Posts Tagged ‘community life’

Covenant Renewal

We are beginning our time of Covenant renewal this morning. Leading up to today, we have been looking at spiritual renewal for the past few weeks, specifically . . .

Five Marks of Spiritual Renewal

This is what we have covered:

1. Instead of compromise, sin, excuses and apathy – we are honest with ourselves, see our failures and yield every part of our lives to God.

2. Instead of a damaged and broken relationship with God – we ask for forgiveness for our sins and find renewed relationship with God.

3. Instead of damaged and broken relationships with others – we find renewed relationships with others when we make things right with those we have wronged, and forgive those who have sinned against us.

4. Instead of grieving and quenching the Spirit, shutting the Spirit out of our lives – we invite the Spirit to work in us so that we are strengthened to do God’s will and bear the fruit of the Spirit.

5. Again, instead of grieving and quenching the Spirit – we invite the Spirit to work through us to minister to the needs of others with the power and abilities that the Spirit provides.

The reason I have shared on this leading up to our time of recovenanting is that this is meant to be a time of spiritual renewal.

This is certainly the way it worked in Israel. There are a number of examples of recovenanting in the Old Testament. For today, we’ll look at . . .

Joshua’s covenant renewals

He was a part of the original time of covenanting at Mt Sinai with Moses. But beyond this he was a part of three other recovenantings (at least as far as we know, there may have been more.)

1. Just before Israel entered the promised land – Deuteronomy 29. Israel had failed in the wilderness and most of that generation had died off. Moses gathered the people together on the plains of Moab.

  • He recounted to them the story of God’s salvation.
  • He repeated the Law of God in their hearing and expounded on it (which is where the name Deuteronomy comes from – the second giving of the Law).
  • All the people committed to obey and serve God

This was time for them to be reconstituted as a people. The earlier generation had failed, and now the new generation was coming forward. This new generation was reminded of God’s Law and called to commit to this.

2. After the failure at Ai – Joshua 8:30-35. Because of Achan’s sin Israel was defeated before its enemies. And then, after they recovered from this Joshua gathered the people of Israel.

  • They offered up sacrifices
  • They wrote the Law in stone
  • All Israel stood before the ark of the covenant
  • They recounted the blessings and curses in the Law
  • The Law was read before everyone

So this recovenanting came after deep failure on Israel’s part. It was a way for them to get back on track and recommit themselves to serving and obeying God.

3. Near the end of Joshua’s life – Joshua 24 he led the people in a covenant renewal.

  • He gathered all the people together
  • He recounted the story of Abraham, the deliverance from Egypt, and their victories over their enemies
  • Joshua charged Israel to be faithful
  • The people responded, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” – v. 24

There was no failure here. The recovenanting was simply a part of the people being called to full commitment to God.

What we can learn from this

In each of these cases, covenant renewal was an aspect of their overall spiritual renewal.

  • When there was failure, it was a time to regroup and repent
  • When there wasn’t failure, it was a time to refocus and remember their commitment to obey and serve God.

Similarly for us recovenanting is an opportunity to

1. Honestly examine our lives and deal with our issues. One of the themes I have tried to highlight is that we have to be honest with ourselves. If we can’t do this, we won’t see the areas in our lives where we are failing. And if we can’t see where we are failing, we can’t act to make things right through repentance. We get stuck in the same rut of failure and compromise.

But if we are honest, we can make progress in our Christian lives.

Recovenanting is also an opportunity for us to 2. Reaffirm of our Christian commitment to God and each other. Whether we are struggling or not, it gives us a chance to remember and refocus. And this is what we want to do this morning.

William Higgins

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We are looking at Five Marks of Spiritual Renewal trying to see what our Christian lives should look like, and then, I hope, we will each evaluate how we are actually doing.

Last week we focused on the first mark: Complete Yieldedness to God. I showed you how this has to be at the core of our Christian lives. And that’s because without this we remain stuck in our sins, failures and compromises. But with this we are able to move forward and experience the spiritual renewal that God has for each one of us.

Specifically today, we see how completely yielding ourselves to God is the key to restoring our relationships with God and with others. We begin with the first of these . . .

2. Renewed relationship with God

Our unyieldedness to God damages and eventually destroys our relationship with God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Our undealt with sin, which we know about and continue to choose, creates an obstacle, a wall, a barrier between us and God.

1 John 1:6 says, “If we say we have fellowship with him (God) while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Its not possible to have a right relationship with God, while there are areas of our life where we choose not to submit to God.

So because of our unyieldedness, our relationship with God becomes distant, stale, and cold. As Paul says, we are “alienated from God” (Ephesians 4:18).

This shows up in different ways:

  • We have little if any sense of God’s presence in our lives. You know, God speaking to us, comforting us, guiding us, fellowshipping with us. God is distant.
  • We have little if any sense of devotion toward God. I’m talking about that sense of deep emotion that is connected with that which has the most value for us in all of life. Think of the devotion you have to your family. You feel strongly about them. Well, when we choose not to yield to God, we lose this for God.
  • We spend little if any time with God, that is, in prayer, reading the Scriptures, Christian fellowship and worship. Oh, we may come to church, but our heart doesn’t enter in. We’re just going through the motions. Its like with a person that you aren’t getting along with. You don’t really want to be around them. And if you see them you just go through the motions.

