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Tag: God

Finding Satisfaction

I think I’ve mentioned before that when Heather & I were first married, I spent one spring working out at the Meadowbrook greenhouse just west of Penhold here. For the first two weeks of that job, when I came home from work at night, my body was sore. I was just carrying around these fairly light trays of plants, but I was using muscles that I didn’t usually use – straining them beyond their usual capabilities. But after about two weeks, I wasn’t really sore anymore. My body repaired the damage done and built up my muscles so they could handle that strain without issue.

And this is exact where this saying of “no pain – no gain” comes from. Without the pain that comes from straining your muscles, you will have no gain in strength. And so we often do this on purpose – (well, some people do). We call this exercise – or working-out. We purposely bring on this pain in our muscles so that we can grow in strength. A certain amount of pain is required if you want to gain muscle.

Well over the next few weeks, I want to use this catch phrase of ‘no pain, no gain’ as a way to remind us of what Easter is all about. At this time of year, most North Americans start thinking about eggs, bunnies, and chocolate – but of course, there is much more to Easter than that. And so over these next few weeks, I want to talk about what Easter is all about and why Easter matters. And I’ve titled this series “No Pain – No Gain.” Because this principle is true not just when it comes to our building our muscles – but it’s true when it comes to understanding the significance of Easter.

So the two big ideas I want to tackle over the next couple of weeks is the idea of pain and the idea of gain. I imagine most of you didn’t come here today to learn about body-building, so what is the ‘gain’ that we are looking for (if we’re not talking about gaining muscles) – and what is the ‘pain’ that leads to that gain? And of course, how does that all tie into Easter?

Well, let’s start by defining the ‘gain’ – that’ll be our focus for today.

And to do that, I want to start by taking a brief look in Ecclesiastes. Now Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon and for much of the book, he writes about all the things that he tried to do to find meaning in life. Now keep in mind that King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived.

Table of contents for No Pain, No Gain - Why Easter Matters

  1. Finding Satisfaction
  2. The Origin of Death
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The Generosity of God

The main theme in the story of Nehemiah is of course, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. We’ve talked about this for several weeks now so I’m not going to rehash all that. But this morning our story takes a short pause and it goes down a little rabbit trail. Now I’ll admit, that quite often we go down these little rabbit trails primarily because my mind has all these random thoughts that don’t always have anything to do with the main point – but our rabbit trail today isn’t even my fault. This one is written right into the pages of Scripture.

For the past several weeks, we’ve been talking about some of the challenges that Nehemiah has had to face as he rallies the people of Israel to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. I mean, it was a challenge for Nehemiah just to get permission from King Artaxerxes to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. The job itself was a huge challenge with about 4 km of massive walls to repair and rebuild. It was a challenge to keep the people motivated and excited about the project when – especially when their enemies were making fun of them and mocking their efforts. It was an even greater challenge to keep the people safe as their enemies ramped up their opposition and resorted to physical threats and violence.

But today, we’re going to read about another challenge that Nehemiah faced. And this one came from within the walls – right from the Israelites themselves. And I say it’s a rabbit trail because it’s not directly related to the rebuilding of the wall – it’s almost like a little sidenote – but it certain has the potential to derail the whole project.

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The One True God of Nehemiah

This morning we continue looking at the story of Nehemiah. And if, by chance, you’ve missed the last couple of weeks, let me try to quickly catch you up.

The story of Nehemiah takes place roughly around 450 BC. It’s one of the last stories in the Old Testament (chronologically speaking) before we pick it up the storyline again around 400 years later in the New Testament with the birth of Jesus.

So Israel has already had a lot of history by this point. Way back 1000 years before Nehemiah, God had brought the Israelites out of Egypt and had established them as his own special nation. They were to be a holy people – set apart from all the other people of the world – as God’s special representatives. Of course, they didn’t always do very well at that. Although there were some people and some eras where the Israelites did follow God wholeheartedly, as we look at their history as a whole, we find they often disregarded God’s instructions – worshipping other gods and really, just acting like every other nation around them.

Now when God had first chosen them as his own special people – God promised that if they were to follow Him, He would bless them beyond their wildest imaginations. (And in those times when they did follow God, we see God doing exactly that.) But God also promised that if they choose to follow other gods, then God would remove his blessings and would in fact, remove them from the land that he was giving them. They would be destroyed and exiled into other nations. And this too, is what we see happening. After years of the Israelites chasing after other gods, God finally removed the Israelites from their land. The northern part of the kingdom was conquer by the Assyrians in 722 BC and the southern part of the kingdom (including Jerusalem) was conquered by the Babylonians in 597 BC.

For the next 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Israelites lived in exile in Babylon. But during their time in exile, it seems they learned their lesson. The repented of their sin and turned again back to God – and so, God began to restore them to their land. The first set of exiles returned to reestablish themselves around Jerusalem and rebuild the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Another group returned about 80 years after that under Ezra. About 13 years after that, we meet Nehemiah.

Nehemiah was a Jew who was still living in exile – he was actually the cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia – which made him a rather prominent person in the king’s court. He was one of King most trusted companions.

But when Nehemiah heard the reports that the Israelites who had returned to Jerusalem were still living among the ruins of Jerusalem – God stirred Nehemiah’s heart to do something about that. It was not right that 150 years after it’s destruction, that Jerusalem still lay in ruins.

Centuries ago, Jerusalem was the centre of the nation. God had chosen Jerusalem as the location of his temple – it was the symbol of God’s presence among his people. And now, for the city to lay in ruins – it was a bitter reminder of Israelite’s failure to be God’s holy people. But now that God had given them a second chance, and they had returned to Jerusalem, now was time to rebuild the city and once again live as God’s holy people in God’s holy city. So after 4 months of prayer and fasting before God, Nehemiah asked the king to allow him to go to Jerusalem to rebuilt the city.

Now this was a little scary – since the king had early declared that Jerusalem was not to be rebuilt except at his express command. Nehemiah notes that he was terrified to bring this up to the king, but because he was convinced that this was what God wanted him to do – he did it.

Well, God moved the heart of the king to grant Nehemiah his request. And actually, the king sent him on his way with royal letters granting Nehemiah permission to travel through the empire and to acquire wood from the royal forest for the project. And, as we’re going to see in just a minute, the king also sent along a regiment of soldiers and horsemen for Nehemiah’s protection along the way.

All of this happened because, as we read in chapter 2, verse 8, the gracious hand of God was on Nehemiah. And it’s a good thing too, because the challenges that Nehemiah was about to face were  about to start coming fast and furious.

So we’re going to start reading right where we left off last week. So if you want to follow along in your own Bibles, we’re going to be in Nehemiah chapter 2 – starting at verse 9.

9 When I came to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River, I delivered the king’s letters to them. The king, I should add, had sent along army officers and horsemen to protect me. 10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of my arrival, they were very displeased that someone had come to help the people of Israel.

Nehemiah 2:9-10

Right out of the gate, here is our first challenge facing Nehemiah. Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official were not happy that Nehemiah had come to help the people of Israel. Why? Probably the main reason was that a strong Jerusalem would weaken their own political positions.

Both men ruled the areas around Jerusalem. Sanballat was the governor of Samaria to the north (we’ll learn that in chapter 4 – and Tobiah ruled the Ammonites to the east.) Interestingly, Tobiah is actually a Jewish name. So it seems that Tobiah, although not a full-blooded Israelite himself, at least had some Israelite heritage in his ancestry. And that will actually come up again, at the end of the chapter, so we’ll revisit these two guys again when we get there.

But for now, let’s keep reading. Verse 11.

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Peace on Earth – Goodwill to Men

How many of you have ever heard Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story”? I asked Greg – and he had no idea what I was talking about – so I started feeling a little bit old – but I’m glad that some of you know what I’m talking about. But for those of you who don’t know Paul Harvey – when I was a kid, every Friday at noon, Paul Harvey would come on the radio and do a 3 minute spiel on the rest of the story. He would take a real life famous story – a person or event that everyone would know about, but then he would tell you the story behind that famous person or event.

On Thursday I listened to one of his clips – a story about a struggling poet and author in New York named Ted who’s book had been just been rejected for the 27th time from different publishers. So finally in frustration, Ted decided to go home and burn his manuscript. But just as he considered this, he happened to run across an old school buddy. Well, as they talked, it came out that this old school buddy was starting up his own publishing company – and believe it or not, he wanted to specialize in publishing works that had been rejected by other publishers. Well, you can guess what happened. Ted’s book was published. And it was only the first of many. He went on to write and publish many books – you might even recognize some of the titles like – Horton hears a Who, Green Eggs and Ham, or How the Grinch stole Christmas.

Yes, that struggling author that was about to set fire his first manuscript was Theodore Geisel or as you probably know him – Dr. Suess. And as Paul Harvey says, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

And I always enjoyed those “the rest of the story” stories. And this morning, I want to share one of those with you. Not about Dr. Suess – but about a famous Christmas carol.

The story begins with a man name Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow was a fairly famous American poet who lived in the mid-1800s and he wrote a poem that formed the basis for the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. You might be familiar with that one – I’m sure you’ll hear it at least sometime this Christmas season.

The poem that it was based on was written on Christmas Day of 1863. The American Civil war had been raging for over 2 and a half years by this point. Over a million fathers, sons, and brothers would not be home for that Christmas – and many of those would never return.

But on that Christmas day in 1863, Henry Longfellow pondered the dismal state of the world in which he lived. He was no stranger to tragedy. His first wife, Mary, had died six months into her first pregnancy at the age of 22. His second wife, Frances, had died from severe burns after her dress caught fire. And now, as the Civil War raged around him, Henry would spend this Christmas nursing his oldest son, Charles, back to health after a confederate bullet nearly paralyzed him.

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Discipled By God

Six weeks ago, we began looking at a fairly straight-forward question: What does it look like to make disciples?

Does it look like Sunday morning at a mega-church? Does it look like coffee with a friend at Tim Hortons? Does it look serving the homeless at a soup kitchen? Does it look like a neighbourhood block-party? Does it look like a ladies Bible study or youth group or Sunday school or kids club or any of these things?

Well, to find the answer to these questions, we started by defining discipleship. And of course, the key passage we looked at was Matthew 28:18-20 – which by now, I imagine most of you have memorized – since we’ve looked at it for each of the last six weeks! But it says this:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

Now this isn’t the only place where the Bible talks about making disciples – its actually quite a re-occuring theme – but based on that passage, we defined discipleship as: helping people trust and follow Jesus.

Discipleship: Helping people trust and follow Jesus.

It’s really as simple as that. If you are helping people trust and follow Jesus – then you are making disciples. And we came to realize that we can help people trust and follow Jesus in a lot of different ways – and in a lot of different contexts.

In fact, we identified 5 different contexts in the life and ministry of Jesus that we could learn from as we try to model our discipleship on what He did.

At a glance, those five context’s were: The Public Context, The Social Context, The Personal Context, The Transparent Context, and the Divine Context.

And so the first context that we looked at was the public context. 

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