Empowered to Witness

Posted on June 1, 2008. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The book of Acts was written approximately 60AD; the strongest evidence is that Acts closes with Paul in a Roman prison. We also know that Paul was martyred in 63AD or 64AD, and this would surely have been mentioned by the author.

Who knows who the author of Acts is? Most scholars believe it’s written by Luke as sort of a conclusion to the book of Luke, especially because in several places the author switches from a third person “they did this” to a first person “We saw this,” implying that the author saw some of the events firsthand. Acts 1:1 begins with the words, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Luke 1:3 says “… it seemed good to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus…”. So we can think of the book of Acts as sort of Luke, Part II. Or Luke, the Sequel. Or Luke and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Luke begins Acts with short summary of the last days of Christ and 4 major points –

a) Verses 4-8, the resurrected Jesus appears and tells the apostles to wait for the gift of the Holy spirit;
b) Verses 9-11, Jesus ascends into Heaven and angels remind them that Jesus will return the same way;
c) Verses 12-14, all the apostles unite in prayer as they wait for the Holy Spirit;
d) And verses 15-26 the entire church, about 120 of them, discuss the fate of Judas and his replacement according to scripture.

We’re supposed to covers Acts 1 & 2 today, and we’re not going to be able to do it justice. There are so many lessons in here; prophecy, obedience, the kingdom of God, the resurrection, the ascension, baptism, spiritual gifts, tongues, the early church structure, loving and caring for believers, and more. I remember when I was teaching about the life of Joseph and how his brothers threw him in the well. I thought, “Is that it? Can’t I have the next chapter where Joseph gets out of the well?” The first 2 books of Acts, though, are full of lessons.

I want to focus, though, on verses Acts 1:4-8 and the last instructions Jesus gave to his disciples.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus tells us that we will be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. What keeps Christians from fulfilling this command? Why do Christian not witness?

Notice Jesus says, “wait for the gift my Father promised.” What is this gift? And what is the Holy Spirit? Is it a ghost? Is it, as Obi Wan says, a force that flows through us and surrounds us? No, the Holy Spirit is a person. He is the third person of the Trinity.

What does the Holy Spirit look like? Oh my goodness, we just got through studying Genesis and you’ve already forgotten. Genesis 1:26, “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image.’” The Holy Spirit sort of looks like you and me.

The Holy Spirit does many things for us; for instance, sometimes He tells us what do do. Look at Acts 8:29 –

The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Yes, sometimes God, through the Holy Spirit, commands us to do things. The Holy Spirit helps us and intercedes for us; look at Romans 8:26-27 –

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

The Holy Spirit is more than our conscience; the Holy Spirit guides us, helps us, gives us moral direction by directing us to obey God’s will. When you are troubled or confused or in conflict, ask God to search your heart like David did in Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!” The same Psalm in verse 7 asks,

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

That is why Jesus says if you seek Him, you shall find Him, because no matter where you go, there He is. Come to think of it, no matter where I go, there I am, too. Coincidence? I think not.

The Holy Spirit also guides us. Look at John 16:13-14 –

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth; if what you hear conflicts with the Word of God, then you’re not hearing the Spirit, you’re hearing something else. And notice that it says the Holy Spirit will bring glory to me. The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to bring glory to Jesus Christ. Turn to John 15:26-27 –

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to tell people about Jesus Christ and how they can have a relationship with God. God, Spirit, Jesus. The Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus, and then Jesus says we also must testify. Let’s turn back to our study today at Acts 1:4 –

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised”

Why do you suppose Jesus told them to wait?

I find it interesting that these disciples were with Jesus throughout his ministry, they witnessed His teachings, His miracles, His death, resurrection and ascension. But they were not told to give a witness of their account. They were told to wait for the Holy Spirit and *then* witness.

God can do all things in His good time; I believe God is teaching us two things here. First, be patient. “Dear Lord, give me patience, and make it snappy!” We’re are by nature impatient and we want things now, but God’s plan requires us to wait on Him. We want things now; we want a new car, we want a bigger house, a better job. We want a bible study to grow, we want a family member to be saved, we want pain to end, we want, we want, we want. But God is trying to teach us that it is not our ability that accomplishes anything lasting. Only by waiting on Him will His will be accomplished through us. So the apostles were to be patient and wait on the Lord. We are not to do things under our own power; when we do, we are attempting to bring glory to ourselves. Listen to these instructions from the Lord to Israel in Ezekial 36:25-27 –

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Notice a pattern there? Who is responsible for cleansing us, for changing us, for putting the Holy Spirit in us? God wants us to know that He is responsible for all of these things. We wait on the Lord, because we need Him. Jesus repeats the instructions from John 15 in Acts 1:8 –

