Woven in Joy & Gratitude (Colossians 3:16)

Sermon Recap

One of the holiest moments in my life happened at a campfire in Zambia at the home of Stai, a widow and caretaker to her three orphaned grandsons. She didn’t have enough food to make dinner, she was abandoned to poverty by the men in her extended family, but she sang praises to God around the fire. She embodied the call of Colossians 3:16 to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” She was a beautiful example of joy and gratitude.

IMG_0084.JPG

1. Joy and Gratitude Flow from the Gospel

Jesus said believing the gospel would fill our hearts to overflowing (John 7:37-38). The reason we should sing with joy and gratitude is because of all the riches and blessings we have received from God in Christ! Our whole lives should be about worship now (Romans 12:1).

2. Singing Lets Joy and Gratitude Flow Out of Our Hearts… 

1) …Through Our Bodies

Singing is a full-bodied action that activates the whole person.… Singing requires us to call on parts of the body that might otherwise be rather dormant—stomach muscles and vocal chords, lungs and tongues. And since singing seems to tap into our joints and muscles, song often pulls us into dance or raising our hands in praise. Thus in song there is a performative affirmation of our embodiment, a marshaling of it for expression—whether beautiful songs of praise or mournful dirges of lament.… In short, music and song seem to stand as packed microcosms of what it means to be human.     -James K.A. Smith

2) …With the Church on Earth…

When we sing God’s praises, we are united with our brothers and sisters in Christ, like I was united to Stai as she sang praise to God (Romans 15:5-6).

3) …And with the Church in Heaven…

When we sing praise to God, we are united to the eternal rock concert that is the New Jerusalem (Revelation 7:9-12). 

4) …Resulting in Christlike Character.

Through singing praise to God, we become the kind of people who can follow Paul’s words in the next verse: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Reflection and Discussion Questions

  1. Do you enjoy singing God’s praises? Why or why not?

  2. Have you reflected on your spiritual poverty apart from Christ? Why is there a link between our poverty and gospel joy (see Matthew 5:3)?

  3. Why is it important to involve our bodies in worship? Why are many Christians reticent to do so?

  4. How does singing praise to God unite us to other Christians in the church?

  5. Do you believe that singing praise to God unites us to the church in heaven? Why should this truth fill us with joy?

  6. What impact on Christlike character does singing have? How does singing God’s praise prepare us for eternity in his kingdom?

  7. What is one song or hymn that you have memorized that has brought you comfort or joy in the past? What is one song or hymn you enjoy that you would like to commit to memory for the same reason?

Woven in Truth-Telling (Colossians 3:16)

Sermon Recap

God loves to delegate. When he created the world, he gave it to humans to rule over and be fruitful and multiply in. When Jesus rose from the dead, he started a new creation. He is the King, but he doesn’t do everything himself. He gives crucial role to members of his church to tell each other the truth, to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.”

IMG_0084.JPG

1. Passively Prosper in Divine Abundance

To get rich in America, you have to work hard and beat the competition: you have to be a Martha (Luke 10:38-42). But the call to “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” is a call, not to work harder to get divine approval, but to sit at Jesus’s feet like Mary and receive the abundance of his blessings.

2. Preach the Gospel to One Another

In calling us “teach… one another,” Paul is giving a specific command, not to give advice about just anything, but to tell each other about Christ (Col. 1:28). Rather than fear what others will think of us when we speak up, we should tell one another the good news in faith that it will build up the church (Eph. 4:15-16).

3. Prepare for Rebuke

It is scary to “admonish one another.” We hate the idea of being judgmental. But correcting each other in wisdom and gentleness is an act of grace as we help each other walk in the light of Christ (1 John 1:5-9). We should be open to receiving rebuke and be willing to give it in love.

4. Put on the Fear of God

The reason we don’t speak truth to each other is that we fear man (Prov. 29:25). But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). This means that telling each other the truth “with all wisdom” requires that we fear God and not man. Truth-telling is only safe when we fear the God who loved and saved us in Christ Jesus.

Reflection and Discussion Questions

  1. Why did Jesus say Mary had “chosen the good portion” (Luke 10:42)? Why is sitting at Jesus’s feet to receive his grace the gospel way?

