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Posts Tagged ‘grace’

turns

The book of Ezra opens with a heathen king fulfilling prophesy spoken by God’s prophet 150 years prior.  Cyrus had just been appointed king over Persia.  The Jews were living in exile as captives in Babylon which was under Persian rule.  They had been there for almost 70 years because of their disobedience to God.  Jeremiah had prophesied that their captivity would only last 70 years and Isaiah had prophesied that a man named Cyrus would be responsible for the rebuilding of his temple.

“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing.” ~Ezra 1:1

The ultimate reason this king released the Jews and sent them home is found in verse number one: “…that the word of the Lord might be fulfilled…”  God, in order to accomplish his own purposes for his special people, “…stirred up the spirit…” of a king who didn’t even know or worship him as God.  God directed this man’s heart and he did exactly what God ordained.  Proverbs 21:1 says, “The hearts of kings are in the hand of the Lord, and, like the rivulets of water, he turneth them which way soever he will.”  Matthew Henry says, “It is said of Cyrus that he knew not God, nor how to serve him; but God knew him, and how to serve himself by him.  God governs the world by his influences on the spirits of men, and, whatever good is done at anytime, it is God that stirs up the spirit to do it, puts thoughts into the mind, gives to he understanding to form a right judgement, and directs the will which way he pleases.  Whatever good offices therefore are, at any time, done for the church of God, he must have the glory of them.”  

King Cyrus wasted no time freeing the Jews.  In his very first year as king, he made this proclamation throughout his entire kingdom:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” ~Ezra 1:2-4

There is something to be said of a man who does right, right away.  When we are put into a position of authority or influence, righting wrongs and doing justice ought always to be first on our list.  One cannot make new plans or start new endeavors in any new context lest he first tie up the loose ends that the last guy left hanging.  Cyrus shows good leadership by attending to these exiles as his first priority when he is appointed king.

King Cyrus not only sends God’s people home, he tells them to rebuild the temple and commands everyone in his kingdom to give those going back to Jerusalem the materials to do it!  He commands everyone in his kingdom to give the Jews their silver, gold, goods, beasts, and offerings!

Imagine this now.  You’re living in a foreign land with no rights.  You are a prisoner of war.  Your people have been there held captive for nearly 70 years.  A new leader comes to power and he not only sends you home, he makes his own citizens give you all their valuables so you can rebuild your place of worship when you get there.  This kind of thing just doesn’t happen.  God is the only one who can orchestrate a deliverance like that.

Do you think some of the people returning went only to get the goods?  Do some today build and plant churches only to build their own kingdoms on the heels of others’ giving?  You bet.

Nevertheless, some leaders rose up from among the Jews to direct the people returning to Jerusalem.  The text says “…everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem…” went.

Who went?

Everyone whose spirit God had stirred up to go. 

The origin of a man’s action or inaction is always found in God’s purpose and direction for him, without which we would never choose right.  Proverbs 20:24 says, “A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?”  

King Cyrus also returned valuable items that the previous king (Nebuchadnezzar) had taken from the Jews when he conquered them.  He had them count the goods returned and he sent them home.

God used a godless man to restore his people; to show mercy to his people.  Despite their rebellion and sin against him, God forgave.  They had endured 70 years of consequences for their disobedience, but God was faithful to completely forgive and restore them after he disciplined them.

We serve a God who overflows with mercy and abounds in love toward us.  He is able to turn the hearts of kings and stir the spirits of men to do that which he calls.  We serve a God who is altogether sovereign.  Take comfort.  He is in complete control of every last circumstance.

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recommit

After finishing the project to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem, the people of God spent a considerable amount of time praying, fasting, confessing, repenting, worshiping God, and looking intently at God’s law.  They were thankful for his mercy and providence and ashamed of their disobedience.  God used Nehemiah – the great, godly leader he had called to help them – to spur them on to rebuild not only their city and their homes, but also their very own lives.

After their time of reflection and repentance, the leaders drew up and signed a covenant with God.  The people all took an oath of commitment to carry out the terms of these promises.  They also risked a curse if they would fail to obey.  Matthew Henry notes that, “Every oath has in it a conditional curse upon the soul, which makes it a strong bond upon the soul; for our own tongues, if false and lying tongues, will fail, and fail heavily , upon ourselves.”  In other words, if we would make a promise to God or man, we best be prepared to do all within our own power to keep it.