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Not only do we need the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus promises we can have it! Turn to Acts 2:1-4 -

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

This is not the first appearance of the Holy Spirit; He was with God in the beginning and He made appearances throughout the Old Testament for specific reasons and for limited times. But at the day of Pentecost, the holy Spirit makes a powerful entrance to show us the power and permanent residence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

The Day of Pentecost was an annual feast celebrated on the day after the seventh Sabbath according to the rules of Leviticus, the 50th day after Passover. It was originally the Feast of the Firstfruits of the grain harvest. After the resurrection of Jesus, He appeared for 40 days, then ascended into heaven, so there were 10 days the disciples waited and prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit to come. The Feast of Firstfruits has significance as these were the first 3000 who came to faith of many millions who would come after.

The Holy Spirit arrived dramatically; there was noise, a sound like a violent wind like a tornado or hurricane. There was sight as tongues of fire came down on each of the 120 disciples gathered. And then a gift of the Holy Spirit, speaking in many languages to enable them to spread the gospel to the entire world. In verse 8-9, they spoke the language of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phyrgia and Pamphylia and Egypt and Libya and Rome and more. And the people witnessing this extraordinary event, did they immediately recognize God at work? Verse 13, “Ah, they’re just drunk.”

It’s important to understand the power given to Christians. Just as we are to wait on the Lord instead of doing things on our own, the handiwork of God is not apparent to nonbelievers without us telling them about it. In verse 14, Peter stands up in front of the crowd and explains the prophecy of the Holy Spirit’s coming. As believers, can you see the work of God? Can you see the stars and marvel at His glory, can you look at a blade of grass and marvel at the intricacies of the tiny veins? Can you look at your spouse and see the fingerprints of God? Psalm 19:1 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” Romans 1:20 says,” For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” For people that do not know God, they attribute the beauty of the heavens to anything *but* God. God chooses to work through people filled with His Spirit to spread the Gospel, people that rely on the Spirit and not on their own abilities. Since the day of Pentecost, this power of the Holy Spirit is available to all who follow Jesus.

Notice what Peter does in Acts 2:14-36; Peter tells them about prophecy fulfilled, about the son of God paying the price for our transgressions, about Christ’s resurrection. Acts 2:15 Peter says, “These men are not drunk, it’s nine in the morning!” In verse 16-20 he quotes the book of Joel so that the unbelievers hear about the fulfilled prophecy, with a powerful statement in verse 21, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That’s everyone, as in Jews and Gentiles alike.

And then in verse 22-23, Peter tells them how evil they have been,

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

Peter repeats the accusation in verse 36,

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Some of you know that I grew up as a believer in Jesus. But I wasn’t a follower of Jesus until I gave my life to him in 1998. This statement by Peter was a powerful influence on me. Sure, I knew that Jesus died and was raised. But did He do it for me? When Jesus was arrested and people in the temple asked Peter if he knew Jesus, what did Peter say? That’s right, he denied it three times. Now Peter’s faith is firm because he saw the resurrected Jesus. Peter now knows Jesus conquered death. And he now gives this eloquent witness to the power of the death and life of Jesus, and telling the Jews, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

In my mind and in my heart, I realized then that I was no different from Peter. I didn’t have to deny Christ; I was a living example that I was not following Him. I wasn’t going to church, I wasn’t reading His Word. I could see myself doing the same thing Peter did, the same thing the Jews did, the same things the Romans did to Jesus. I was denying Him, I was mocking Him. If I had been there, I would have crucified Him. Christ died for me, personally.

We all crucified Jesus. We weren’t there, but we aren’t any different. And through our sinful actions, we crucify Jesus over and over again. We nailed Him to the cross and murdered Him, and He went willingly so that we, who knew not what we do, could have eternal life in Him. What a stunning display of mercy and grace.

What was the response of the people when they realized they had brutally murdered the son of God? Verse 37-41,

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Luke, the historian, does not mention tongues of fire or the sound of violent winds when the 3000 were baptized. While the Holy Spirit empowers all Christians, the miracle of Pentacost was a one time event.

When we wait on the Holy Spirit, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the only thing God asks us to do is be a witness to the good news that Jesus is our savior. What is the ultimate purpose for the Holy Spirit empowering believers?

Let me ask you, and don’t raise your hand. How many people have you led to the Lord? One? Three? None?

If your witness if ineffective, there are many reasons that may be holding you back. Perhaps you don’t feel you know enough of the Word of God. How do you change that? Read the Word of God. Perhaps you’re afraid they’ll make fun of you, or perhaps they’ll think you’re odd. Perhaps you’re relying on your own understanding. We are not responsible for making nonbelivers feel guilty for their sins; that’s the job of the Holy Spirit. Our job is just to share our faith, our witness, our testimony of what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives.