If this is where you find yourself, here’s . . .

What you should do to renew your relationship with God. As we talked about last week, yield yourself completely to God in every area of your life. And we do this through honest assessment of our lives and making hard choices of repentance.

And then, ask God to forgive your sins, your failures, and your compromises. Jesus’ blood was poured out on the cross “for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). And you are a part of that many. He died for you.

The promise to us is that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Through what Jesus has done, and our receiving this gift by faith, the walls of our sin are broken down. The barriers are destroyed. We have –

Restored relationship with God:

  • We come to know and feel the presence of God in our lives. God is close to us, leading us and helping us.
  • We come to feel devotion for God. We have a deep passion and desire for God and to serve God.
  • We want to spend time with God; to be in God’s presence, to soak up all that God has for us from the Scriptures, times of prayer and worship and Christian fellowship. We can’t get enough of it.

This is the second mark of a vibrant Christian life. Renewed relationship with God in all these ways.

3. Renewed relationships with others

Our unyieldedness destroys our relationships with others. And this can happen in two different ways:

  • Our own wrongdoing can destroy relationships
  • Or our unwillingness to love and forgive those who have wronged us can destroy relationships

Either way our relationships with others become distant, stale and cold. They become characterized by things like bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:31. If this is where you are at, here’s –

What you should do to restore these relationships. Again, yield yourself completely to God – here in terms of how you have treated others, and how you have responded to those who have hurt you.

More specifically 1) Make things right with the one you have wronged. Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you (you have wronged them), leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24.

There is no guarantee that they will respond and the relationship will be restored, but do what you can to restore the relationship through repentance and love for them

2) Forgive those who have sinned against you. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” – Luke 17:3.

Again, there is no guarantee that they will repent and seek forgiveness. And without repentance on their part there can’t be restored relationship. But, do what you can to restore the relationship. Show love for them and be willing to forgive if they repent so that there can be true reconciliation.

I would just note here the seriousness of this. In both of these cases our relationships with others, has a decisive impact on our relationship with God.

Matthew 5:23-34 shows that our unrepentance for hurting others affects our relationship with God. Why do we first seek reconciliation? Because if we have sinned against someone and don’t seek to make it right, our relationship with God is broken. There is no need to try to bring your gift to give to God in worship. You have to first make it right with the other person.

Matthew 6:14-15 teaches us that our unwillingness to forgive others affects our relationship with God. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Our horizontal relationships with each other, affects our vertical relationship with God. This is really important. So if nothing else, this should spur us on to the goal, which is . . .

Restored relationships with others. This is when we set aside hatred and love each other from the heart. This is when we set aside bitterness and find forgiveness. This is when we put away hard-heartedness and find compassion and mercy.

As Paul said, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32.

This is where we love each other and are willing to lay down our lives for each other, to sacrifice for each other. As John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters” – 1 John 3:16.

Restored relationships mean that we are humble before each other. As Paul says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” – Philippians 2:3.

And we live in peace with one another – As Jesus said, “Be at peace with one another” – Mark 9:50.

This is the third mark of a healthy and faithful Christian life. I hope that you will look at both of these and evaluate where you are at. Do you have this kind of relationship with God? Do you have these kinds of relationships with others?

William Higgins

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Today we are looking at a very familiar text – Leviticus 19. This is where the commandment, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” comes from, which Jesus names as the second greatest commandment of all.

But how many of you know that the context of the giving of this commandment is – dealing with wrongdoing in relationships among God’s people? This is our title and focus for today.

Here is the text:

“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of them. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:17-18 (NRSV modified)

Alright, we begin with . . .

Two initial considerations

. . . that will help us to make sense out of these verses.

1. This is talking about relationships among the people of God. There are actually several different terms used in these verses to talk about relationships, but all of them speak to fellow members of the covenant community.

The word “neighbor” used in the love command of v. 18, based on how it is used in the Old Testament, clearly means ‘fellow Israelite.’ [Leviticus 19:34, which repeats the love command, reinforces this point. It calls for love for “aliens” or “strangers” – those who immigrate and become to some degree a part of Israel. This wouldn’t need to clarified, if “neighbor” already covered everyone.]

So, we are dealing with relationships among God’s people.

2. Vs. 17 and 18 parallel each other (Jacob Milgrom). I share this because the two verses help fill out each other’s meaning; they give context to each other. There are three part to both verses, which speak to three themes:

v. 17 v. 18
What you shouldn’t do You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people

What you should do

you shall reprove your neighbor

but you shall love your neighbor as yourself


lest you incur sin because of them

I am the Lord

This will help us, as we now see what these verses teach us about what to do –

When you are wronged by a neighbor . . .