With all this consequence for failing to keep such a pact, why did these people seem so forward to sign up?

The answer is that these people had been failing.  They had been in sin.  They had been exiled, enslaved, and their home had been devastated, destroyed, and left desolate. Yet God had burdened a man named Nehemiah to come and help them.  God had brought them back to rebuild and re-establish themselves.  Now, they recognize both their guilt and his grace and they feel obliged to make these promises and strive to keep them.  Here is a group of people who truly want to be right with God.  These are God’s people.

So, what was it that they bound themselves to do?

The people promised not to intermarry with foreigners as they had been doing, they promised to observe the year of jubilee and forgive all debts in the seventh year, they promised to tithe all they had to God first and to give him the very best of their possessions to use in his house.

What did they commit to God?  Family; money; food; assets; only…everything.

That is the kind of commitment we must make to Our Lord if we would seek to truly repent and follow him.  WE are the ever failing, exiled from the garden, living in the  broken world we call home, sinners.  When we recognize the things he has done for us in sending a Savior to rebuild and recenter our very lives around the truth and His righteousness, we cannot help but to commit our everything to the building of His house and His kingdom.  If that is not our attitude and desire, we have not yet seen him and we do not yet know him. Therefore, let us repeat the words of these restored sinners and do as they committed to do saying, “We will not neglect the house of our God.” ~Nehemiah 10:39b

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forgiveness-and-reconciliation

In Exodus 34:10-28. God and his people are reconciled.  Peace has been made after their sin.  God has not only forgiven them, but poured his love, mercy, and affections upon them saying, “…Behold, I am making a covenant.  Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation.  And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.” ~Exodus 34:10

Not only is God making a covenant with these newly restored people, he is sacrificing other groups for their advancement.  He has again made them the very apples of his eye.

We know this because God promises to drive out all of those living in the land they are about to inhabit.  He specifically instructs them to tear down their false gods and refrain from making friends of those who worship other gods.  He reminds them – doubtless due to their most recent failures – “for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God,” and “You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal.” ~Exodus 34:14,17  Matthew Henry says, “Those cannot worship God aright who do not worship him alone…That they might not be tempted to worship other gods, they must not join in affinity or friendship with those that did….such is the corruption of nature that the bad are much more likely to debauch the good than the good to reform the bad.” 

God very specifically tells his people not to intermarry with idolaters.  The reason is that their covenant is with Him and not to be exchanged for alliances with them.  Let us remember these words anytime we are among unbelievers.

Next, God commands His people to keep feasts of remembrance, make sacrifices to him, honor the Sabbath, and come before him regularly three times per year. The reason for these feasts was to remind the people of God’s provision, to remind them to give their best to God, and to remind them to rest, obey, honor and remember Him as their only true God.

In verses 21-24, we find God all but saying, “Remember me.  Remember me.  Remember me.”  In verse 25 – Remember my provision (the manna in the desert), remember my salvation (the Passover), and in verse 26 – remember not to worship idols (The boiling of a calf in its mother’s milk was a pagan ritual and superstition.) Remember me; remember me; no idols.  Remember me; remember me; remember me.  Remember me; remember me; no idols.

Finally, he tells Moses to write it down for them.  Moses fasted forty days and forty nights and rewrote the Ten Commandments on the tablets.  How utterly amazing.  Our God is a God of reconciliation.  He is a jealous God and will stop at nothing to eradicate idols and idolatry from our lives.  He makes his people remember him that we might not sin against him.  Amen.

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newstart

Chapter 34 begins with God’s mercy and grace on display.  He tells Moses that he will once again write on tablets and give the people His law.  Moses had broken the first tablets out of righteous anger at the people for their sin with the idolatrous golden calf.  But Moses interceded in prayer for them and forfeited personal advancement for the sake of these rebellious people.  Moses was a good leader who cared for his friends. Though there was discipline for their disobedience and not all of them escaped death because of their sin, God heard Moses’ prayer and honored it.  A remnant of God’s people were saved and received mercy because of Moses’ and God’s love for them.

The first thing I thought of when I read chapter 34 was how apart from chapter 33, we wouldn’t have a chapter 34.  In other words, Apart from God’s discipline for their sin, their leader’s earnest prayer and intercession for them, and the people’s genuine repentance, they would have had no opportunity for true reconciliation with God.  They would have had no new tablets; no second chance; no new start.  The guys who are left here as the remnant receiving grace are the guys who raised their hand in chapter 33:26 when Moses asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side?  Come to me,”  and subsequently had to execute judgment on all those who didn’t raise their hand – all the men who just so happened to be their own brothers, sons, and family members.