  2. Do you believe you have to work for God’s favor? How is it difficult to rest in what Christ has done for you?

  3. Why does God call all members of the church to preach the gospel to each other? Why not just listen to the pastor on Sundays?

  4. What stops you from telling others the gospel? Is that rooted in faith?

  5. Why is receiving correction an important part of the Christian life?

  6. Who is one person in your life that “admonishes” you? Thank God for them! Who is one person in your life that you can wisely and gently admonish?

  7. Why is the fear of God essential for anyone who wants to correct or tell the gospel to others? How does the fear of God give wisdom?

Woven in Relationship (Colossians 3:16)

Sermon Recap

People talk about a growing loneliness epidemic the past couple of decades. Surveys show a rise in people feeling lonely, left out, and lacking companionship. Typically, we assume this is related to age, life stage, or activities there are no particular factors that make loneliness a bigger issue than others. The real reason why this is an epidemic is because we were all created to be in relationship..

IMG_0084.JPG

1. Relational Problem

The brokenness we experience in loneliness is centered on sin. Sin is anti-social in nature, dividing us from others. All of our sinful postures are self-centered. God calls us to live a different way. What he calls us to in Colossians 3 isn’t a change of personality or greater self-will. We need a supernatural change that comes from outside of us to address our relational problem.

2. Relational People

Only the grace of God can call us into rightly ordered relationships, centered on the gospel. In Christ, we receive a community of relationships that isn’t an ideal to aim for but a reality we participate in. God’s grace primarily works corporately, not individually, necessarily weaving us to one another by the Spirit.

3. Relational Practice

This corporate, relational living is put into practice in three main ways. We let the word of Christ dwell richly in us, soaking in God’s Word and pouring it out over one another. We teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, speaking the truth in love to one another. It means we are both teachers  and students before one another in Christ. Lastly, we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs before God and to one another. It is how our church encourages and instructs one another.

Reflection and Application

  1. Do you ever feel lonely? What do you think is the cause of your loneliness?

  2. “Sin is anti-social.” Do you agree or disagree? How have you seen it be this way?

  3. How does the grace of God necessarily make us relational with one another? Why should this affect the way we think about our church community at Grace Alameda?

  4. What would it look like for the word of Christ to dwell richly within us at Grace? How does it change the way we engage one another?

  5. Do you feel like you are both a spiritual teacher and student in your relationships at Grace Alameda? What does it take to grow in this area?

Woven in the Gospel (Colossians 3:16)

Sermon Recap

If the doctor told you had a terminal illness that could be cured with one pill, you would take the pill! You wouldn’t put it in a display case and look for another cure. You’d take the cure you were given. The gospel is the pill that saves us from sin and death that we all need to take by faith.

IMG_0084.JPG

1. Gospel Cure

Theologian Peter Kreeft helpfully explains the gospel in medical terms to give us a clear understanding of what we believe. There are the 1) Symptoms (problem), 2) Diagnosis (cause), 3) Prognosis (solution) and 4) Prescription for treatment (how to get the solution)

  1. Problem: Death - Willful separation from God is death itself. Every human being suffers from this spiritual affliction (Col. 2:13; Rom. 3:23)

  2. Cause: Sin - We separate ourselves from God so that we can be in charge of our lives. This is what the Bible calls sin.

  3. Solution: Christ - God doesn’t leave us on our own but pursues us in Christ (Col. 1:18-20; 2:13-14).

  4. Prescription: Faith - We receive Christ and his salvation by putting our trust in him (Col. 2:6-7).

2. Take (and Give!) Your Medicine

There is a difference between my confessional faith (what I say I believe), and what drives me each day (functional faith). I may confess Christ, but function as if I believed performance or approval or sex or money were my saviors. This is why Paul tells us to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16): we need to help each other receive the cure of the gospel.

Reflection and Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it so important that we get the gospel right?

  2. Why did God give Jesus as the cure to sin and death? Why couldn’t we just take a pill?

  3. How do we receive the gospel cure?

  4. Why do spiritual outlooks like Buddhism or modernity appeal to us? Why are their problems and solutions convincing to so many people?