1. We learn what you shouldn’t do. V. 17 – You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin.” You can see the parallel and the expansion in v. 18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your.”

The idea is that when you have hatred in your heart (v. 17)

  • You have wrong inner attitudes towards the person; you “bear a grudge” – (v. 18). And also,
  • It leads you to take wrong actions towards the person; you “take vengeance;” you do them wrong in return (v. 18).

We shouldn’t harbor hatred or grudges in our heart that lead us to wrong actions on our part.

2. We learn what you should do. V. 17 – “you shall reprove your neighbor.” The word reprove is similar to rebuke, admonish, censure, or correct. It means to point out a wrong, specifically here, a wrong done to you. The idea is that you do this, so that the wrong can be righted. Instead of trying to get them back, you go to them to work things out.

The parallel here is really important. V. 18 says, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So, to reprove your neighbor (v. 17) is to love your neighbor as yourself (v. 18).

Let me say it this way. In context this is what neighbor love means. When wronged:

  • Don’t hate them or wrong them in return
  • Rather point out the wrong in order to work through it. Come to them with the issue so that things can be made right.

This is what it means to love your neighbor, when they have wronged you.

Now the way these verses are put together makes it clear that the call to reprove, is a call to love. So obviously this is not about venting anger, telling someone off, or saying mean things. It is about loving your neighbor as you love yourself. You are to act for their good, just like you act for your own good. This is what the phrase – “love your neighbor as you love yourself” means. And so it is to be an act of love, done in a loving way.

3. We learn why you should reprove/love instead of hate/take revenge. V. 17 says, “lest you incur sin because of them.” This most likely means, if you harbor hatred it will lead you to act in hatred toward the person; that is to harm them. This is not loving your neighbor. So in this way it leads you to sin.

V. 18 says, “I am the Lord.” This means, because God said so. And God is always right. And we should do what is right and not sin.

So this is the basic teaching. Now lets ask a practical question . . .

How wrong does the wrong have to be before we act to reprove?

Well, we are always going to do things that annoy each other. This even happens among happily married couples. How much more among us!

And there will always be people with different personality types, who most likely aren’t ever gonna be best friends. And this is OK. We are called to love one another, not all be “best friends forever.”

And we will always have misunderstandings or even disagreements and we can work on these.

But these don’t mean that you need to automatically move into “reproving mode.” What I am saying is there is an element of bearing with each other, and overlooking minor things in any community’s relationships.

  • As Colossians 3:12-13 says, – “Put on . . . compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another . . .”
  • As Proverbs 19:11 says, – “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Some offenses can be overlooked.

But, how do you know when you should speak to the person? Well, if what was done is causing: resentment, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, abiding anger, wrong words (like gossip or slander) or wrong actions on your part; in the language of our text – hatred in your heart, a grudge, or actions of vengeance – then you must act! Deal with the issue. Seek to work through it.

Now let me acknowledge that . . .

It can be hard to do deal with such issues in our relationships with each other

As Americans we just as soon break off the relationship, than to honestly deal with things. We are uncomfortable with this kind of stuff.

And as church people we think that we have failed if there is conflict, because we are supposed to be witnesses for love and peace to the world.

So we become conflict avoiders; we push everything under the rug. I mean some churches have so much stuff under the rug that when you walk around your head hurts from scraping the ceiling!

What we need to understand is that we are true witnesses when we work through issues in love, rather than just getting mad or walking away. The world already knows how to do this. When we have problems and pretend like we don’t – we just come off as hypocrites.

We will be true witnesses when they see us love each other enough to work through things in a loving way. This kind of deep love is new and different. This is our witness.

So no matter how hard it is, God calls us to have real relationships with each other. And this means dealing with problems that arise in love.

Let me just say that this is what God does with us. It’s because he loves us that he reproves us:

  • Hebrews 12:5-6 (quoting Proverbs 3:11-12) says, Don’t “be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves . . .”
  • In Revelation 3:19 Jesus said, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline . . .”

In the same way, if we love the person, we will deal with the issue.

Alright, we could also talk about receiving reproof, forgiveness and reconciliation – but we will stop here for today.

I hope you hear me this morning:

  • Let us not be a congregation where resentments build up, where relationships remain strained, where our love for one another is shallow, weak or cold.
  • Let us deal with our issues that arise – and is this way love each other as we love our own selves; and in this way live in peace with one another.

William Higgins

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In the past year or so, we have looked at several of the stories of the kings of Judah that come from 2 Chronicles: King Asa, King Jehoshaphat, King Joash, King Uzziah and now today we begin to look at King Hezekiah. Specifically the reforms he enacted in 2 Chronicles chapters 29-31 to renew and restore God’s people.

Some basics

  • Hezekiah began to reign when he was 25 and reigned for 29 years – 29:1
  • He “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done.” – 29:2

Indeed, in Chronicles he is presented as the most righteous king since David and Solomon. And he is also given the most attention since David and Solomon, 117 verses in all.