It’s not about you; it’s not about me. It never was. It’s about the good news that in Christ, we are free, free from the bondage of sin. We have everlasting life in Him whom we trust. Peter, scaredy-cat Peter who denied Christ, is now infused with the power of the holy Spirit and proclaims loudly that Christ is Lord. And with the Holy Spirit filling him, those 120 followers of Christ baptized 3000 more believers. Those were some powerful firstfruits working for the Lord.

How do we get more of the Holy Spirit? That’s just it, you can’t. You have to surrender and let the Holy Spirit have more of you. The Holy Spirit isn’t like Underdog’s Super-Energy Pill that we take just before we sing, “Here I am to save the day!” If you want to be part of the work of God, you have to live with the spirit every day. Galatians 5:16-18 tells us how to do this –

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

When we surrender to the Holy Spirit, we walk with Him daily. What does that mean? It means submitting to God’s authority, being obedient to His word. It means communicating with God regularly through prayer and study. It means being active with other believers in fellowship and in service so that we can see and hear the Word of God at work in the lives of others. With a lifestyle of obedience and communications, we learn to give control of our lives to the Spirit and let God direct our lives instead of us trying to tell God who He is.

We need the power of the Holy Spirit; God tells us to wait on Him. We can use the power of the Holy Spirit because it is a gift promised to all followers of Christ. And when we submit to God’s authority in obedience, we can see the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and the lives of others.

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When All Hope Seems Lost

Posted on April 20, 2008. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Coptic-Arabic manuscript, Ayyubid period, AD 1249-50. Images depict Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene, the kiss of Judas, the arrest of Christ, his appearance before Caiaphas, Peter's denial at cockcrow, Christ before Pilate, and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.
This week we follow Joseph into prison. If we’re headed to prison with him, let’s recap how we got here. We know that Joseph was born into a family that was trying to follow God’s will but at the same time was highly dysfunctional. Joseph had eleven other brothers, born to four different women. His own mother had passed away. His father Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph because Jacob learned that from his father Isaac.

Joseph has a dream that God will make him ruler, and Joseph’s family will bow down to him. Joseph’s brothers are less than enthused by this dream, and they throw him in a well, expecting to kill him. Now, when I was growing up, my brother and sister and I fought, but we never threw any of us in a well. At least not that I remember. At least not for very long. And we never sold one of us to the Egyptians which is what Joseph’s brother decided to do, rather than kill him.

When Joseph was at the bottom of the well, things looked pretty hopeless. No food, no water, and the only people around that could get him out of the well were the same ones that threw him into the well in the first place. Joseph knew God’s plan for him held great things in store for him, but how were they possibly going to come true if Joseph is dying at the bottom of a well? I think we can learn from Joseph about how to handle serious setbacks in our life and how we should respond. I came up with four ways, but I’m not going to tell them to you yet because the lesson would be over and it’s too early for lunch.

Instead of killing Joseph, his brother decided to sell him to the caravan to Egypt. I was always amazed at that caravan to Egypt that “happened” to come by, right at that moment, while Joseph was at the bottom of the well. How many months had that caravan been traveling to reach that exact spot at that time? From Joseph’s perspective at the bottom of the well, things must have looked bleak. Things must have looked hopeless. But God was in control all along. He knew Joseph would be in a well that day, so months earlier he sent a caravan to pick him up and take him to Egypt to fulfill His plan.

And for a while, it certainly looked like Joseph was living the dream. Head servant to Potiphar, officer to the Pharaoh himself, Joseph is given great responsibilities and freedoms because of his faithfulness and trustfulness. But then, Joseph is a victim of seduction and false accusations. Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, but Joseph denounces the seduction as a wicked sin. Potiphar’s wife isn’t named in the scripture; she’s one of the unnamed people in the bible, like Lot’s wife or David’s mother or the Magi. Scholars believe her name was Zulieka, married to Ptahwer, an officer of Pharoah Ahmenemhet III of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Zulieka’s shade is observed by Dante in the Eight Circle of Hell. She doesn’t speak, but Dante is told the Eight Circle of Hell is reserved for perjurers that violate the ninth Commandment not to bear false witness and she will spend all of eternity with a burning fever. And this is the kind of thing that sidetracks me when I’m studying and I need to get back to Joseph. Joseph flees from the sin of temptation but he leaves some article of clothing behind, and because of this evidence, Potiphar has Joseph thrown into prison.

