Thursday, March 5, 2009

No More Mr. Nice Guy

In a recent blog post, Pastor Derek Thomas commented upon some insights obtained as he closed his series of sermons from the OT book of Nehemiah. Determined to dine upon more than this morsel, I clicked my way to the sermon archive at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS and downloaded the original sermon for myself. The text was Nehemiah 13, and his title: The Cost of Reformation. The blog statement that especially struck my soul was this:

Our model of what a mature believer looks like is above all else, he must be nice (emphasis added).”

In contrast to this modern measure of maturity, Dr. Thomas preached on Nehemiah’s reaction and response to sins which had become acceptable in his absence. He threw - what many teachers today would call - a temper tantrum. Consider the forceful language of his less-than-mellow locution:

“I threw…” (Nehemiah 13:8)
“I contended…” (Nehemiah 13:11)
“I warned…” (Nehemiah 13:15)
“I commanded…” (Nehemiah 13:19)
“I…cursed them” (Nehemiah 13:25)

Try such tactics in modern pulpits and most preachers would be tidily tossed out on their tush. But that is because, Thomas contends, “too many of us have bowed down at the shrine of Mr. Nice Guy.” We expect our contemporary spiritual leaders to tickle our ears not pull out our hair (vs. 25). Nehemiah was no Mr. Nice Guy.

Consider carefully the iniquity that incited his ire. Ask yourself…as I ask myself, oh my soul, if such evil ever has an equal effect upon my emotions. Do I hate what God hates? Does any holy violence ever well up in my heart against the tidal waves of transgressions within me and my brethren? Am I more inclined to expel my sin…or to excuse my sin?

Nehemiah reacted at their irreverence. Eliashib the priest treated the house of God like a hotel for guests. The offerings and oil were moved out so than an enemy of the Lord could move in. Oh my soul…do I get angry when I seem to make room in the temple of my heart for all manner of passing pleasures at the expense of communion with Christ? What about reverence for God’s name? Do we even cringe any longer at the too-casual pronouncement of His name, or today’s briefer blasphemy: “omg”.

Nehemiah took them to task for their failure to tithe. “The portions for the Levites had not been given them (Nehemiah 13:10).” Modern Christians have money enough for material things, but we become strangely stingy on Sunday.

We buy cable TV and buy camel hair coats;
Cell phones with ring tones and 60 foot boats.
Expensive vacations to Disney or Fiji;
A spa day, a new car, a gold studded squeegee.

But after six days of expertly emptying our wallets upon every novelty known to man, we find ourselves strangely na├»ve when the offering plate comes around on Sunday. Maybe we manage a five, or some weeks we throw in a twenty, but should the sermon suggest we tithe…well…that’s a bit too Biblical for our budgets.

Nehemiah severely scolded their Sabbath breaking. “And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions (Nehemiah 13:15).” When is the last time your pastor probed from the pulpit into your Lord’s Day observances? Mine has. And Derek Thomas has, for he said in his sermon “Because our view of the 4th commandment is so tragically small and minimalistic we find it difficult to enter into the level of zeal and passion that Nehemiah has, granted within a different administration under the Old Covenant.” Today…Sunday is fun day. The thought of setting the entire day aside for spiritual concerns, worship, and acts of mercy is as foreign as French to a fish. We say that we “have” to work that day, so we won’t be in worship. Sunday is for sports and friends and shopping and beaches and hammocks and clam bakes…but never for Jesus Christ.

And Nehemiah was mad at the men and their marriages. “…transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women (Nehemiah 13:27).” These unholy and unlawful alliances led to much sin. When Christian men marry outside their faith they do no favors to themselves…or to their feminine friends. We men often mess it up after the marriage as well. And bold pastors worth their weight in wedding bells won’t back down when faced with a handful of husbands behaving like boys.

So…should your shepherd stand before you with a scowl rather than a smile, remember holy Nehemiah’s zeal, and think repentance not resentment. And if this post has left you piqued…well…the title warned you…no more Mr. Nice Guy!
-Richard Baxter, The Saint’s Everlasting Rest

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