Matthew Henry writes an excellent summary of this event saying, “The treaty that was on foot between God and Israel being broken off abruptly, by their worshiping the golden calf, when peace was made all must be begun anew, not where they left off, but from the beginning.  Thus backsliders must repent, and do their first works, Revelation 2:5.”

All must be begun anew, not where they left off, but from the beginning.  In other words, anytime we sin, we cannot just expect time and inertia to excuse it and go on as if we did not commit treason against Almighty God and our brothers and sisters.  Many in the church adhere to this damning false doctrine.  We cannot ever just pretend that what we did to injure others and dishonor God didn’t happen or doesn’t need our full attendance and genuine repentance, both of which we are responsible to carry out to the very best of our ability.  We cannot just pick up where we left off with God or others after we sin.  We must not only stop sinning, but we must also humble ourselves and apologize to God and others, take full responsibility for what we have done, and make true reconciliation possible.

The people of Israel showed evidence of their repentance by obeying God, waiting on their intercessor in watchful diligence while he prayed outside the camp for them, and by worshiping while they waited.  All this happened in chapter 33.  Without these proofs of genuine repentance, there would be no chapter 34 – no true reconciliation between they and God and their good leader.  Neither will there be any new starts in our lives if we will not obey our intercessor, Christ, worship him only, and earnestly facilitate and desire true reconciliation after a fault.  If we will not do these things, we cannot move forward after sin.  We are stuck where we are in the wilderness until we repent with all seriousness and are willing to do whatever it takes to make things right with God and others.

So, Moses had to cut out the tablets this time, but God was giving the words.  God said, “I will write on the tablets…” but later we find Moses being called to physically record his words.  This is how the entirety of God’s Word is written.

Moses had to prepare himself and the tablets and go back up to Mt. Sinai to meet with God.  No one – not even an animal – was permitted to be anywhere opposite of the mountain where they met.  Notice how the things that they had complained and whined about before they sinned are the very things God tests them in before they move forward.  Firstly, they had to wait the same length of time they had complained about saying, “We don’t know what has become of him…” while Moses was up on the mountain getting the tablets (40 days).  God did not shorten the time to appease them or make it easier to obey the second time around.  Nor did he let them watch while they waited (they had to stay on the opposite side of the mountain) so they might “know what has become of him” this time.  They hadn’t seen before and they weren’t permitted to see now.  God was testing their faith in his display of extreme grace and mercy toward them in this second chance of sorts.

In verses 6-7, God expounds upon who He truly is.  He had already told them through the prophet who they were – stiff-necked, stubborn, sinful rebels with whom God is justly angry.  But now, in his great, inexplicable mercy, he tells Moses who HE is:

“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

Moses agrees about who the people are in verse 8 and asks for mercy.  God gives it.

Many wrongly believe that in the Old Testament God is a different God – a God of wrath – than the God they see in the New Testament – a God of mercy.  The truth is that God is both, always.  He is just and merciful and he carries out one or the other dependant on his own choosing and sovereign will at all times in both Old and New testaments.

Here, we find that even in the very giving of the law itself, extreme grace and mercy are being displayed.  Firstly, the very giving of the law to men is grace.  The law shows us our sin that we might avoid the judgment of breaking it.  That’s grace!  Think of a government who didn’t tell you what was illegal but charged and arrested you when you broke the law!  Not so with God.  These people had repeatedly been told what God expected through their prophet Moses, it had been written down, and they had publicly agreed to keep it all the way back in chapter 24!

Secondly, when they deliberately disobeyed God, broke the promises they had made to obey, and worshiped a different false god of their own making, God gives them a good leader’s love, intercession, and earnest care to save them from the punishment they rightly deserve!  Not only that, he gives them the gift of repentance, forgives them, and gives them a brand new start!  What an amazing, merciful, grace-filled God!!!  And that’s the Old testament, folks!

If this is beginning to sound like the gospel, that’s because it is!!!  God has always be merciful and longsuffering toward a remnant of people whom he has chosen and saved through an intercessor.  If you are part of that group, thank him for not giving you what you deserve today!