  5. What functional faith do you live out of other than the gospel? How would you put it in terms of 1) problem, 2) cause, 3) solution, and 4) prescription?

  6. How does that functional faith contradict confessional faith in the gospel?

  7. Why do we need each other in Christian community to functionally live out of the gospel cure?

Woven in Christ (Colossians 3:16)

Sermon Recap

Union with Christ is an immensely important Christian doctrine. St. Paul refers to it 216 times in the New Testament! But it isn’t there just so we can read about it. The Word (Jesus himself!) is in us so that worship will come from us. The amazing reality of our union with Christ should lead us to worship.

IMG_0084.JPG

1. The Word in Us

Philip Graham Ryken defines union with Christ this way: “The doctrine of union with Christ teaches that the Holy Spirit joins believers to Jesus by faith, and that by virtue of this spiritual bond we both receive Christ himself and all his benefits.” What does it mean to receive Christ and all his benefits? It means:

  1. We receive his life (John 15:3-7).

  2. We receive his love (Ephesians 5:25-33).

  3. We receive his presence (Ephesians 2:19-22)

These are transformative truths. We were dead, but are now alive! We were alienated from God, but no enjoy his generous love! We were alone and without hope, but now enjoy his presence! And they should lead us to worship.

2. Worship From Us

When Abraham Lincoln first visited Richmond, VA, toward the end of the Civil War, a group of freed slaves surround him and knelt to him. The transformation they enjoyed––from slavery to freedom––led them to worship. It should be much more so with us who have, not a president to free us, but God himself who has chosen to make his home with us in Christ! The Word in us should lead us to worship.

Reflection and Discussion Questions

  1. Can you think of any places in the New Testament that teaches our union with Christ? Are there any indications of a future union with Christ in the Old Testament?

  2. Do you believe you are spiritually dead without being united to Christ? What difference does this make in the way you see yourself? God?

  3. Why does Paul use such intimate language to describe God’s love for us in Ephesians 5?

  4. How should God’s presence with us lead us to be transformed in our lives?

  5. Do you believe that your real life is with Christ in heaven? How should this change the way you see the everyday details of your life?

  6. Do you believe that your neighbors who don’t know Christ are spiritually dead and alienated from God? How should your union with Christ change the way you see them? How should it change the way you treat them?

  7. How is the church a training ground for living as if your union with Christ is true?

Dedicated (Nehemiah 10-13)

Sermon Recap

Israel built the wall around Jerusalem to protect the city where God’s temple was. They built so God could be worshipped and known in Israel and in the world around. That is the same reason Grace Church Alameda was planted 6 years ago: to make God and his grace known in the church and in Alameda and the East Bay. God has brought us all at this time to this church to help build it so his gospel can go forward in this place.

1. Dedicated in Commitment

God’s people gathered after the wall was completed to promise together to worship God and obey him (Neh. 10:28-32). Building a wall required commitment––planting a church takes more! We are called to be dedicated to Christ and committed to the mission of his church.

2. Dedicated in the Commonplace

In Nehemiah 12, Israel has an elaborate ceremony to dedicate the wall around Jerusalem to the Lord. It was a wall––made by the people of regular stone. But everything in our lives, even the most commonplace, ordinary things, should be dedicated in service to Christ.

3. Dedicated to Come Back

In Nehemiah 13, Nehemiah comes back after 12 years, and finds the people of Jerusalem breaking their promise to God! He speaks truth in the midst of their disobedience and calls them to come back to God and his grace. We have to be willing to hear when we’re wrong, admit it, and seek God’s forgiveness in Christ.

4. Dedicated as Christians in Community

Some of us think we are free agents, serving Christ and his church whenever we feel like it. But Christ doesn’t call us to a life of doing what we feel like; he calls us to take up our cross and follow him, to die to ourselves and give ourselves in service.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Why are you part of the church? Do you believe God has called you to be dedicated to him and others? Why or why not?

  2. Are you committed to God’s call on your life in Christ? How do you show this commitment in your involvement in the church?

  3. Christ calls us to dedicate everything in our lives––even the most commonplace things—to him. Are you dedicated to him in everything?