I think sometimes we tend to think that if we follow God’s will, we will only see God’s blessings. Or perhaps we think that if we’re going through some challenge, we’re in some dark well or we’re in prison to our sin that God has forgotten us. Joseph had been in a tough position, what would be sexual harassment today, a daily temptation. If he resists Potiphar’s wife, she’ll be mad, and if he gives in, Potiphar will be mad. God will be offended. Clearly, Joseph had no choice that was without serious consequences. Joseph chose to do the right thing and was thrown into prison for it. And again, where was God? Would God send the equivalent of another caravan to rescue Joseph? Let’s read Genesis 39:21 and see.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that being the best darn prisoner in all of Egypt is not what Joseph expected when he decided to follow God’s will. But when all hope is lost, when we’re in a well or we’re in some prison and we don’t know how we’re going to get out, we can learn the first way we can respond to serious setbacks in our life. How many ways are we going to study? Four, that’s good, just checking to see if you were paying attention.)

I. We can trust God

We can trust God, that He has a plan and He will see His plan done. While Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him. We might be tempted to ask, well, if the Lord was with him, why was he in prison in the first place?

Well, the Lord doesn’t seem to work like that; there is a place for suffering in the lives of Christians. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-5 that suffering will produce perseverance, character and hope. James 1:2-4 tells us that the trials we face gives us spiritual maturity. Faith in an all-benevolent, gift-giving God is easy; to increase our faith, God grants us trials so we not only believe in Him, but we learn to rely on Him. God is interested in our circumstances, but He is far, far more interested in our response to our circumstances.

Joseph was in a place of hopelessness, a life imprisonment. The only he had going for him was the fact that Potiphar didn’t execute him, the customary punishment for adultery. Potiphar must have believed him, but it didn’t keep him out of prison. Joseph has no family to comfort him; it was his family’s actions that setup this circumstance in the first place. He’s a slave, in a foreign land. Joseph had one thing and one thing only. Scripture says the Lord was with Joseph.

Sometimes, when things look bleak to us, this is the only thing that can sustain us. The Lord is with us, even when we can’t see it. Family members hospitalized, troubled marriages, abuse, traumatic accidents, lost jobs.

Q: What does it mean to you to trust God? How does the promise of God’s presence build your trust in Him?

We know Joseph’s future. Joseph only has his knowledge of what the Lord has told him in a dream. If Joseph knew what we knew, having faith in prison for a crime he didn’t commit would be easy. Joseph didn’t have such knowledge, but he did have faith that God is true. And that’s the same thing we have. We have God’s word that He is with us, no matter what. You’ve heard it said that if it is written once in the bible, it’s important, but if it’s written twice, better sit up and pay attention? Look at Deuteronomy 31:6 -

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Joshua 1:5 -

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Hebrews 13:5 -

…because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

And Matthew 28:20, Jesus says,

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

God is with us. Emmanuel. God is with us. What’s our first step to dealing with troubles in our lives? Trust in God, for He is with us.

II. We can serve others

Let’s read Genesis 40:1-8 -

Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.

After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.

When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?”

“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

Joseph could have been wallowing in self-pity. He had a lot to wallow about. He could have used his situation as an excuse; “I can’t help you know, can’t you see I’m in prison? Sheesh!” But instead, Joseph looked to serve others. In verse 4, the term “served them” or “attended them” or “ministered to them” could mean he performed menial service, but Joseph’s care goes further than that. It was Joseph that noticed their faces were dejected. Joseph took the time to care about them, inquire about their welfare, and taking the time to listen to their stories.

And Joseph credited all the dream interpretation to God. Just like Joseph, even when we’re troubled, we can still find a way to minister to others. Joseph used his faith to reach out to others in their need, just as we can serve others in the Lord’s name as a way to comfort others.

Helping others is a sure fire way to take your mind off your own troubles. If you can do nothing else for somebody else, just take the time to listen to them.

One of the reasons we suffer is so that we may understand others who suffer. People afflicted with cancer relate better to a cancer survivor. Recovering alcoholics attend AA meetings to be with other people with the same struggles. A large reason Diane relates so well to the elderly is because many of the aches and pains they have, Diane identifies with them because she’s had them, too.

Nobody understood that better than Jesus. Jesus suffered, died and was buried for our sins. Do you think Jesus can’t identify with your pain? The humanity of Jesus gave him direct access to the worst pain that can be inflicted on a man, and His anguish troubled Him so much His sweat was like blood. Jesus knows suffering. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 -

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

Q: What kind of things can we do today that makes a difference in somebody else’s life?

III. We can seek help

So Joseph offers to interpret their dreams, and the chief cupbearer goes first. Genesis 40:9-15 -

So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”

Just giving comfort to others helps us, consider that getting comfort from others blesses them, too. Joseph saw an opportunity for somebody to help him, and he wasn’t afraid to ask. Joseph’s ordeal had him in prison for the rest of his lift, and the prophecy of this dream coming true gave Joseph hope for the future. He was not afraid to ask for help. “Mention me to Pharoah and get me out of this prison.” Sometimes there is a solution to our problem that’s available if we just ask for it.

