Previously in Nehemiah we looked at the Israelites as they learned what it means to obey God and keep his commandments. For them — and for us, too — that’s the first commitment: To know God and obey him.

This past Sunday we encountered the second commitment to God — and it has to do with marriage. The verse we focused on — Nehemiah 10:30 — talks about a commitment the people made to God, as they promise “not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.”

Valuing and raising up the marriage commitment is as important for us as it was for the Israelites. But just as the Israelites came out of a culture devoid of God, we find ourselves in the same predicament. Our culture today clearly doesn’t value marriage the way God does. Divorce and sexual immorality aren’t just rampant; they’re the norm. And sadly, it’s not so different a lot of the time with Christians and the church.

These days our culture — and many Christians, too — view marriage through four lenses: Experience, passion, culture and school, and entertainment. So … what has your experience taught you about marriage? Perhaps you come from a broken home or saw your parents fighting all the time. Or perhaps you’ve been divorced or are in a difficult marriage right now. All of which probably tells you that marriage maybe isn’t such a great thing or a wise choice. Or maybe you’re viewing marriage through the lens of passion. In other words, sexual attraction. And if that’s your criteria for choosing a mate, you will find yourself ultimately disappointed.

Then there’s the influence of culture and school — both of which are driven by humanistic values rather than biblical values. Scripture says “in the beginning, God” — the Lord is the One who is in control. But with humanism, things happen by chance and evolve. It’s about how we feel. These days if you approach sexuality and marriage from a biblical foundation, those in our schools and in our culture say there’s something wrong with you. You’re out of date. Behind the times. And worse, if it’s discovered that you don’t endorse the trend of “gender fluidity” and LGBTQ acceptance, you’re seen as an enemy. Of course, we’re not talking about doing away with compassion for those caught up in such values, but at the same time it doesn’t mean we compromise ours.

Finally, there’s the lens of entertainment. And we don’t have to say much about that, do we? For many years now, movies and television and the media in general have been celebrating sexual freedom and liberation, and it’s sold to us every time we look at a screen — and a biblical view of marriage is nowhere to be found. That’s a lot of daily pressure on Christians.

But just as the Israelites have decided they want a new commitment to God and want to do marriage right, we believers today must do the same.

For young people especially, don’t fall in love — you’ll only fall overboard! Instead, plan your love life. Ask God to provide a person for you who isn’t merely a Christian but also who’s on fire for Christ and growing in faith. Don’t make your marriage choice based on physical attraction and compatibility. That’s the world’s criteria — and it’s an unstable foundation. Why? Because people change over time. The person you’re so compatible with now may develop new interests over time, and you’ll find yourselves not enjoying the same things you enjoy together now. What’s more, the person you’re attracted to physically at present may not be so physically attractive to you five or 10 years down the line. Equating sex and attraction is a recipe for disaster. It’s the world’s way. But God designed sex for something much better: Spiritual oneness. It’s part of your devotion to God with your spouse. Sex is actually a spiritual activity. It’s about deep commitment and connection. And that will last.

So, ask yourselves: Is the person I want to marry kind? Is that person sacrificial? How does that person treat others? How devoted is that person to the Lord? While we live in a broken world, God is still in control — and he gave us principles to help us grow and keep us close to him. Let’s all approach marriage valuing as highly as God values it.

Listen to the sermon here:

The movie Chariots of Fire is based on a true story, in part about Scottish runner Eric Liddell — a Christian who’s looking to compete in the 1924 Olympics. But Liddell’s sister — also a Christian — puts pressure on him to return to China as a missionary.

And at one point, Eric tells his sister that he’s finally decided to go to China — but that he first has a lot of running to do.

“I believe that God made me for a purpose — for China,” Eric tells his sister. “He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

Eric’s passion for running has hit a noble height: He doesn’t run for his own glory or to feel proud of himself or for the personal thrill of winning. He runs because he recognizes God has gifted him with fleet legs and feet — and when he exercises that gift, he senses God cheering.

Cheering on his creation that he made for a specific reason and purpose.