  4. How do you think Nehemiah felt when he returned to Jerusalem to see God’s people failing to keep their commitment to him? How do you think God feels when he sees us fail?

  5. Are you willing to have other people in your life correct you and show you the ways you need to come back to Christ in repentance? (See Proverbs 12:15; 27:5-6).

  6. Do you think of yourself as a free agent in God’s kingdom? Or as a Christian under contract in God’s church? How should you see yourself?

Reality and Repentance (Nehemiah 8-9)

Sermon Recap

In Nehemiah 8-9, Israel hears the Law of God and walks away weeping. To us, this may seem a strange reaction to reading the Bible. But in truth, Israel is confronting the reality of who God is and who they are in his Word. And in the face of reality, repentance is our only option.

After the sermon, we took time to meditate on God’s law and corporately confess our sin. We have posted a summary of the Ten Commandments to assist in your confession and repentance. 

1. God is fearsome.

When God speaks to his people in the Old Testament, they often come away afraid (Exodus 20:18-21). God is holy and awesome. It is right for creatures like us to fear him.

2. We are broken.

The Bible teaches that we are sinners by nature (Psalm 51:5; Romans 7:15, 18-19). Israel is confronted with this truth and walks away weeping (Neh. 8:9).

3. We are guilty.

In light of God’s law, we see not only that we can’t obey God’s law, but that we haven’t and stand guilty before him. (Romans 7:24). We are sinners by nature and by choice.

4. We bear shame.

Our disobedience to God is a shameful thing, especially in light of the abundant blessings that God has given us by his grace. We should be ashamed before his goodness and holiness.

5. God’s grace meets us in reality.

God didn’t leave Israel wallowing in their sin; he gave them a party to celebrate his grace instead (Neh. 8:14-17). When we humble ourselves in light of reality before God, he meets us with his grace (James 4:6).

6. Knowledge of God and ourselves leads us to repent.

Seeing themselves for who they are and God for who he is in his amazing grace, Israel confessed their sin (Neh. 9:5-38). In the face of reality, repentance is our only option.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Where in the Bible does it teach about God’s holiness?

  2. Why is it natural for us to fear God? Why is it so difficult for us to fear him?

  3. The Bible teaches we are sinners by nature AND choice. How does your experience show you this truth?

  4. Can you think of any places in the Bible where people were ashamed of their sin in God’s presence?

  5. Do you believe the reality that you are broken, guilty, and that you bear shame before God? How should that lead you to respond to him?

  6. Why does God meet us with grace in the midst of that reality?

  7. Why does knowing our sinfulness and God’s graciousness lead us naturally into repentance? How do you need to repent today?

Rejoice in the Face of Opposition (Nehemiah 6-7)

Sermon Recap

When people criticize and attack our character, competency, or compatibility in any particular sphere of life, we often get sensitive, angry, and hurt. Nehemiah faced this type of opposition yet remained steadfast in his trust in God. What we need to see is that Jesus leads us to rejoice in the face of opposition rather than defensiveness or discouragement.

1. Resolute for God’s Purposes

Nehemiah’s opponents tried every tactic to dissuade, discredit, and discourage Nehemiah from fortifying the walls of Jerusalem. Even as they threatened his very life, Nehemiah resolved to complete what God had called him to. We often mimic this type of busyness in our lives to avoid dealing with heart issues and accomplish our own goals. Yet in Jesus Christ, we are given a new identity to doggedly pursue God’s purposes rather than our own.

2. Reliant on God’s Power

Nehemiah knew only God could accomplish the task that was set before him. He prayed and called upon God to help him finish the building of the walls and deal with his enemies. We often want to rely on our own ability and power to deal with our problems. Yet we must remember that our final vindication will never come from what we do or accomplish. It will always be in the resurrection of Christ. He is our only help and hope.

3. Remembered to God’s Praise

After Jerusalem is fully protected, the people worship with their names recorded for all history. Our joy is that we are connected into this story, grafted in as the people of God, joining in the praise of Nehemiah and his people. As the new Jerusalem, we worship and praise our Savior Jesus Christ. Our legacy that we leave is our identity and joy as the people of God, redeemed by his grace.