The cupbearer received good news from Joseph’s dream interpretation. The baker now asked for Joseph to interpret his dream. Genesis 40:16-19 -

When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh.”

Well. Sucks to be the baker, I guess. Actually, there is a lesson here. Joseph approached the cupbearer for help because he knew the cupbearer would eventually be in a position to help him. It’s important to use discernment when seeking help. Seek those who can provide Godly wisdom and comfort or who may be in a position to help. And don’t be a baker in Pharaoh’s prison.

Q: How did God use others to encourage Joseph? How has God used others to encourage and help you?

IV. We can be patient

And lastly, we can be patient and wait on God whose timing is perfect. Genesis 40:20-23 -

Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand, but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

Patience is hard; patience is a virtue. Patience takes practice. There are many places we wait in life. We wait in traffic. We wait for the microwave to finish. We wait for the right job to come along. We wait for the right spouse to come along. We even wait on our spouse to become the spouse God intends, just like our spouse waits on us. We’re waiting for children to grow up, we’re waiting for children to move out, we’re waiting, waiting, waiting.

Have you ever considered that we’re sometimes just waiting in God’s waiting room? We see a situation in our lives or the lives of someone close to us, and we wonder why God doesn’t fix it now. Surely it is God’s will for this thing to happen. Why is He taking His time?

God has great plans for Joseph. Plans to prosper him and not to harm him, plans to give him hope and a future. But for now, Joseph is in God’s waiting room. And sometimes, we are, too. God has a plan for each and every one of us. He wants us to love Him, He wants us to love one another. He wants us to grow spiritually in a closer relationship with Him. And sometimes He uses time to accomplish His will.

Are you waiting on God for something? For somebody to come to faith, for somebody’s heart to soften, for somebody to apologize, for the pain to stop, for the health to improve? I understand, waiting is hard. God understands waiting is hard, but sometimes it takes time for God to work His will, not because God is slow, but because people are slow to respond. As Joseph is getting to depend on the Lord and serve the Lord, he’s waiting in prison. His hope for the chief cupbearer to tell Pharaoh at the birthday party about Joseph’s innocence did not happen. The chief cupbearer forgot. But God remembered, and when His timing was right, we’ll see Joseph delivered. But he has two more years to wait on the Lord.

Be patient. Whatever you are waiting on is a small part of the picture. God sees the whole picture in the fullness of time. When God acts, it may look like good timing, or bad timing, or no timing at all, but its God’s perfect timing. Keep Romans 8:28 in mind,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

God will act when He knows the time is right. In the meantime, we continue to grow in Him by serving and studying and being obedient and praying. Timothy must have asked Paul about the persecutions and the injustice he saw, and Paul told him in 2 Timothy 3:14 to just continue.

Q: Why do you think the cupbearer forgot Joseph? Why is it so hard to wait when facing a hopeless situation?

Q: Which one of these four steps is the easiest to do? Which one is the hardest?

These four steps take practice. Pray and lean on Him when you’re going through difficult times. Our human nature often leads us to respond incorrectly and in ways that are ultimately destructive. Joseph could have responded with anger and bitterness. He could have said ugly things about Potiphar’s wife. He could have been mad at Potiphar. He could have harbored resentment towards his brothers. Joseph’s life so far includes abuse, abandonment, hatred, slavery, false witness, and now prison, all while Joseph tried to do the right thing. Can you picture Joseph years later, a 90 year man, eaten up with bitterness about how he was treated? Anger and bitterness are not the solution.

Or Joseph could have turned his back on God and taken the situation into his own hands. Joseph could have gossiped about Potiphar’s wife, you know how many slaves she sleeps with, she’s such a tramp. And that Potiphar, what an idiot for believing her. Sometimes we want to take charge of the situation and change it, only to make it worse. Some people see trouble and turn their back on God, not understanding the pain and the waiting could possibly be from a loving God. And they seek other sources of comfort in alcohol, drugs, infidelity, materialism, whatever. Others see the same pain and waiting and understand God’s perfect timing as a time of spiritual growth and develop a deep confidence in waiting on the Lord.

In an Expositional commentary to Genesis, I read this story told by Billy Graham. Billy Graham told a story of a friend that went through the Great Depression who lost his job, all his savings, then his wife and then his home. But he was a believer in Jesus Christ and held onto his faith even through he fought with depression about his circumstances. One day he stopped to watch some workmen doing stonework on a huge church. One man out front was chiseling a piece of stone into a triangle. Curious, he asked what the triangle was for.