In our passage in Nehemiah 10:28-29, we find the Israelites have reached a point in their spiritual lives where they want to make an oath to God to keep all the commands he’s given them in the Law of Moses. But their decision to obey is not due to a desire for reward or fear of punishment or even their growing wisdom, trust, or gratitude to the Lord. They’ve been down those roads with God already — and now they’re experiencing passion for him.

They want to obey God out of love for him.

Each of us faces the same question every hour of every day: Will I obey God? But there’s another important question: Why will I obey God? What is our motivation for doing what he wants us to do?

Make no mistake, it’s always better to obey God than disobey God — no matter what your motivation! But as we grow in our spiritual lives, we should be arriving at a place where obeying God means much more than hoping good things will come to us as a result of obedience … or merely to avoid pain or heartache … or not wanting to anger the Lord.

Hopefully, we’re on a road of learning that there’s real wisdom in obeying God — and more, that he’s even taken us through hard times and difficult circumstances to show us how trustworthy he is. Maybe we’re even at a point where we gratefully obey God because of how much he’s done for us.

Again, all great motivations. But the best place to be in our relationship with God is when we obey out of love.

It’s very much akin to a long marriage at its peak, with a husband and wife who have been and continue to be committed to each other. They’ve been through thick and thin together — and they discover they don’t love each other because each does nice things for the other … or that they’re compatible … or that they’re constantly full of pleasant feelings. No. Instead their love has deepened as a result of their commitment. And the intense feelings they experienced early in their relationship have blossomed and matured into delight for each other.

It’s the same in our relationship with God. Psalm 34:7 spells it out: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

And finally, in a deep and long marriage, there’s always sacrifice … laying down our lives for the other. Giving things up … even good, legitimate possessions and experiences and pursuits. Again, it’s the same way in our love relationship with God. There will be good things we will say “no” to — things we sacrifice. But when we’re deeply committed to the Lord, the result is more depth … indeed, more of God.

Which is exactly where we ought to be.

Listen to the sermon here:

Listen to the sermon here:

How do you respond to someone who says, “My sins are too great to be forgiven?” What if you are that person?

Well, God has an answer — and it’s all about how big and great and powerful he is … and also about how much smaller we are and utterly helpless without God we are.

Consider the long prayer from the Levites in Nehemiah 9 we went over Sunday. It encompasses these truths — and watch out, because they’re truths that will set us free. Free to surrender and receive God’s boundless love and free to let go of the lie that our sins are too great for God to handle.

First, let’s recall God’s attributes that the long prayer described. Namely, that God is far greater than we can imagine (vs. 4-5) … that the Lord keeps his promises (vs. 7-9) … and is faithful (vs. 10-11) … and is personal with us and communicates to us (vs. 12-14) … and is compassionate toward us and cares for us (v. 15) … and is forgiving, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love (vs. 17-18) … and is good (vs. 19-25). But another aspect of God’s love is that he disciplines us (v. 27). And in those times when we cry out for help? You’d better believe that God listens to us (v. 27). Not only that, he delivers us, even after warning us (v. 28). Indeed, the Lord is forever patient with us (v. 30) … and is gracious and merciful (v. 31).

Wow. What a portrait of just a few of the Lord’s amazing attributes and qualities! And have you noticed those qualities also have a major common denominator? Us! His people. They’re all about God covenanting with his human creation. And that brings us to our attributes — indeed, our failures. The prayer in Nehemiah touches on them, too, and it’s not a pretty picture — but it’s a true, accurate image of us. And we need to acknowledge that very human portrait so that through it we may grow closer to God. First off, we’re arrogant, stiff-necked, disobedient, poor listeners, forgetful, and rebellious (vs. 16-17). Yikes! Talk about a list of unappealing attributes to kick things off! But the prayer isn’t finished laying it out. In addition, we’ve even committed blasphemy (v. 18) and turned our backs on God (v. 26) and have done evil (v. 28). And verses 29 and 30 underscore how sinful we are in all of those respects.

So back to the original question: What if someone, maybe even it’s you, believes his or her sins are too great for God to forgive? Well, given that short list of our shortcomings, it’s no wonder we can get caught up in thinking stuff like that from time to time. But latch on to this: Isn’t that kind of thinking a way of elevating ourselves just a bit — or rather bringing God down to our level and measuring God’s abilities through our human lens? We must cast such temporal, faulty thinking aside and refocus on God’s attributes, which ultimately are unmeasurable by all our human efforts and intellect.