The northern kingdom of Israel had just been destroyed and taken off into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC. And Judah itself was in a precarious position.

King Ahaz (Hezekiah’s father) was horribly unfaithful:

  • He practiced all manner of idolatry, including child sacrifice, and he shut the temple down
  • The results were multiple military defeats and deportations of the population. They were heading down the path of the northern kingdom.

But then comes . . .

A Time of Renewal

This begins in the heart of Hezekiah:

“For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God. They have forsaken him and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord and turned their backs. They also shut the doors of the vestibule and put out the lamps and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the Holy Place to the God of Israel. Therefore the wrath of the Lord came on Judah and Jerusalem, and he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes. For behold, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this. Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, in order that his fierce anger may turn away from us.” – 2 Chronicles 29:6-10

How different he is than his father!

First of all 1. He restored the temple – During his first year, in the first month of the year, he acted. “He opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them” – 29:3. (The first month seems to refer to the first month of the calendar – see 30:2-3, but this may have also been the first month of his reign)

– He then charged the priests and Levites to purify themselves – 29:5-15

– And they then proceeded to purify the temple – 29:16-19. It had been ‘trashed.’ So, they carried out the “filth” it says, and they put it in the Kidron valley, the city garbage dump.

– After 16 days the temple was rededicated – 29:20-30

  • they gave offerings to atone for sin to seek forgiveness for Judah and even all Israel
  • and they worshiped with offerings, music, singing and bowing down.

The response of the people was overwhelming – 29:31-35. They brought so many sacrifices that there weren’t enough priests consecrated to handle them, so the Levites had to help the priests.

The result of this reform is articulated in vs. 35–36 – “Thus the service of the house of the Lord was restored . . . And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced” at what God had done and that it had happened so quickly.

But Hezekiah didn’t stop here, 2. He restored the celebration of Passover

This was certainly appropriate – As 30:9 makes clear. With the dominance of the Assyrian empire, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered, and many in Judah had been taken away. Passover, you remember, celebrates God as their deliverer from the empire of Egypt. This was an expression of hope and trust in God against all empires that would destroy them.

But there was a problem. Since they didn’t finish cleansing the Temple in time during the first month, which is when Passover is supposed to be celebrated (they were two days too late), they had to celebrate it in the second month – 30:2-4.  (Perhaps they were drawing on some of the provisions for individuals from Numbers 9 about celebrating Passover the next month if you were ritually unclean or not able to assemble.)

– Hezekiah sent out a letter inviting all Israel to come – 30:1; 5-10. Not just Judah, but even those who were left of the northern kingdom of Israel. He was trying to reunite all Israel again. His letter was a powerful call to repentance and renewal.

– “A very great assembly” came. Even though many in the north had scorned the invitation, some did come, and all Judah turned out – 30:11-13

– They put away the idol altars in the city of Jerusalem – 30:14, throwing them into the garbage dump of Kidron to prepare the city.

– And then they celebrated the Passover and the associated feast of unleavened bread – 30:15-16

Then there was another problem, however, many ate the Passover “otherwise than prescribed” – 30:18. That is, they were not ritually clean, especially those from the north. This was an offense that could bring serious judgment (Leviticus 15:31).

But Hezekiah prayed and the Lord answered, “’May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.’ And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” – 30:18-19. God looked at their intention, even if it didn’t meet the letter of the law, and had mercy.

Again, the response of the people was overwhelming. After the initial seven day feast, they decided to celebrate another seven days – 30:23

The result of all this was . . .

  • Great joy – 30:25-26. For it says “Since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.” Both northern Israel and the people of Judah together worshipping God in the temple.
  • God heard their prayers and blessed them – 30:27
  • As they left the city, the people cleansed the countryside of idol altars – 31:1

Finally, 3. He restored the priestly, Levitical system

– He reorganized them – 31:2

– He himself gave to support the temple – 31:3, providing regular burnt offerings

– He called the people to support the priests and Levites. As 31:4 notes, that they might be free to “give themselves to the Law of the Lord.” He called them to fulfill what Moses commanded concerning material support for the temple workers.

This part of the story may seem anti-climactic to us or mundane talking about priests and finances. But we have to understand that this was to sustain the reforms that had begun.

The priests and Levites could only continue to lead the people in faithfulness if they were supported. This was necessary to maintain the renewal that Hezekiah had begun.

And again, the response of the people was overwhelming. 2 Chronicles 31:5 says, “the people of Israel gave in abundance . . . they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.”  Notice the emphasis on the word “heaps.”

  • “heaps” – v. 6
  • “heaps” – v. 7
  • “heaps” – v. 8
  • “heaps” – v. 9

The priests and Levites ate all they could and there was still this abundance (v. 10). They are like, ‘What should we do with all these heaps?’ And so Hezekiah ordered them to build storage chambers – v. 11.

A summary of Hezekiah’s reforms

“Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.” – 2 Chronicles 31:20-21

Some Lessons on Renewal

1.We learn how to deal with sin. Hezekiah is an excellent example here.