See that little opening on the top of the spire? I’m chiseling this down here so it’ll fit up there. And his friend left with grateful tears; God was doing the same to him, shaping him for heaven by chiseling him through his ordeals.

So trust in God. Continue to serve, and to ask for help, and be patient and wait on God’s perfect timing.

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Christian Carnival CCXIX

Posted on April 9, 2008. Filed under: Christian Carnival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

c. 1220
Chasing the Wind is honored to host the 219th edition of the Christian Carnival II, the blogosphere’s best Christian writing. My comments on the post in italics after each entry, but I left the author’s original thoughts when he or she provided them. I included almost all posts I received; I excluded two from the same blog that were more about “the power of positive thinking” that didn’t seem to mention Christianity, and a similar post about raising children from a site mostly dedicated to gardening. Oh, and I excluded an advertisement blog for Branson Missouri. If I excluded your post and you don’t agree, email me and let me know why I erred and I’ll correct it.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of christian carnival ii using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Wrestling with God

Posted on March 16, 2008. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


As we’ve learned the last few weeks, God has a plan for Jacob. Jacob knows this, too, but he’s still trying to do things his own way and for personal reasons. Jacob was the second son born of Isaac and Rebekah, and God had told Rebekah that the elder would serve the younger. Esau was born first and became Isaac’s favorite. Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite, but he was a deceiver and an opportunist. When Esau came home from hunting and was hungry, Jacob took advantage of Esau’s bad judgment and sold Esau a bowl of stew in exchange for a bowl of stew. If these two brothers weren’t fighting already, they’re fighting now.

When Isaac approached death, Isaac wanted to lay his blessing on Esau, but his eyesight was so poor, Rebekah and Jacob believed they could trick Isaac. They concocted a plan to give that blessing to Jacob by dressing him up in Esau’s clothes. They lied to Isaac. And when Esau found out, he vowed to kill Jacob.

Their family is now in complete chaos. Rebekah sends her favorite son to live with her father to save his life, and there’s no indication she ever saw her son again. When Jacob arrives at Laban’s house, he gets a taste of his own medicine. Jacob falls in love with Rachel and gives 7 years of work to Laban for her hand, but Laban tricks him, and Jacob marries Leah instead. Laban gives Rachel to Jacob also, but only in exchange for another 7 years of labor. The deceiver had been deceived.

After 20 years of mutually destructive behavior, Laban and Jacob are no longer getting along, and Jacob flees. Again. God tells Jacob to go back home. Jacob’s caught in a tough spot; Laban and his children hate him, but if he goes home, Esau wants to kill him. Jacob may have gained wealth from working his whole life, but his life is in shambles.

I think we gain some insight into Jacob’s character development at the end of Genesis 31; this is where Laban confront Jacob and Laban essentially agrees not to kill Jacob. Jacob defends his actions with these words in Genesis 31:42,

If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.

Jacob acknowledges God is Abraham’s God and Isaac’s God, but I don’t see that he has acknowledged God is his own God. Jacob’s progression of faith is such that he knows who God is and even recognized God’s sovereignty, but he has not truly placed his trust in the Lord.

Well, maybe Esau’s no longer mad at him; it’s time to return home. Do you think 20 years away from home has eased the old wounds? Or do you think 20 years away from home has hardened Esau’s heart and made him more bitter? Do you think putting off his conflict for 20 years has fulfilled or delayed God’s promises to Jacob?

We pick up our story in Genesis 32 as Jacob begins his journey home. The angels of the Lord meet him. This must have been comforting to Jacob and it reminds him that the Lord had promised him back in Genesis 28 that the Lord was with him and would never leave him. Jacob was stressed out, not know what his reception would be like when he returned. In the Old Testament, the appearance of angels offered great comfort but often appeared just before times of great trial, like the appearance to Lot just before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Jacob is about to undergo an ordeal where he has to face up to his own deceitful character. Jacob had put himself in this predicament because he had stolen the blessing from Esau instead of relying on God, and now he’s going to have to face Esau and do things God’s way.

Jacob sends messengers ahead of him to Esau in verse 3.

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my master Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’ “

Jacob wants to tell Esau, oh hey, I’ve been gone 20 years, you probably wondered where I went. I went to see our uncle Laban he says Hi. I’m coming back now, and I’m bringing goats! P.S. Please don’t kill me. Verse 6,

When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

Oh, this isn’t going to be good. Jacob’s coming with cattle and donkeys and sheep and goats and servants. Esau’s coming to meet him with 400 warriors. Verse 7-8,

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

I think I’d be afraid, too. Jacob is completely outmatched; Esau will have the anger and the manpower to crush Jacob’s little donkey and goat army. Jacob starts laying out his plans; he’s expecting Esau to attack, and Jacob makes plans for half of his party to escape should the other half be destroyed.