In the end, the question isn’t, “How can God forgive the truckload of sins I’ve committed over the course of my life — they’re too big and too many — because just one act of one of our human failures previously described (oh, and there are more!) separates us from the Father. But even facing that dire truth, the Good News is that all those amazing attributes of God flow freely, all the time — and God, in his unending patience, is just waiting for us to turn that nozzle on so his love can wash over us. Won’t you let that happen today, right now?

The verse we’re memorizing as a body — 1 John 3:1 — captures this perfectly: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.”

Let it flow.

Listen to the sermon here:

In today’s passage, we find the Jews desiring to start over with the Lord. To turn over a new leaf. To begin a new chapter, get clean, put their wanderings behind them, and move forward with God.

What they were after is what we all need today: Spiritual renewal.

But what does that mean? And how and when do we do it — and why?

A helpful way to look at the process of spiritual renewal is through four components: Confession, Separation, the Word, and Worship. You might say they represent the “how” of spiritual renewal.

Let’s take a quick look at them:

  1. Confession: Everybody does wrong. All the time. We can’t help it. It’s part of our sin nature. But while the world often says we’re doing OK as long as we keep more tokens in the “good ledger” than the “bad ledger,” Christianity is far different. The way of Jesus starts with admitting and taking responsibility for our sins, our mistakes, our transgressions — so we can be forgiven and have the slate wiped clean. Which sets us up for spiritual renewal.
  2. Separation: We were created for community, but there are times when we need to pull ourselves away from the world — a world that often corrupts and stains us — so we can effectively refocus on God. In the Nehemiah 9 passage, the Jews fasted and donned sackcloth and put ashes on their heads. Why? They were ways of physically reminding themselves that sometimes with comfort comes complacency. When we get hungry due to fasting, it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves why we’re fasting and to harness God’s power over our fleshly desires. Same thing with sackcloth — itchy, uncomfortable clothing — as well as covering their heads with dust. Who doesn’t want to get rid of all that stuff and get clean?
  3. The Word. In the third verse of Nehemiah 9, the Jews spent a notable part of the day — about three hours it turns out — reading from the Law. While confession and separation are about removing things that don’t belong in our lives, the Word is about filling ourselves up. It’s another strategic step in spiritual renewal. (Do you have a method in place for getting into the Bible daily? If not, why not try John Piper’s Solid Joys app? Or something similar you enjoy? It’s so easy with today’s technology to get connected to God’s Word in an instant. Why not give it try today?)
  4. And for our fourth element, we have … Worship. Nehemiah 9 also says the Jews spent time in worship during the time they spent in confession. Here’s an encouragement: We can confess our sins while we’re worshiping God. One needn’t follow the other or go in a particular order. Confession can give way to worship when we feel the joy of God’s forgiveness; worshiping God can remind us of his love, which can lead to confession when we’ve fallen short.

Now, you might be asking yourself, “When do we exercise the process of spiritual renewal? Once a year? Once a month? Weekly Daily?” How about this for an answer: Continually! It’s more than a task on a time sheet; it’s a lifestyle. We should strive to be in a constant state of mindfulness regarding God’s desire to renew us — continually. Do you have a quiet time at night? Great! But why wait until bedtime to ask God to forgive you for this or that? Or to pray for others? Not that we shouldn’t have such a time set aside — but we also can adopt a continual attitude of spiritual renewal throughout the day. (Sort of like living as if God really is by our side always — as he is!)

Finally, it will help us if we also ask why: Why do we need spiritual renewal? Answering this question will assist us during those times when we’re on auto pilot and forget why we’re doing it in the first place.

Simply put, the reason we need spiritual renewal is because it clarifies our purpose, our mission, our identity in Christ. Like food and drink in preparation for a race, it gives us the energy we need to live as believers in this world.

So, come partake. Taste and see that the Lord is good. You need not call ahead for a reservation; you always have a place at his table of spiritual renewal. Plus, his gathering place is never closed, and your money’s no good there.

Come.