Reflection and Application

  1. Do you remain busy to achieve selfish pursuits or avoid dealing with real problems? How?

  2. How does the gospel change what your work, family, friendships, etc.? What does it look like to pursue God’s purposes in these areas?

  3. What’s the danger in personally trying to right all the wrongs committed against us? Why doesn’t it work?

  4. Why is the resurrection of Christ our ultimate vindication in this life and the next?

  5. Why is the legacy of Nehemiah and the exiles dwelling in the rebuilt Jerusalem our legacy as well? Why should we give praise for the names recorded in Nehemiah 7?

Putting the Universe Right (Nehemiah 5)

Sermon Recap

Earth is a Goldilocks planet; if physical conditions were just a little different, it would be incapable of sustaining life. God has created the world with an order that is crucial to our physical survival. There is likewise a spiritual order that is equally essential. For us to participate in it, we must fear the Lord. We see that idea play out in Nehemiah 5 where we see that you will not pursue justice or live generously unless you fear God.

1. The Fear of God puts us in our place (and God in his)

The fear of God is simply the recognition that God is God and I am not. It says that I do not have the right to do what I want. I am a creature, dependent on an accountable to the God who made me. Because the rich nobles in Jerusalem do not take this into account, they are guilty of injustice (Neh. 5:1-5). (Which is why religious people especially need the fear of God; see Genesis 20:1-11.)

2. The Fear of God puts things right on earth

Nehemiah is angry at the injustice and the breaking of the law (Lev. 25:35-38). Nehemiah fears God and pursues justice in submission to his will (Neh. 5:6-13). As those who fear God, we should seek justice in our communities in obedience to his commands.

3. The Fear of God fuels generosity

Nehemiah lives generously toward those he serves, not claiming his rights, but feeding others at his own expense (Neh. 5:14-18). He does this because his fear of God produces hope that God will take care of him (Neh. 5:19). Fearing the God who gave himself for us in Christ will make us generous like him.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. The fear of God is taking our rightful place in the order of God’s universe (and letting him be in his, at the center). Why is this such an important thing for us to flourish as his creatures?

  2. The Bible says we should fear God because he is the judge of all. Why is this such a difficult truth to believe for modern people like us?

  3. If you are a parent, how are you teaching your child the fear of God? Do you exercise right authority in your child’s life, in submission to God’s will? How can you grow in this? Why is this so important to their relationship with God?

  4. What are some ways that you have personally seen the danger of religious people failing to fear God?

  5. Why is fear of God so important to our efforts at pursuing justice on the earth?

  6. How is the fear of God related to childlike faith?

  7. Christ feared God and that led him to make the ultimate, generous sacrifice for us. How should fear of God lead you to live more generously?

Easter Is Better (Romans 8:11-17)

Sermon Recap

We make plans for our lives and want to add some religion to it. We want help to be a better person or a vague reassurance that God loves us. But the gospel says that Easter is better. We just want to get by in life when we could have resurrection.

1. The Hope of Easter

In order to become better people, we make lists. Whether we go to religion or WikiHow, there are lists for how to be better. But at Easter, God doesn’t offer lists; he offers life. Romans 8:11 promises life even after death when we put our faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9). Christianity doesn’t offer a better you. Christianity offers a better hope than anything this world can offer.

2. The Help of Easter

Romans 8:11-13 reminds us that there is good and evil in all of us, contrasting the flesh and the Spirit at work in the follower of Christ. No matter how much progress we make in the flesh, we will always have a tendency to fall back into the darker side of our nature. But if we are in Christ, we are not alone. We have the help of God’s own Spirit with us.

3. The Happiness of Easter

Not only are we not alone, but Romans 8:14-17 tells us that, if God’s Spirit is in us, we are children of God. We have been adopted into God’s family and made heirs of the greatest riches in the universe. The Holy Spirit tells us that we have been picked by God to be part of his household and his joy forever.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Do you believe that Jesus bodily rose from the dead? Take a moment to reflect on what an incredible claim that is.