Jacob has a decision to make. Doing the right thing means reconciliation with Esau. We all want to do the right thing, don’t we? But doing the right thing is not easy. This is a crossroads that every believer must eventually face. What do I do, and how will I do it? When God calls me to do a most difficult thing, will I do what God wants? Or will I take the easy way, and do what I want?

Unfortunately, sometimes we take the easy and selfish way. In this class, we are closer to our spouse than any other human being on the planet. We should examine ourselves daily to see how God wants us to treat our spouse, but we’ve all discovered (and are still discovering) that being married comes with a few challenges. Will we do what God wants us to do? Or will we find some excuse? It’s too easy to say that we don’t have to do the right thing because our spouse does this or our spouse doesn’t do that. But God calls us to trust in Him. We face the same sort of decision Jacob faces. Will we do it God’s way, or will we do it our way?

God has promised Jacob that the land of Canaan will be his. In order to claim this promise, Jacob is going to have to face Esau in an honorable way, in a way that is obedient to the Lord’s will. But the last time Jacob saw Esau, Esau wanted to kill him. Loving God will require Jacob to love God more than he fears Esau. Doing the thing we resist most will gain peace with God. We must show God that we fear Him most in order to prove we love Him most.

What holds us back from experience the completeness of God’s love for us? Is it fear, like Jacob experiences? We’re afraid to do something that God wants us to do? Is it anger that holds us back when God wants us to forgive? Is it something worldly God wants us to surrender but we want to keep it selfishly? In Jacob’s case, he had selfishly destroyed his relationship with His brother, and God is calling him to repair it. Jacob had spent 20 years of his life, not wanting to face this moment. If Jacob was going to receive God’s promise, he was going to have to face the repercussions of his own actions.

And finally we see Jacob start to break, to finally start to realize that the God he knows, the God of Abraham and Isaac, is his God. Jacob has worked himself into a bind that he cannot fix with his usual deviousness and deceit, and now he needs help that no man can provide. And we see Jacob go to his knees in prayer, the first recorded time that Jacob prays . Genesis 32:9-12,

Then Jacob prayed,

“O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’ “

Effective prayer:
• Personal
• Humility
• Obedience
• God’s will

The prayer has many important elements of a prayer that God hears and responds to. He addresses God as God of his father and grandfather again, but he’s added “O LORD,” Jehovah God, the proper name of the one true God. Jacob’s God, Jacob’s Lord. No longer is God merely the God of his fathers, but it’s the “Lord who said to me.” It’s Jacob’s God.

He’s approaching the Lord with humility; Jacob praises God for His kindness and faithfulness, and he knows he is unworthy of this favor. When we pray with a sense of pride or a sense that we deserve this favor, our prayers are ineffective. When we know that we cannot achieve anything on our own, that whatever ability we have in itself comes from God, then we realize how much we need God in our lives. God is so much bigger than us, but our own egos tend to inflate our sense of worth. We are important to God, we are very important – but we’re not worthy of the love and grace He gives to us.

And Jacob is approaching God as an obedient servant; God told Jacob to return to Canaan, and as Jacob approaches God in prayer, Jacob tells God he trying to be obedient to Jehovah God. One of the keys to effective prayers is to come to the Lord with a sense of obedience. Jacob has a lot of guilt in his life, being deceitful with his father and brother. As Jacob prays, he’s acknowledging that obedience to the Lord is important.

And Jacob for the first time is his life seems to be praying for God’s will instead of his own. His prayer to God tells God that Jacob believes God’s promise that the children of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will be fruitful and multiply, but Esau is coming to slaughter the mothers and the children. When we pray with God’s long-term plans as our primary motive, we are far more likely to pray for the right thing and to do the right thing.

Now it is time for Jacob to fulfill his promise to the Lord that he made years earlier, back in Genesis 28:22 that Jacob will do the Lord’s will and return to Canaan. But there is an obstacle. It’s Esau. The anger in Esau is a direct result of Jacob’s bad behavior, of which Jacob must now repent. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus tells us that if we have a gift for the Lord our brother has something against us, we are to do 3 things in order – 1) leave the gift at the alter, 2) go and be reconciled with your brother, 3, come back and offer the gift. Often times our path to the Lord requires us to travel right through the family member we have the most difficult relationship with. Jacob is learning the Lord’s lesson that in his new spiritual growth and being obedient to the Lord, he is going to have to face Esau and his 400 warriors and reconcile with his brother.

Even after praying to the Lord, I think Jacob is still scared. In verses 13-21, Jacob arranges for a series of gifts to be sent ahead of him. Hundreds of goats, hundreds of sheep, camels, cows (my cow), bulls, and donkeys. Each herd is sent separately in waves, and each servant is to tell Esau that they are gifts from Jacob. And Jacob spends the night in the camp before meeting Esau the next day.

