everyone just needs to conform to this righteousness, which is coming from the nature attributes of God. God is like that, it is Him; He has no choice, for He is governed by who He is. And we have no choice, for we are His Creation. No one creates something to irk himself! If what is created irks him, does he NOT have every right to destroy it or re-create it? Shall the clay talk back to the Potter or man, to God? (Romans 9:19-21 – The Potter and the clay {Many people read this article of mine, if you have the time, read it; it's about the sovereignty of God}).

Only one knows it fully!
Scripture talked about who knows the mind of God; and it is the Spirit of God who knows the mind of God. Can the Spirit be at odd with God? Never! For the Spirit is always right on, with God. For the Spirit knows what is on God’s mind, what He is thinking, wanting, desiring, and what He wants to do, and when He wants to do a thing. In other words, the Spirit is always right with God, and what is right, is about “what is right in God’s eyes”, and NOT in any other. The “rightnesses” of God is His righteousness.

The Holy Spirit is always righteous, for He is always right with God, or we say He is in sync with the righteousness of God. Even Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit that way: Jesus said that when He (Jesus) was gone (back to Heaven), the Holy Spirit would be sent, He (the Holy Spirit) would NOT speak or do anything of His own, but only that which He gets from God (which incl. Jesus Himself). You may say, “This is well and good, but what does it got to do with love, and the Matthew passage?” It is because it has everything to do with God and with love; wisdom, holiness, and consequently, righteousness, are everything to God, and are everything to matter of love or God’s love.

God only move in righteousness, including in loving Man ('ahab love)
Because of God’s holiness, God can only move in righteousness! His wisdom enables Him to do that. There is no other way; Scripture said God is holy, and in Him there is no darkness at all. There is no evil or wickedness in God. God just cannot move in any wickedness; He only moves in righteousness, and, and this is an important truth and revelation, it is that ultimately, God can only love Man unto righteousness ('ahab love). Many people have just preached about agape love, a dimension of God’s love revealed more fully in the New Testament, side-stepping that which was already revealed in the Old Testament about the love of God, and that it was a love unto righteousness, even as it was a sacrificial love.  For greater understanding of this 'ahab love, read: 'ahab love - love unto righteousness.

Agape needs to be expanded
The word, “agape” came from the Greek language, the language of the New Testament Scriptures. The Greek understanding however was NOT adequate, for their love language, so to speak, had no idea of loving unto righteousness, but “agape” is the closest love word to use (there are a few Greek love words). To me, if we do NOT want to use the Hebrew phrase of ‘ahab love, then agape love should be redefined to include love unto righteousness. Now, it should make more sense! Let me explain further below.

We too, must love Him back according to His righteousness
Now, God can only move in righteousness, and so also, God can only love men unto righteousness. Just as the Spirit can never be at odd with God, the only way men can be NOT at odd with God is for men to “read the mind of God”! Of course, men cannot read the mind of God like the Holy Spirit. But the idea is still that men are to be righteous, which ultimately is about being right on, with God, fully agreeing with what is on God’s mind (How can men know what is on God’s mind or what God considers as right? Through the Word and through the Holy Spirit). In order to be in harmony with God, we must be moving also in the ways of God. What is God’s ways? Righteous ways, according to His righteousness. So, when we love, we must also love righteously, for God loves us unto righteousness. So, we have established that when we love God, we are to love Him, righteously. Yah, what does it got to do with the “all” as in with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind?

There is no room for any other righteousness
The “all” is to denote the requirement to love God according to His righteousness; for that is the only way we can be in harmony with God; that is the only way it is acceptable to God, for He is a holy and righteous God. The “all” is to emphasize that there is no room for righteousness according to any other, NOT that of other deities, men or ourselves; only to be filled and governed by the righteousness of God. Of course, we should be clear that the fallen men have no acceptable standard of righteousness as far as the strict holiness of God demands (although in Old Testament times, I believe God did prescribe highest achievable standards (temporal), instead of The Standard); Scriptures put it that all have fallen short.

Matthew 22:37 is indicative of all of our love is directed at God, in accordance with His righteousness; and because it is in accordance with His righteousness solely, we are able still to love another, NOT with our own love, but with the love of God, or that there can be hatred even (holy hatred!), in our heart. In a nutshell, it is right to look upon our love for another, as “I love you with the love of God”. It is NOT wrong that we have no more love OF OUR OWN for anyone else; for ALL of our love is (you are supposed to) directed to God. Therefore, correctly, when we love others (other than God), we love with His love; likewise, we hate, with His hatred! You don’t get?! Let me explain below:

Loving our neighbours is flow-out from our love for God
Because when we love God, we love Him in accordance to His righteousness (you are supposed to), and so, you will do according to what God would do, as directed by His righteousness; remember we say God can only move according to His righteousness. Because we will (you are to) 100% subscription to His righteousness in our love for Him (love with all), we therefore, accordingly are to move according to His righteousness. God’s righteousness calls for loving men unto righteousness (and God loves men unto righteousness), and so, accordingly, His righteousness also called for men to love one another unto righteousness. So, when we go by His righteousness (we are to), we cannot but love our neighbors, and so, are moving in His love, because we are fully subscribed to His righteousness; or put it in another way, we love (another) with the love of God.