  2. What hope does the resurrection from the dead give us? Why is this a better hope than anything else in the world?

  3. An essential aspect of the gospel message is that we are worse than we realize. Why is this such an important truth?

  4. The incredible thing about Easter is that it shows us that we are more loved than we could have imagined. Why does seeing how bad we are make the grace of the gospel sweeter?

  5. How do you need the help of God’s Spirit to follow Christ today?

  6. Why should our adoption in Christ bring us so much happiness?

Faith in Action (Nehemiah 3-4)

Sermon Recap

Sometimes we think that God only works through miracles. But he works through all kinds of normal, everyday things. Faith doesn’t mean waiting for the miraculous. It means trusting God enough to take action. Faith isn’t faith unless it’s faith in action.

1. Faith with a Body

Walking by faith in Christ requires we take steps, not in our minds, but with our bodies. Faith in action means doing real things in the world in obedience to God. If we believe Psalm 24:1, we will glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

2. Prayer Reveals Hope

In the face of opposition, Nehemiah didn’t fight fire with fire. He prayed and set a guard (Neh. 4:4, 9). His hope wasn’t in circumstance or power, but in God.

3. Obedience Brings Opposition

Israel’s obedience to God brought opposition (Neh. 4:7-9), just like it did for Noah, Gideon, Joshua and Caleb, and, above all, Christ as he hung on the cross.

4. Christianity Is Both/And

We think the life of faith is either faith or action. But this is wrong. Nehemiah (4:15-20) both trusts God AND takes the necessary precautions to protect his people. Just as Philippians 2:12-13 teaches, Christianity is both/and.

5. Faith Fuels Obedience

Faced with threats of violence, Nehemiah calls the people to “Remember the Lord” (Neh. 4:14). Trusting God gives us the power and motivation to obey him.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Do you believe that God owns you (Psalm 24:1; 1 Cor. 6:19-20)? How does Nehemiah demonstrate belief in God’s authority in his life?

  2. How should God’s ownership of you change the way you think and live?

  3. What does Nehemiah’s prayer reveal about where his hope is? What does your prayer life reveal about your hope?

  4. Have you experienced opposition due to obedience to God? When? What was your response to this? Why should we expect opposition in our lives as Christians?

  5. Why is it easier to think of Christianity as either/or rather than both/and (Phil. 2:12-13)? Why is it important to recognize it is both/and?

  6. How did faith fuel Jesus’s obedience?

  7. Why is it so important to let our faith rule our emotions and imagination? How can we learn to do this?

     

Skin in the Game (Nehemiah 2)

Sermon Recap

In spite of their suffering, our brothers and sisters in China show us a faith that is often far different from the safe, sanitized version of Western Christianity that seldom needs to risk anything. They worship with the constant possibility of persecution, following Jesus with skin in the game.

1. Engage the Impossible

Nehemiah’s desire to help Jerusalem seemed like an impossible task. He needed to get out of his duties as cupbearer to the Persian king, gather up resources and manpower, and reverse a royal decree. Despite the odds, Nehemiah still asks. We should consider how difficult the task is of being a church in the Bay Area. We worship and remain here because our ultimate call and final responsibility is to  Jesus alone. We continue on because God wants us here.

2. Take a Risk

Nehemiah risked a lot in going to the king with his request. He put his life on the line and asked boldly, knowing there was no guarantee that things were going to work out. For the church in the Bay Area to thrive, we must be willing to take risks and consider a sacrifice of security, comfort, or convenience to testify of God’s glory here. Jesus didn’t ask us for small donations. He told us to deny ourselves and follow him. That’s the kind of risk we’re called to.

3. Remember Who’s Boss

This is a difficult task but it’s made possible because who is ultimately in control. Nehemiah trusted his God in prayer, knowing who his ultimate authority was, and where any blessing came from. We can take on an impossible task and risk our well-being because Jesus has already taken all the risk for us. He’s already accomplished the impossible for us in be raised from death to life. What more assurance do we truly need?

Reflection and Application

  1. What in your life right now feels like an impossible task or person to address? Why?

  2. Why do you think it’s so hard to be a church in the Bay Area? What makes it so difficult to be a Christian here?

  3. To what degree do you feel like you’ve been called to live here? Why? How do you think this affects how you live and interact with others?

  4. When you look back on your spiritual life, have you had to take any risks to follow Jesus? Have you had to make any big sacrifices or difficult decisions? What were they?

  5. How does the gospel encourage us to take risks and attempt the impossible?

Consider reading the full letter from Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church and please be in prayer for the persecution of our Chinese brothers and sisters.

Man of Action, Man of Prayer (Nehemiah 1)

Sermon Recap

Nehemiah was a man of action! He worked at the highest levels of Persian government, and was an extremely effective leader. He took on the monumental task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and accomplished his goals. But the biblical account of his life does not start with his actions. It starts with his prayer. Nehemiah 1 teaches us that to be a wo/man of action in God’s kingdom, you must first be a wo/man of prayer.

1. Prayer is not mindfulness. It is communion with God.

While mindfulness may be popular, we should not confuse it with prayer. Prayer is not about breathing or health; it is about relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit.

2. Prayer is submission to God.

Nehemiah works under the king of Persia, but he is submitted to the King of heaven.

3. Knowing God in prayer leads us to know ourselves. 

Nehemiah was no John Wayne. He knew himself and knew when it was ok to be emotional (Neh. 1:4, 6-7). He knew himself because he knew his God.. He knew himself because he knew his God.

4. Prayer is action.

We think of prayer as passive. It is in a sense. But it is also highly active! (Isa. 55:11)

5. Adoration praises God. (Neh. 1:5)

We praise God because it is what he deserves and why we exist! (Rev. 5:9-11)

6. Confession is for everyday. (Neh. 1:6-7)

The closer you are to someone, the more you need their forgiveness. Paul says we live and move and have our being in God (Acts 17:28). We should confess everyday.

7. Supplication belongs in the story. (Neh. 1:8-11)

Nehemiah prays in light of Israel’s story. We pray in light of the gospel (Jn. 14:13-14).

8. Confidence in prayer comes in Christ.

In the gospel story, I can know who I am. And I can pray with confidence humility because I know the Father hears me in Christ.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Do you have more time for mindfulness or prayer?

  2. Are you joyfully submitted to God? Does your prayer life show this?

  3. Do you believe the way to know yourself is to know your God? Why/not?

  4. Why does Nehemiah start with adoration? Why is that important?

  5. Do you confess your sin everyday? How can you grow in this practice?

  6. Do you make requests to God in light of the gospel story? Why does the gospel give us confidence to make requests of the Father?

  7. How does the gospel give us confident humility? How can you grow in this?

Bridging the Gap (Ezra 10)

Sermon Recap

The first of Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses strikes at the heart of Christianity: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” If being a Christian means walking always in repentance, then Ezra 10 has a lot to teach us about following Christ. If confession is about acknowledging to God the gap between what his Word says and how we actually live, then repentance is about bridging that gap by turning from our sin, to Christ, by the power of the Spirit.

1. Repentance is a mark of Christian leadership. (Ezra 10:1)

Leaders can’t lead you to Christ if they don’t repent. Ezra demonstrates what it takes.

2. Repentance is not an abstract idea. It’s concrete action. (Ezra 10:1-5)

Turning from sin is not a theory; it’s an action. Ezra leads Israel to active repentance.

3. Repentance is communal. (Ezra 10:1-5, 12)

To live in Christian community is to get messy together, even when it comes to sin.

4. Repentance is uncomfortable. (Ezra 10:6-9)

In order to repent, Israel has to get uncomfortable (in the rain and cold!).

5. Repentance needs help. (Ezra 10:9-11)

You can’t turn from sin on your own. We need each other’s help to follow Christ.

6. Repentance gets practical. (Ezra 10:12-17)

Ezra led repentance, but couldn’t do it all. It took others with a practical eye to do so.

7. Repentance hurts. (Ezra 10:44)

Israel’s repentance was costly. It hurt to end ungodly marriages. Repentance hurts.

8. Repent through the cross.

We can’t bridge the gap. But Christ bridged it for us. Now we can repent and believe in him. (2 Cor. 3:17-18; Rom. 12:1)

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Why is it important to remember repentance is concrete action?