  • You need complete honesty. He begins right away with a brutally honest assessment of their sin. He said, they “have been unfaithful and have done what is evil in the sight of the Lord.” – 29:6. This is why God’s anger againt them in judgment.
  • You need actions of repentance to make things right.

He was urgent in his actions of repentance: He started right away when he came to power and he observed Passover even though the timing was off. Within seven months it was all done. The temple restoration in the first month; the Passover restoration in the second month; and the gathering of support for the priests and Levites in the third through seventh months.

He was diligent in his actions of repentance: He did not leave it for others to do. He initiated and oversaw each step as the text makes clear at every point.

And he was thorough in his actions of repentance: He dealt with the temple itself, the Passover celebration, and the priestly system to sustain this. He moved from the temple to the city to the countryside even into northern Israel. From the inside, out.

In the same way, when we have sin in our life:

  • We need complete honesty. This is the biggest obstacle to Christian renewal. We are not honest and don’t take responsibility for our wrong actions.
  • We also need actions of repentance. And these actions need to be urgent, diligent and thorough – from the inside out covering every part of us from inner attitudes to outward behaviors.

We need all this in order to be right with God and to receive his blessing.

2. We also learn what renewal looks like. Hezekiah provides the pattern:

  • We get rid of the “filth,” and recommit to God. They got the filth out of the Temple, the city and the countryside and renewed their covenant. So, also, we need to get rid of the filth in our lives and begin again to do God’s will. When you see this happening then you know that renewal is happening.
  • We experience a renewed relationship with God. They found forgiveness from God and worshipped God in the Temple and had joy. So also, we need to find forgiveness, to be in relationship with God through prayer and worship, and to experience joy. When you see this happening then you know that renewal is happening.
  • We reach out to others. They invited the northern tribes to turn back to God. And when we are renewed, we will take a concern for others and their relationship with God. When you see this happening then you know that renewal is happening.
  • We give to God’s cause. Just as they gave many sacrifices and gave an abundance for the priests and Levites that left great heaps, So we give to the work of the kingdom. Renewal, if it is real, will affect our purses and our wallets. When you see this happening then you know that renewal is happening.

3. We learn that God is the source of renewal

First of all, it comes from God’s mercy. God wants to renew us; God is willing to forgive us when we turn and repent.

As Hezekiah said in his letter of invitation to the Passover, “For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” – 30:9. And as an example o this, the Lord was merciful on those who were unclean at Passover, but had a right heart – 30:18-19.

Second, renewal comes from God acting. Hezekiah initiated each aspect of the renewal: the temple, the Passover, and the Levitical system. But in each instance they all had to acknowledge that it was God at work:

  • The temple: With regard to the generous sacrifices of the people, “Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people” – 29:36 (NIV).
  • The Passover: “The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.” – 30:12.
  • The temple support: “When Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the Lord and his people Israel.” – 31:8.

God was the one doing all this, working in people’s hearts.

May God, in his mercy, so act among us, in our individual lives and in our church community, to bring us renewal and blessing. William

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Today the Elders and I are introducing to you a proposed  Cedar Street Baptism and Membership Covenant for our congregation. What this is really about is understanding and remembering who we are, what we are about, and what binds us together as God’s people.

Since we’re introducing this, I thought I would share with you this morning on the theme of “God’s People” and highlight portions of the Covenant in the process.

First of all . . .

God calls us to be a part of his people

God’s purpose has always been to form a community, not just save individuals; to have a community of the redeemed.

Our culture is so individualistic that we sometimes reduce our faith down simply to a personal relationship with God. When, in fact, it is that, as well as being a part of God’s new people; being in God’s covenant community.

We know this was true in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 7:6 Moses said to Israel, “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
In Isaiah 43:20-21 the Lord speaks of “my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”

That this is still true is evident in 1 Peter 2:9 which refers back to these two verses (and others) and applies them to Christians. It says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Notice the same themes – a chosen people; a people of his own or treasured possession.

God seeks for a people who will follow after him; a community that is his own; that will proclaim his praise to the world.

And so sisters and brothers, those who are God’s are to be a part of God’s people.

  • This is certainly a part of what baptism is about. When we are baptized, we become of our own mature choice, a part of God’s people. As Acts 2:41 says, those who were baptized were added to the church body in Jerusalem.
  • And we are to continue to be a part of God’s people, active, engaged, fully committed and participating throughout our lives. As Hebrews 10:25 says, we are not to neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some.”

We are to be a part of God’s people. This brings us to the question . . .

What does it mean to be a part of God’s people?

1) It means that we confess our faith in Jesus. Matthew 16:15-18 records this conversation. Jesus said to his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! . . .. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church . . ..”

Jesus is saying – it is on the foundation of this apostolic confession of him as Savior that God’s people is built.

And so to be a part of God’s people means that: We confess our faith in Jesus as our Savior.

[The covenant we are proposing calls us to this in the first section on confession under questions 1, 3, and 6.]

A second aspect of what it means to be a part of God’s people is that . . .

2) We confess our experience of salvation. In Acts 2:38 Peter said to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Here on this day, when the church was fully formed by the coming of the Spirit, what does Peter tell the crowd to do, which leads to their being a part of God’s people? He points to several spiritual experiences:

  • He speaks of repentance; a change of heart; sorrow for our wrong deeds, which comes from God working in us.
  • He speaks of the forgiveness of our sins; of experiencing God’s mercy and release from our sins, our guilt and our shame.
  • He speaks of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit; of having God’s Spirit come into our heart and give us new life and power.

So to be a part of God’s people means that: We confess that we have experienced God’s salvation in our lives.

[Again, the covenant, in section one, calls us to confess this in questions 2, 4 and 5. And just as Peter also notes in Acts 2 we acknowledge that we are willing to be baptized as a testimony to this inward spiritual transformation in question 7.]

Finally, with regard to what it means to be a part of God’s people, the fruit of our faith in Jesus and the salvation he gives us is found in new kind of life . . .

3) We commit to love God and others from now on. Matthew 22:36-40 recounts a discussion of what God wants from us as his people. Someone asked Jesus, “’Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”

All that God wants; God’s will for his people is summed up in these two commands to love.

So to be a part of God’s people means that: We commit to love God and others.

Now, love of God and others is not just a warm fuzzy feeling, an emotion, or an inner intention:

  • To love God means to obey God – I John 5:3. This verse says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”
  • To love others is to act in practical ways to help them, as Jesus teaches in Luke 10:30-37 in the parable of the good Samaritan.

[The covenant we are proposing calls us to this kind of love of God and others in the second section on commitments. There are two sections on love of God and three sections on loving others.]

Alright, we have looked at how God wants us to be a part of his people, and what this means: confessing our faith in Jesus, confessing our experience of salvation and committing to love God and others. Let me end by saying that . .

It is a blessing to be a part of God’s people

Oh its true, since we are all human and weak and fail, we will experience problems. If you have been a part of any church (there is no perfect church) for long enough:

  • you will be involved in misunderstandings and conflict
  • you will see pride, hypocrisy, thoughtlessness, gossip and sometimes downright meanness
  • you will see the full range of human sin

And it will cause disappointment for sure. We don’t always live up to the ideals that are in the Scriptures and that we have attempted to spell out in the covenant.

But let me say, that God is also here among us, and in the midst of his people throughout the world. God’s Spirit is at work in our midst to bless us.

And God helps us to move beyond our fleshly human weakness, and to turn away from our self-centeredness and our pride. God does his work in us and we see the fruit:

  • when we walk with each other through hard times with encouragement and support
  • when we struggle hard to work through conflicts and seek peace with each other
  • when God uses us to minister to each others’ needs
  • when we love each other deeply from the heart and sacrifice for each other

This is God at work.

We are blessed to be a part of God’s people – to have fellowship, community, common experiences, bonds of love, commitment to each other and our shared goals, and the strengthening that all this gives – which we wouldn’t have if we just isolate off by ourselves.

God calls us to be a part and he does so for our own good.

William Higgins

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Deacon Ministry

This is the Bible Study from Sunday night, slighlty edited . . .. Also here as a pdf –  Deacon Minisry

What Is A Deacon?

A good place to begin is this, a Deacon is someone who holds the office of Deacon in the church. There are two basic offices in the church:

1. Overseers (also called – Elders)
2. Deacons

In Philippians 1:1 and I Timothy 3 these are both spoken of together, so we know they are not the same office.

These two offices grow out of  two basic kinds of service to God. This can be seen in Acts 6:1-6:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables (table service). Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry (service) of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

There is the service of the word and table service:

  • The service of the word has to do with teaching and preaching
  • “Table service” has to do with taking care of the practical needs of the community

All Christians are supposed to be active 1) in sharing the word and teaching one another and also 2) in serving each other’s practical needs. But for the sake of the well being of the community as a whole certain people are chosen and set aside to specifically focus on either the “service of the word” or “table service.” They give leadership in these areas.

In Acts 6 we see the apostles functioning as prototypes of Elders who oversee and teach and “the seven” acting as Deacons – caring for the widows of the community by providing food allotments.

So we have some further definition: A Deacon is someone who is officially in charge of providing care within the congregation. The lesson of Acts 6 is that Overseers should not also try to do both kinds of service, lest the service of the word is neglected, or the needs of the people are neglected (which is what happened in this case). Thus Deacons were appointed to make sure that the needs of the people in the community are being met.

What Does A Deacon Do?

We come to understand more specifically what Deacons do by looking at the words connected to this office and by looking at examples of Deacon work.

1. Deacons take care of the practical needs of the church community: The word for Deacon is simply “servant.” This word originally meant a “waiter” – someone who serves the food. The verbal form of the word “service” referred to this kind of task – “waiting on someone” in a meal context.

Later this word group was expanded to refer to caring for any kind of household needs, and finally more broadly it came to refer to any kind of service rendered to another.