The second commandment which stated that we are to love our neighbors “as ourselves”, is indicative that it is with God’s love that we are to love our neighbors with, for God loves your neighbors as much as He loves you. So, if you are with your neighbor, and God gives you a pie, what is the thing to do? Think about that. What standard of righteousness God demands!

If you still have difficulty catching the point that when we love God with our all, we would be loving one another with His love, and NOT our love, for there is none left of our own, consider this:  When we love God with our all, we become true steward of God, including being the steward of His love.  Steward goes by the righteousness of God, and that righteousness calls for loving men; and so, we love men, for God, with God's love.

John 13:34 reads: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

When Jesus said "A new command I give you", what is the new thing?  The command of loving one another is NOT new.  It is new because of the words Jesus added after it - "As I have loved you, so you must love one another".  What does it mean?

The new thing is this:  In the same way Jesus has loved the disciples, so must the Disciples (and so, us, too) love one another.  How has Jesus loved His Disciples or followers?  Jesus repreatedly claimed this: that He only did what the Father wanted done or had done (John 5:19;30).  In other words, Jesus loved with the Father's love.  And so, too, we are to love one another with God's love; and the God's love for men is love unto righteousness.

Hate another with the love of God!
Many also are puzzled by this text (words of Jesus) in Gospel of Luke, Luke 14:26-27 -

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

We have established that when we love another, we love with the love of God. When we hate (another), we, likewise, can only do it according to the righteousness of God. Can we say we hate with the hatred of God? Why NOT? There is no evil or wickedness in God, but God does hate! What does God hate? Evil, wickedness, sins, that which is in opposition to His righteousness. Of course, a more pleasant way of saying the same is “We hate (another) with the love of God”, for the love of God is love unto righteousness. Very simply, the Luke text was saying that we are to deny everything and everyone, including ourselves, if it or the person, conflicts with the righteousness of God. Jesus knew it is NOT easy for men; that was why he said “carry your cross and follow Me”.

Love each other with the love of God, not your own love!
Incidentally, spouses and loved ones, with correct understanding of this, will NOT be upset with their spouses or loved ones, when they are being told (by their spouses or loved ones) that they are loved with the love of God. If the person loved you with the love of God, that is the best love he can give you, and you should be happy that he love you with the love of God, and NOT the love of His own, for the love of God is love unto righteousness, and is the only love that gives life. If the person gives you his own love, He has NOT loved God with all his heart, all his soul and all his mind, and so he is NOT in perfect harmony with God. Would you rather he, be in perfect harmony with God, or to love you with his own love? If you demand he loves you with his own love, you are NOT loving God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind, for the righteousness of God demands that he gives all of his love to God. You want to love God with all your hearts, all your soul and all your mind, then let him to do likewise!

No oxymoron, but essence of love, embrace it
That Matthew passage (Matt 22:36-39), is NOT oxymoron or self-contradictory! Verse 37 does indicate all our love is to be directed at God, and yet because we are loving Him back in accordance to His righteousness, we are still able to love another with His (God's) love. Be opened, and receive this revelation of love; and then strive to walk in it, even as I am trying.

There is no conflict between love and commands/laws!
Those who have understanding of what I said about love, can appreciate such sayings of Jesus that those who love God obeys His commands (John 14:15), and those who obeys His commands are the ones who love Him (John 14:21a). It is all because the love Jesus was talking about, is love unto righteousness ('ahab love). The righteousness of God is given to us in His commands, in His Word, and through the Spirit; we obey in love.  Also, those who argue that Jesus came to do away laws and commandments, have no right understanding of the subject of love. To explain this specifically would take another article, but the above should be basis enough for this claim of their poor understanding.

Only one love
Love for God is NOT first, as in at the top of a list; rather it is TOTAL, ALL. We are to have only ONE love, LOVE FOR GOD; everything else is we are moving in accordance to righteousness of God. When we love God with our all, we are steward of God's love, and when the righteousness of God calls for love, we love, when it calls to hate, we hate, and when it calls to forgive, we forgive.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – Lord, may you use this article to open the eyes of many more to appreciate that, ultimately you can only love Man unto righteousness ('ahab love), and we can love you back no other way, except in accordance with your righteousness.  In the precious name of love, Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

PS: By the way, in case you are misled: these 2 pillars of love are NOT new; the greatest commandment was in Deu 6:5, and the second, in Lev 19:18.

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