 

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tent

As the remnant moved on from Mt. Sinai in the aftermath of their sin, God’s mercy finds them once again.  What an amazing God we serve!

Wherever they settled Moses would pitch a tent outside the camp and meet with God.  Moses called it the “Tent of Meeting.”  Not only Moses, but any one of the people could go out to this place and seek the Lord.  This is quite amazing because God had just told them how his presence among them, even for a moment, would rouse his anger and consume them because of their sin.  (Exodus 33:5) Yet God is full of mercy and bent on reconciliation if his people only humble themselves, repent, and seek him in prayer.

We, too, must be ready and willing to extend mercy and be bent on nothing less than reconciliation with one another after offense and injury.  This is truly how we live the gospel and glorify God among fellow sinners.  This is how we look like God; imago dei.

When Moses went to inquire of God and intercede for the people, the people would get up, stand at the doors of their tents and watch.  (Exodus 33:8) This demonstrated their willingness and interest in being made right with God after their sin.  They didn’t sleep in and let Moses worry about their standing with God.  No.  Anxiously and intently, they watched and waited for God to show up and their leader interceded on their behalf.

Likewise, we ought to learn to watch and wait on God with great respect and diligence at all times, but especially after we have fallen into sin.

Once Moses entered the Tent of Meeting, a cloud would descent and stay at the entrance of the tent.  When the cloud was present, God was speaking with Moses.  During this time, all the people would worship at their own tent doors.

When we see God moving in the life of our leaders, we, too, ought to stand, wait, and worship.

Amazingly, here, God spoke to this man, Moses, face to face.  Moses is the only person we know of that had this kind of experience with the Almighty.  Yet, today, God speaks to each and every one of his people through His Word and His Spirit if we only listen.

Moses was so concerned with listening to God that he left his apprentice at the Tent of Meeting to live just in case God spoke when he was away from the tent.

Lord, let me listen like that!  God is always speaking.  The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets. ~Psalm 50:1  Lord, help me listen.

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Is there grace for me here?

This is the singular question I asked upon joining the membership of a church five years ago.  This was my primary concern because, ultimately, a place where the gospel is preached must be a place where grace is extended to all people – not just some.  Not only that, but I know my own desperate need for grace.

After several months of feeling left completely out of the grace equation, I felt I had to ask.  When I looked around, I recognized that others were afforded love and grace that was continually, purposefully withheld from me personally.  Think junior high.  In junior high, one is very keen to the fact that they are not part of the accepted group.   It is an obvious observation because when the pariah walks in, she is avoided.  She sees them talking to everyone but her.  It doesn’t take too long to figure out that, no matter how many times she invites them, they are never coming over and that she will never be invited by them.  No matter what she does, she will never be good enough to meet their standards or be a part of whatever it is they are doing.

Still, we joined this particular church as members and continued to be avoided and accused by men who should have loved us; men who weekly claimed to offer grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy to all alike.

Finally, the initial red flag I had feared from the beginning was realized as right as rain.  I found that there was not grace for me or my family there.  Others, perhaps, but not us.  We were unmistakably avoided, repeatedly accused, and eventually slandered and excommunicated for reasons no one cared to discuss with us personally.

Sometimes people just don’t prefer you.  In these times, any offense will do.  Any irritation becomes criminal.  Every disagreement is grounds for nothing short of divorce.  When our hearts are hardened, whether our gracelessness is displayed toward a people group, a race, a religion, or an individual whom we simply do not prefer, the deceit within our hearts will justify almost anything including gossip, slander, maligning, misrepresenting, hatred, oppression, injury, and even murder.  Yes, this is the root of the transgression of the sixth commandment: You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)

(Read and watch more on that here: https://lorirodeheaver.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/command-number-six-you-shall-not-murder/  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jjfBYaQjnQ)

Sometimes preachers get sent to preach to people they simply do not prefer.  Yesterday, I watched, in living color, the story of a man sent to preach to a group of people he hated.  When God called him to the task, he refused it.  He ran in the opposite direction as fast as he possibly could.  He got into some “deep” trouble and he ended up doing exactly what the Lord had told him to do in the first place…but he was NOT happy about it.  In fact, he was so angry when those no-gooders repented and believed the truth of God that he wanted to die.  His name was Jonah.

But what would cause a God-fearing, scripture-loving, truth-telling man of God to hate the very people he had been sent to preach to?

The Ninevites were not nice people.  They were cruel, ruthless, wrath-bearing killers.  They were all kinds of evil.  They were not part of God’s elect Jewish nation.  They did not follow the Law of Moses and the only sacrifices they made were men, women, and children from other people’s families.

Jonah, on the other hand, did all the right things.  From childhood, Jonah loved God and his people.  He prayed; he served; he did good works; he followed the law; he obeyed God.  Surely he was entitled to things those evil people were not – things like God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy —right?

Wrong.  Funny thing about love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy – no one deserves them.  God gives them as he wills to whomever he wills.  It is not our call despite any position or privilege we may or may not have within God’s church.  Jonah was a prophet who heard the very voice of God for himself and even he did not have authority or preference when it came time for God to pass out his mercy, forgiveness, love, and grace.

(You can read more about Jonah here: https://lorirodeheaver.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/running-away-from-gods-will/ http://www.lulu.com/shop/lori-rodeheaver/tomato-sandwich-rebellion-one-little-girls-journey-through-the-book-of-jonah/paperback/product-21012747.html )

Yesterday I received a letter from the second church who chose to avoid, accuse, and condemn me personally for reasons I have yet to be told.  As I sit wondering what on earth I did to cause so many people to hate and exclude me, I can only think of Jonah.  Regardless of whether I am indeed the worst sinner in the world and deserving of this kind of dismissal, the question that begs an answer is why?  What is the reason and why won’t anyone show me that reason so I might be able to see it and repent?  Isn’t repentance always the goal of excommunication?  Where are my accusers and why are they not accusing me of that which I must repent lest I be lost and damned?  Better yet, why are they not preaching the gospel to me in truth and love?  Am I beyond help?  Is anyone?

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I have been accused -always and ever accused.  Yet, none of the accusations made against me have been specific to any certain word or deed I have supposedly done.  All accusations and charges against me personally have been just that – personal attacks meant to injure and abuse.  No facts or specific situations wherein I have been found guilty have ever been brought up to me or discussed.  All accusations have been generalized, vague, broad-brush character assassinations.  No specifics; no examples.  And that’s how you falsely accuse someone without telling them why; without giving them an opportunity to reconcile, to be forgiven, to be restored, and to be a part of your fellowship.  That is how you exalt yourself to the position of judge, jury, executioner, and, yes, god himself.  That is how you rid your life of those you do not prefer.  I believe the Biblical term is “favoritism” and “partiality.”

Nevertheless, I know my own heart.  I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am not entitled to God’s favor.  I do not deserve grace or mercy or love or forgiveness.  The very nature of those gifts precludes merit altogether anyway.  So, if those who claim to be God’s people do not love and accept me, I have no grounds by which to argue for a seat at their lunch table.  I am a sinner and nothing more.  I am Nineveh and I deserve nothing but God’s wrath and judgment.

The truth is, the very men who tell me and my family that we are not welcome in God’s church must, in doing so, recognize that neither would they be if we use only the law to determine inclusion.

Thank God for His mercy!  Thank God for His love!  Thank God for His grace!  Thank God for His forgiveness! I may not ever be on the guest list at any church’s preferred people parties on Sunday mornings, but I know that my name is written in His Book of Life.  Thank God!

As for Redeeming Grace Fellowship, I have a few questions and a very few things I need you – and anyone unknowingly walking into your church – to know.

Dear Dana and members of Redeeming Grace Fellowship,

My family and I love you all very much.  We forgive you for all the things you have done to hurt us.  We ask that you would do the same for us.  We want only reconciliation and restoration. We don’t understand the reasons you have chosen to avoid us, abuse us, and remove us because you have not told us those reasons.  The silent treatment we have received and the absolute avoidance you all have conducted over the past year and even beforehand is not a Biblical method of dealing with erring brothers and sisters.  The Bible teaches us that if we have a grievance or if someone hurts or offends us, we are to go to that person individually, privately, and talk to them about how we feel we have been wronged or how we feel that person is sinning.  The goal of correction and discipline within the church is always repentance and reconciliation, not avoidance, exclusion, and exercising the silent treatment when asked for reasons for the avoidance and exclusion.