This is an interesting paradox. Because Jacob stole Esau’s blessing, this blessing was now a curse. The blessing that was promised by God was now the very thing that might get Jacob killed. The only thing that Jacob has to offer Esau is the very thing he stole from Esau in the first place.

No doubt praying to the Lord has given Jacob some wisdom on how to resolve the conflict with his brother. God gives us a brain and expects us to use it; just because we trust in the Lord doesn’t mean we give up and wait for the Lord to fix things for us. We pray and we act together.

In Genesis 32:22-23, Jacob send his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and all his sons and servant across the river, and he spends some time alone with God. Verse 24-31,

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

Jacob is wrestling with “the man” and because of the word play in the original Hebew, it’s unclear exactly who Jacob wrestled with. Was it really a man? Perhaps it was an angel, or perhaps Jacob wrestled with his own conscience. The phrasing is probably intentionally ambiguous so that we focus on the wrestling and not the person. Ultimately it is the Lord that Jacob wrestles with, and Jacob realizes this. Up until this night, Jacob thought his struggle his whole life was with Esau or Laban, but it’s not. He realizes that his whole life, he’s been wrestling with God.

Jacob has made a spiritual journey that we all must travel. Often Christians will talk about “wrestling with God.” The struggle between our own will and God’s will is a daily battle. We want to do one thing; often God wants us to do something else. Some people struggle with addictions; others struggle with trying to keep their words and actions in harmony with what Christ wants from them. Sometimes God wants us to do something, but we don’t. And we wrestle with God. Or another time God wants us to stop doing something. And we wrestle with God.

Something that impressed me about Jacob’s struggle is that God will let us win. If we are so set in being disobedient to God, God does not force us to be obedient. C.S. Lewis once said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” If we are so determined to have our own way, God will let us have it. Non-christians who want nothing to do with God, who want to have no relationship, nothing, zero. God will let him have his way, to spend eternity without God in his life.

God will also let Christians have their way. Christians that want to believe that their own special disobedience is ok can, indeed, continue their disobedience. One can be a Christian and continue to find they still have within them the evils of the heart listed in Matthew 15:19; evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, lying, slander. We are all unclean, and like it or not, we are probably guilty of one or more of the things on that list. We continually practice deceit like Jacob, and we continue to be disobedient. In fact, we have been disobedient so long, we no longer hear God calling to us in that area of our lives. We continue and continue to sin until we can no longer hear God, and then we wonder why God doesn’t hear our prayers. But we know that an effective prayer begins with obedience and humility; that is why David prayed in Psalm 139:23,

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

David knew that praying to God to show him his own sin leads God to reveal his own offensive character to him, and that it would be painful and uncomfortable but would eventually lead to a closer relationship with God.

So Jacob wrestles with God, and God does not overpower Jacob. God is so much more powerful, but yet God is gentle with us as we wrestle with Him. God with a mere touch cripples Jacob. We think we can wrestle with God and win, but we really can’t. A mere touch from God is all it takes for God to win. God has control of the situation all along.

When Jacob wrestled with God, what was he wrestling over? What choices did he have?

Jacob is wrestling with the sin in his life by seeking to reconcile with his brother who he had defrauded when they were 20 years younger. This reconciliation is the right thing to do and Jacob knows it, but it places his life at risk. Esau wants to kill him. Will Jacob trust in himself and save his own life? Or will he risk his life doing God’s will? Jacob and God are wrestling over who gets to control Jacob’s life.

Once it’s clear to Jacob that God is in control, Jacob finally submits to God. His life of disobedience has come to an end. This is what God longs for, for each and every one of us, for us to give up selfish control of our own lives and seek God’s will in our lives. Jacob finally submits and does not ever want to lose the presence of God in his life. Jacob says, “I will not let you go.” Jacob thought by fighting with God and doing it his own way would yield the best possible outcome, and instead ended up fleeing from his father-in-law and afraid of his brother’s wrath. Perhaps he thought if he could fight God and win, he could fight anybody and win. But only by submission to God does Jacob finally begin to see that true strength lies in submission.

Jacob’s plea to God to never leave him is rewarded two ways. One is by God’s changing his name from Jacob to Israel. Jacob means “he grasps the heel;” Jacob was a heel, a deceiver. But now his name is Israel which means “struggles with God.” Jacob will continue to have days where he struggles to do God’s will, but gone are the days Jacob takes pride in his deception. The second sign is his limp, a sign of Jacob’s humility. He’s no longer the arrogant and prideful man, but a humble man whose strength comes not from himself but from his faith in God. