Starting Over

Starting Over

Do you sometimes wish that you could wipe the slate of your life clean and start over?

In a sense, the people of Israel were given that chance when Ezra and Nehemiah led them back to the homeland after 70 years of captivity in a foreign land. Back in Jerusalem, they had the chance to start over, rebuilding their nation, the Temple, the city walls, their homes, and their lives.

After the wall was complete, they had protection. It was now safe to gather and listen to the Book of the Law being read and explained to them. Hearing the Word of God, perhaps for the first time, the people realized they had sinned against God. Their forefathers had chosen to break God’s Law and they had suffered the consequences of it.

Chapter 9 is their response to hearing God’s Word. It is a prayer confessing their sin and expressing thanksgiving to God for showing mercy and compassion to them. After this prayer, they were ready to repent.

Repentance is much more than just being sorry and asking for forgiveness. It is a change of mind in which we turn away from sin in order to turn back to God and His original design for our lives. And that always requires a change in our conduct.

To initiate their changes, Nehemiah and the people made a covenant with God by writing out a plan of repentance to rebuild their lives in accordance to God’s Word.

Nehemiah 9:38 Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.

In chapter 10, we find the details of that covenant. The covenant was signed first by Nehemiah and then by the priests, the Levites, and finally by the leaders of the various families living in Jerusalem.

This covenant of repentance included 4 actions they promised to perform: (1) submit to God’s ways, (2) be separated from the world, (3) observe the Sabbath, and (4) support the ministry of the Temple.

Nehemiah 10:28-29 The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, join with their brothers, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord and his rules and his statutes.

First, the people made a vow to live according to God’s Word. They acknowledged that if they failed to live up to that vow, they were subjecting themselves to the curses that God had warned about in His Law to those who choose to disobey it. They were tired of living under curses. So, they chose to live according to His Word and received His blessings.

Deuteronomy 30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live

There are curses for disobedience, even if we are ignorant of God’s Law. Some of our suffering is the result of a curse that comes with our disobedience. If we are tired of receiving curses instead of blessings, there is hope. We can believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin, repent, get baptized, and receive a new life born of the Holy Spirit. Then we can start over under the New Covenant to live according to God’s Word, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and enjoy His blessings.

However, some of our repentance reminds me of a man who had just put the finishing touches on a fresh concrete driveway. He went inside to enjoy a glass of ice tea when, to his horror, he saw his little neighbor boy playing in the fresh concrete. He went outside and yelled angrily at the boy. After he fixed the concrete and came back inside, his wife teasingly said, “Why did you yell at him? I thought you loved little boys.” The man replied, “I love little boys in the abstract, but I don’t like them in the concrete.”

We can easily do that with the Bible can’t we? We say we love it in the abstract, but when it comes down to making concrete applications in our lives, we discover we don’t really love God’s Word seriously. Therefore, we don’t obey His Word. We make excuses. Consequently, we suffer the curses associated with disobedience.

If God’s Word is true, if it is good, right and perfect, then the only rational response is one of submission. If God is all-knowing and all-wise, then it makes good sense to listen and obey Him. Most of us have to learn this the hard way. We choose to disobey and we suffer the curses. The curses are meant to bring us back to God in repentance.

God’s Word and ways are indeed true, right, good, and perfect. Consequently, He blesses those who love Him and obey His Word.

2 Chronicles 16:9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him…

God is not looking all over the earth for strong people, for perfect people, for smart people, or even for religious people. God rejects the proud and self-confident. He seeks those with a submissive heart.

In fact, God is looking for people like Moses, Gideon, Mary, etc. who were fearful, unprepared, humble, and insecure. He is glorified through their faith and submission.

1 Corinthians 1:26-29 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

God looks for shepherds rather than religious Pharisees. He looks for submissive people; empty vessels, whom He can pour His Spirit into. Are you what God is looking for?

The second vow the people made was to live separated from the world.

Nehemiah 10:30 We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons.

Why did they do this? They did it because it is part of God’s Law they said they would submit to, and disobedience carries a curse. We cannot pick and choose what parts of God’s Word to obey.

The Law says in Deuteronomy 7:3-4 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.

This not about race. It is about religion and faith in God. To keep the purity of their faith in the one true God, God said to keep a distance from anything or anyone that can draw them away. Disobedience of this command had caused their nation’s downfall.