So to serve is to take care of practical needs (whatever they might be). An example of this can be found where the verb is used in Matthew 25:44. Here the examples of practical care include: feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty; taking in the stranger; clothing the naked; and visiting the sick and those in prison.

This concurs with what Deacons actually do in Scripture:

  • In Acts 6 “the seven” take care of the widows in the congregation at Jerusalem
  • In Romans 16:1-2 Phoebe, a woman Deacon, is a “helper of many”
  • In Luke 22:25 Jesus compares Deacons to “benefactors” or patrons who in a Gentile context help people with (financial/material) needs

2. Deacons handle the alms money: In Acts 6 the Deacons provide “table service.” This can literally mean serving food at table, or keeping accounts. It is best to keep the double meaning. Deacons handle the alms money and provide food from this for the widows.

So there is an administrative component – handling money – that is a part of this office. As we will see in the qualifications, it is important that a Deacon can be trusted with the congregation’s money.

Summary: Deacons make sure that the poor, the weak, and the needy of the congregation are cared for. They make sure that the community as a whole is in accord with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles about giving to and caring for these (Luke 12:33; James 1:27; I John 3:16-18). They make sure that the ideal of the church of Acts 4:34 is a reality among us – “There was not a needy person among them.”

Nine Qualifications for the Deacon Role

As an office in the church there must be consideration as to who is qualifed to have such a leadership role. The first four come from I Timothy 3:8 and 11. Verse 8 gives four qualifications for male Deacons, and then verse 11 repeats the same qualifications for female Deacons. (This doesn’t seem to be talking about the wives of Deacons, since no such qualifications are mentioned for the wives of Elders, the more prominent role).

1. Dignified/dignified (I Timothy 3:8/11). Deacons, whether male or female are to be honorable, respected people. As Acts 6:3 says, they should be “of good repute.”

2. Not double-tongued/not slanderers (I Timothy 3:8/11). These two both refer to sins of the tongue. Deacons will be involved in people’s lives and problems. They will see people in their times of weakness. They cannot, then, have a loose tongue spreading unkind words, or repeating unnecessary personal information to others.

3. Not addicted to much wine/sober-minded (I Timothy 3:8/11). The first is the negative and the second the positive articulation of this qualification. Rather than being addicted to wine, Deacons are to be sober-minded; able to act responsibly and think clearly.

4. Not greedy for dishonest gain/faithful in all things (I Timothy 3:8/11). Again, the negative form comes first and then the positive. This qualification relates to the fact that Deacons handle the benevolence money. They must not be greedy, but prove themselves faithful in all things.

5. Deacons are also “to hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (I Timothy 3:9). They are to have an understanding of the faith and a good walk in it as well.

6. They are to be faithful in their marriage commitments (I Timothy 3:12). Paul says, “let Deacons each be the husband of one wife . . ..” The phrase is literally – “a one woman (or wife) man.” (Apparently most Deacons were men, hence the use of the male form here.) Paul’s focus with this qualification is faithfulness in one’s marriage commitment. Leaders in the church need to be faithful to their marital commitments.

7. They are to be proven leaders in their home contexts (I Timothy 3:12). Paul goes on to say,  “ . . . managing their children and their households well.” (Again, apparently most Deacons were married and had children.) This has to do with an ability to exercise leadership well in a home context. As Paul says of Elders, if they cannot manage their own home, how will they be able to manage the household of faith, the church? – I Timothy 3:5. How they do in a home context (or other leadership contexts) can show if they are qualified to lead in the church.

8. Deacons are to be full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3). Deacons need the empowerment and guidance of the Spirit to do their job.

9. Deacons are to be full of wisdom (Acts 6:3). This no doubt relates to having wisdom to deal with people in need, and to handle the money rightly. Just as the apostles found out, any sense of unfairness can lead to conflict in the community. It takes wisdom to distribute alms. William Higgins

Appendix: The Literary Structure of the Qualifications List in I Timothy 3:8-13

It is helpful to see the literary structure to see how the material is organized.

A. Qualifications for Male Deacons:
1. Dignified
2. Not double tongued
3. Not addicted to much wine
4. Not greedy for dishonest gain

B. Two Statements:
1. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a  clear conscience.
2. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as Deacons if they prove  themselves blameless.

`A. Qualifications for Female Deacons:
1. Dignified
2. Not Slanderers
3. Sober-minded
4. Faithful in all things

`B. Two Statements:
1. Let Deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their  own households well.
2. Those who serve well as Deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also  great confidence in the faith that is in Jesus Christ.

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The Scriptures call us to love all people. But what does it mean to love someone? Pick someone to see if you love them. Go through the following traits of love and test yourself. Do you love them?

1. Love is shown through deeds – True love is not about words or good intentions. As 1 John 3:18 says, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” True love is expressed in deeds. When you see _______ in need, and you can help, do you act?

2. Love acts for the well-being of a person – Romans 13:10 says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” God loved us by giving his Son for our salvation – John 3:16; Romans 5:8. If you love someone, you will not try to hurt them. Rather, you will try to do what is good for them. Through your words and actions do you harm, injure or hurt _______? Or do you seek what is good for him/her?

3. Love builds others up – 1 Corinthians 8:1 says, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” It is easy to put down others when you think you know more than they do or that you are smarter than them. But love doesn’t act this way. Love seeks to lift others up through encouragement and help. Do you encourage and strengthen _______? Or, do you discourage and tear him/her down?

4. Love is not self-centered – Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love does not insist on its own way.”  Love listens to others and is considerate of their point of view. Love is not pushy only wanting to get its own way. Are you considerate of _______ and what they think? Or do you simply try to get what you want?

5. Love is glad for the success of others – This shows up in two phrases in 1 Corinthians 13 – “Love does not envy” – (v. 4) and “Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing” or as some translations put it – “does not gloat over the failure of others” – (v. 6). Since life is not all about you, you can be happy when others do well in life. Are you glad when _______ does well?

6. Love is respectful of others – 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love is not rude.” It does not dishonor others. Love shows dignity and honor to others. Do you show proper respect to _______?

7. Love is kind to others – 1 Corinthians 13:4 says “Love is kind.” This is a broad word that means tenderhearted, considerate, compassionate, gentle and merciful. Are you kind and gentle to _______?

8. Love is humble before others – Two phrases from 1 Corinthians 13:4 make this point – “Love does not boast” and “Love is not arrogant.” Love does not cause us to lift ourselves over others, but to lower ourselves before them. Do you show humility to ______?

9. Love serves others – Paul says, “through love serve one another” – Galatians 5:13. We lower ourselves in order to help others with their needs. Are you willing to serve _______?

10. Love sacrifices for others – This is a central part of what love is about. Jesus says in John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Are you willing to sacrifice to help ______ with what he/she truly needs?

11. Love is giving – 1 John 3:17 says, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”  If _______ has a real material need, and you can help, do you?

12. Love is honest – Ephesians 4:15 talks about “speaking the truth in love.” 1 Corinthians 13:6 says, “Love . . . rejoices with the truth.” Sometimes we don’t speak the truth because we don’t want to hurt someone, or cause trouble. So we keep quiet when there is a problem. But love means you have integrity with others. You are honest, not to hurt them, but so you can have a real relationship with them, not an artificial one. Are you honest with _______ when there is a problem? Or are you two-faced?

13. Love is slow to anger – 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love is not irritable” or “Is not easily angered.” Love is not quick tempered, but is willing to overlook minor offenses. Are you quick to find fault or express your anger towards _______?

14. Love is longsuffering – 1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “love is patient.” The word means longsuffering, which means you are able to suffer for a long time. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says “love bears all things.” That is, it puts up with annoyance or difficulty. Similarly 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “love endures all things.” Do you bear with _______ weaknesses and endure his/her failings? Or are you impatient and intolerant?

15. Love seeks peace with others – Colossians 2:2 speaks of hearts “being knit together in love.” Love draws people together. Colossians 3:14 says, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Verse 15 then goes on to talk about unity in the church. When there is conflict or misunderstanding, love compels you to do the hard work necessary to find peace with the other person. Are you willing to seek peace with _______?

16. Love forgives – Paul says, “Love does not keep a record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Peter says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). To cover sins is another way of talking about forgiveness.  Are you willing to forgive _______? Or do you hold resentments and bitterness?

17. Love is trusting – 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love believes all things.” This doesn’t mean that you are naïve. It means that, unless there is good evidence to the contrary, you are willing to extend trust. Are you willing to believe _______? Or are you overly suspicious and distrustful?

18. Love is hopeful – 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love hopes all things.” Love is optimistic, even when things aren’t going well. You leave the door open to healing with the other person. Are you open to healing with _______?

19. Love is a commitment – It is not based on feelings, which can come and go. God commands us “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” – Mark 12:31. You can’t command a feeling, but you can command a choice and a commitment. Are you committed to love _________ whether you feel like it or not?

20. Love is impartial – You don’t take into account how someone might be different than you, or how favoring them might help you. Speaking of favoring the rich over the poor, James 2:8-9 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” This would also apply to other social distinctions as well. If _______ is different than you in race, economic status or social status, does this affect your love?

21. Love is not based on how the person treats you – Jesus says, “Love your enemies . . . For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5:44, 46). Paul says, “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Even if someone harms you, you will not return harm for harm, but return love and good. Do you love _______ even when he/she doesn’t love you or treat you well? Or do you try to get even?

How did you do? If you find yourself struggling, don’t be surprised. It is very difficult to love someone in this way. This kind of love does not come naturally from the human heart. Rather this kind of love comes from God, because God is this kind of love (I John 4:7). This love is supernatural. It is a fruit of the Spirit of God working in our lives (Galatians 5:22).

Since this is so, we should pray that God will change our heart and empower us to love others in this supernatural way.

William Higgins

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