  2. What is one way repentance should be communal in our church?

  3. Why are we hesitant to ask for and receive help in repentance?

  4. What is one practical step you need to take toward repentance?

  5. How might that practical step toward repentance be painful for you?

  6. Why can we only repent through the cross? Why is the ability to repent in Christ such good news?

Mind the Gap (Ezra 9)

(Please note that the Scripture reading begins in the audio at 1:02; some of the announcements were added to the beginning of the recording by accident.)

Sermon Recap

Every time a train pulls into a station in London’s subway system—the Underground—a voice over the loudspeaker tells riders to “mind the gap,” acknowledging that riders could stumble and fall as they step on or off the train. In Ezra 9, Ezra is informed of Israel’s sin and “minds the gap.” He confesses his nation’s sin, acknowledging to God the gap between what his Word says and what they actually do. This passage teaches us about the nature of confession of our sin.

1. Broken by Sin

How does Ezra become so broken by his sin? First, the Word of God broke in (Heb. 4:12); that Word declared the people’s sin clearly; and this led to Ezra’s brokenness and humility before God (Ezra 9:3-5).

2. Humbled in Prayer

Ezra’s humility in prayer reveals how much he has been broken by his sin. He is honest about his people’s sin. Most striking is the way he prays the character of God, especially his justice and mercy (Ezra 9:13-15).

3. Life in the Word

As much of a model for confession of sin as Ezra is in this passage, he is not an end in himself. We need to see the Priest to whom Ezra points, Jesus Christ. A priest who became sin for us (1 Pet. 2:24). A priest who, on the cross, united the justice and mercy of God in his sacrifice of love for us (Ps. 85:10-11). Our response to Christ should be to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). And that begins with confessing our sin.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Do you feel that Ezra is overdoing it in his confession? Why? Is he overdoing it, or are our hearts callous to the gravity of our sin before a holy God?

  2. When was the last time you confessed your sin to God? What did it sound like? How specific are you able and willing to get in your confession of sin?

  3. Do you tend to emphasize the justice or the mercy of God? Why?

  4. Do you see yourself in light of God’s reality? Do you see the gap between his Word and your life? What keeps you from seeing? Are you distracted? Busy? Unwilling? Proud?

  5. How does a failure to be specific in our confession of sin cheapen the grace of God?

  6. Take time this week to identify one area of sin to specifically confess to God. Ask his forgiveness. Seek practical ways to walk in repentance.

Coming Home to Worship (Ezra 8)

Sermon Recap

If you’ve lived in a foreign country for a long time, coming home would seem like a welcome respite. You would value being rooted and having a sense of belonging that you may never really have in a different land. That’s what Ezra and Israelites sought in returning home and what we find in our worship every single week.

1. Worship Remembers God’s Promise

Genealogies can be boring but they often have important details that shed light on what God is doing. In our passage, the genealogy shows us that Ezra took serious God’s promise to gather His people together in Jerusalem again to worship Him rightly. Everyone was to be properly represented and part of the journey. He holds a greater promise for His church, a vision that we have a foretaste of in our worship.

2. Worship Trusts God’s Provision

In calling for fasting and prayer, one would think Ezra felt desperate after turning down help from the Persian king. Yet our attitude toward this call to trust in God may reveal our own heart postures toward dependence on God. Do we allow our circumstances to dictate when it’s proper to fast and pray or do we understand that we’re always dependent on God, no matter how much we plan and think we have control over?

3. Worship Praises God’s Power

Ezra counts the valuables before and after the journey because it highlights a phrase we see three times in this passage: “The good hand of God was with us.” All these valuables went toward the temple and served to highlight the complete worship service they all celebrated when this second group of refugees returned. It was evidence of God’s power coming through for His people.

Reflection and Application

  1. How do you feel when you finally return home after traveling in a foreign country for awhile? What makes it so relieving to be home?

  2. What are the promises that God has made to His church that we take hold of in our worship? Are these promises foundational to why you worship?

  3. What type of situations typically force you to fast and pray? Does any change in those circumstances make you less dependent on prayer? Why?

  4. What would it look like to regularly trust in God in every moment?

  5. In what ways have you seen God’s good hand upon you? How has it driven you to worship?