This line needs to be applied to our own lives. Anything or anyone who can potentially draw us away from God needs to be CUT OFF. Our purpose for associating with unbelievers is to evangelize them. According to the New Covenant, we are not to marry or develop an intimate relationship with an unbeliever. We should marry a Christian who shares our faith and will be supportive in living in obedience to the Word of God.

2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

Separating ourselves from the world is the converse drawing close to God. We cannot draw near to God without a corresponding separation from all that is not of God. When we make a vow to be devoted to God and His Word, we are making a commitment to live in a way that is distinct from the ways of the world.

That commitment requires us to quit depending on ourselves and start depending on God, because without the grace of God’s Spirit, we cannot persevere in following Christ obediently. Separation is our devotion to God. It shows Him honor and He is glorified by the blessings that come upon us as a result of our obedience to His Word.

Nehemiah and the people made a third pledge. After pledging to submit to the Word of God and live separated lives, they vowed to observe the Sabbath as a day to rest and to honor God.

Nehemiah 10:31 When the surrounding peoples bring merchandise or any kind of grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or a holy day. We will also leave the land uncultivated in the seventh year and will cancel every debt.

Living according to God’s Word often makes absolutely no sense from the perspective of the world. It’s not logical refrain from conducting business every seventh day or from planting a crop every seven years. It doesn’t seem logical to cancel a debt after seven years. But those are the kinds of actions that demonstrate in a tangible way that we really are not trusting in ourselves, but in God and what He says He will do if we obey.

Leviticus 25:18-22 Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety. You may ask, "What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?" I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.

If God commands, He enables. If God commands us to do it, He will provide what we need to obey it. The principle is clear– those who obey God’s Word will be blessed abundantly, even with things money cannot buy. Those who disobey will suffer curses.

Lastly, Nehemiah and the people pledged to support the ministry of the temple and its workers.

Nehemiah 10:32-33 We also take on ourselves the obligation to give yearly a third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts, the holy things, and the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God.

Why was this important? Were they trying to build a big church to impress others? No, again it was a command of God that carried a curse for disobedience.

Malachi 3:8-10 Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

Do you have financial difficulties? Could it be, you are experiencing this curse because you have robbed God?

If you desire God’s financial blessing, begin tithing. Give God a tenth of your income and complete control of how your money is spent. If you give out of love for God and faith in His Word, your financial problems will disappear when He has control.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Because we live in a nation that has turned away from God, turning back to God and living according to His Word will seem quite foolish to those around us. Living according to the Bible is going to cause us to be ridiculed and even harmed for standing up for our faith.

When that occurs, and it eventually will if we’re committed to living according to God’s Word, the only way we will be able to persevere through persecution is to trust God. We have to trust that God has given us the instructions in the Bible because He loves us, and His way of life is ultimately what is best for us, in spite of what people say and do to us.

If there is one thing I’m sure of this morning, it is that all of us have departed from God’s Word in one or more areas of our life. And the only way to make sure that we don’t shipwreck our faith and suffer the curses is to constantly and consistently walk in repentance. So let me suggest some practical, concrete steps to do that in our life:

1. Read the Bible. Start with the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus preached in Matthew 5-7. If we would just obey His Sermon, we would fulfill the commands of the Law, our lives would be greatly blessed, and God would be glorified.

For that matter, whenever you read any passage from the Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to convict you any sin in your life that is displeasing to God, causing curses, and preventing His blessings.

John 16:8 And when he [Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment

2. When the Holy Spirit convicts, confess those sins to God, ask for His forgiveness and for grace to repent and obey.

1 John 1:8-9 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

3. Determine what practical, concrete steps you can take to be obedient to His Word. Write them down and begin doing them. Ask a godly person to pray with you and hold you accountable.

James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

4. Trust that God is working in your life even when things don’t make sense.

Isaiah 26:3-4 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

God blesses a life that reflects a love and commitment to His Word. Therefore, if you are not doing that, ask your Father to give you grace to repent and the power of the Holy Spirit to trust and obey. Then you can start over again by obeying His Word.

If you have not yet made Jesus your Lord and Savior, and you believe He is the Son of God who atoned for your sin on the cross, come forward to make a public confession of your faith and your desire to be born again of God’s Spirit. We will pray for you to have grace to repent and set up a time for your baptism, signifying dying to the old life of sin and starting over with a new life of following Jesus and obeying His Word.