Telling your members they are not qualified to pray with other members is not a Biblical practice.  Telling your members they are not called to do ministry within the church to which they belong is not a Biblical practice.  Calling an emergency meeting of the entire church and having a session of gossip and slander about members who are not present is not a Biblical practice.  Avoiding accountability after doing such things is not a biblical practice.  Pretending nothing happened after doing these things and refusing to talk it over to find the root problem is not a Biblical practice.  Refusing to answer phone calls when questioned about why you feel the need to exclude, avoid, and remove members of your congregation is not a Biblical practice.  Speaking with the entire congregation about reasons why certain individuals are members of your church but are not welcome to attend any longer while simultaneously refusing to talk to the individuals themselves about these things is not a Biblical practice.  Failing to clearly address the sins of members and correct, pray with, and help them understand what they are doing wrong, your concern for them, and their need for repentance is the opposite of what the Bible teaches leaders in the church to do.  Telling your members it is inappropriate to pray with them about the unrest, injury, and overt division within your church is antithetical to what the Bible teaches. Telling a member that she is the problem when she is asking for clarity about why she is being removed is not a sufficient, helpful answer.  Telling her she is being divisive because she openly disagrees with a man who is telling the congregation that they cannot use Biblical methods is not a valid accusation.  Telling her she is divisive for attending a member meeting as a member is not a valid accusation.  Having the congregation vote to remove members after refusing to speak to those members for months – all after telling the congregation they are not welcome to attend despite their membership is not a Biblical practice.  Sending a letter informing individuals that they are no longer members without responding to their numerous, serious inquires asking why and when these matters could be discussed is not a Biblical practice.

These actions, and many other actions like them, which have all been practiced in your assembly are not Biblical, Redeeming Grace Fellowship.  Repent!  Please, please repent.  Please speak to us.  Please seek the Lord and the scriptures and see whether the things you have done to us and others in your assembly have been done according to the Scriptures.  The Lord is not pleased with leaders who abuse His people.  He will not bless your assembly unless you repent of these actions and attitudes.  He will not bless a church when they are running away from obedience to Him.

A church without grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness is not a church.  By definition, a place void of these essential elements is properly termed a club, not a church.

Lastly, if this excommunication were Biblical, would that not mean that we could not join any other church until the matter was reconciled with you and we repented of the grievous sin which caused it?  In your letter, you encourage us to go elsewhere and “peaceably get involved.”  There is no peace for an excommunicated member who refuses to repent to the point of being thrown out of a church.  That ex-member must make peace with God first, correct?  He or she must repent!  He cannot just go to a new church and “peaceably get involved” can he?  How?  He is at odds with God and man according to his spiritual authorities who have deemed him anathema!  Please, please explain this to us.  Either we need to reconcile with you all according to whatever charges you have against us and repent or we cannot go anywhere else to any other church and “peaceably get involved.”  Sinners must repent and be forgiven before peace can be made between they and God and others.

To that end I ask, why has not one single member or any leader contacted us after our many attempts to discuss these things and be reconciled?  (Save one couple who has since rescinded their own membership due to these numerous, unbiblical actions and practices.) Do not your own bylaws as well as the scripture text state that every effort must be made to bring a person to repentance before excommunication?  Why has that never once – not one single time! – been done by anyone?  Even criminals must be told what they are being charged with and why they are under arrest.  How can you claim to love Christ while hating your brother and sister? If the gospel is true, why can’t we be reconciled to one another as the gospel calls us to do?  And lastly, if you can do this to us – people who you have so many things in common with from skin color to theological understanding to socio-economic status to family dynamics – what will you do to those who are unlike you in many other ways and how will they feel when they come to your club?

In summation, we have but one single question for all of you individually and I do hope you will all come to us with an answer for yourselves.  It is this: WHERE IS THE LOVE?  This is God’s house!  These things ought not be so!

We love you no matter what you do or don’t do in regards to these injuries.  We forgive you and we pray for you daily.  We miss and love you.  We want only to be restored to all of you rightly.  Please consider your actions and do right by the Word and Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Kyrie eleison.

In Christ,
Tim and Lori Rodeheaver

 

 

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 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” ~John 3:1-2

We.  Nicodemus speaks in plural.  This religious leader is not just speaking for himself.  He says, “…we know…”  It is very likely he is speaking on behalf of himself and several, if not many, religious leaders of his day.  The Pharisees.  They knew.  They knew, at the very least, that Jesus was from God – yet – they still hated him.  They still sought ways to discredit and undermine him.  They still publicly challenged and slandered him.

This is amazing!  Jealousy makes power-hungry religious men do terrible things even though they know better.

Jesus takes Nicodemus immediately to the reason and the solution for why he doesn’t know him for who he actually is.  Jesus is not just from God – he is God.  The reason Nicodemus doesn’t know that is because he has not been regenerated by the power of God.  He is a just another guy who is interested in religion.  He lacks spiritual insight and wisdom precisely because he has not come to know Christ truly yet.  He knows all about religion.  He fails to know God.  This is tragic.

What does Jesus do?

He wastes no time explaining who he is or setting Nicodemus straight about his identity.  Jesus gives him the solution.  “You must be born again.”  He proceeds to preach the gospel to Nicodemus adding that it is quite peculiar that he is in a position and in fact is a teacher of God’s people and yet has no understanding of the things of God. (verse 10)

Nicodemus is bewildered.  He is confused.  He is astonished at what Jesus tells him saying, “How can these things be?” (verse 9)

After Jesus makes the point that a teacher of God’s people ought to know these things, he reveals the real issue in Nicodemus’s life.

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”~ John 3:11-12

You don’t believe me, Nicodemus.  I have repeatedly told you and showed you the truth in simple, lisping lessons but you simply do not believe it.  If you don’t believe me about things on earth – things you can see – how will you believe about things in heaven – things you have not seen?!  He gives Nicodemus the gospel as well as the reason men just like Nicodemus do not believe it.

We tend to forget that this whole John 3:16 business is in the context of Jesus talking to one of the most religious men of his day.  Think about that.  Consider the implications of that truth.

So what does Jesus say to this very religious teacher guy?  Grace is here – but, as Jesus has already told this man, it is for those who believe.  You do not believe.  Light is here.  The problem is not that you do not have enough light.  You love darkness.  That is the problem.  And why do you love darkness?  Because you’re hiding.  You are afraid that your wrong deeds will be exposed.  You care more about how you look on the outside than you do about whether you are in God’s favor.  You would rather hide behind religion than come into the light and be made clean.

The main idea here is that Jesus is not the one hiding.  God is waiting and willing no matter how or when we come to inquire of him.  We are always the ones who hide from God.  Nicodemus comes at night because he is hiding.  Likely he fears his religious friends seeing him talk to Jesus – because God forbid one of them get to know Jesus rightly and for who he truly is.  They were much more content to make him who they needed him to be in order to keep their sin hidden and their people – their followers – deceived about who they really were.

Jesus is not the one hiding.  The religious men are hiding.  When asked indirectly who he really is, Jesus pulls no punches.  He tells the inquirer the solution and the problem for why he does not know the answer to his own question.  Jesus does not have to say, “I am God” because it is extremely clear that Nicodemus has already repeatedly refused to believe the truths that would lead to that conclusion.  Instead, Jesus mercifully gives him the solution.

Here’s your problem, Nicodemus.  Here’s what needs to happen in your own life, Nicodemus.  There’s grace, Nicodemus.  Believe and be saved, Nicodemus.  If you do not believe, you are already condemned despite all your religious work and knowledge, Nicodemus.

Have you ever had someone try to be your friend secretly?  Or treat you differently when others were around vs. when they were not around?  Religious people are infamous for this kind of behavior because they not only fail to recognize and believe who God is, they fail to know who they themselves are.  Therefore, they are not genuine in their dealings.  Jesus shows us how to deal with this kind of pretense.  Say this:

Here’s your problem, religious man.  Here’s what needs to happen in your own life, religious man.  There’s grace, religious man.  Believe and be saved, religious man.  If you do not believe, you are already condemned despite all your religious work and knowledge, religious man.

Jesus deals with pretense, fear, a religious spirit, and sin all in one blow.  He tells this spiritually impoverished soul the truth of the gospel and the solution to his sin problem.  He makes sure that guy knows exactly what is required of him and shows him that he has not yet been willing to do it.

God’s grace is waiting.  He wants people to come to the light.  We must believe, confess our sin in the light, and repent of our hiding it in the darkness.  God is faithful to meet us there and do a great work in our lives.  He will change us from religious pretenders – people who have (as the Bible says) a form of godliness but deny its power – and false friends to real sons and daughters; brothers and sisters of his very own.

Come to Jesus.  Confess your sin to him.  Ask forgiveness.  Allow his Holy Spirit to do his work in you and you will be a new creation.  You will be born again.  Amen.

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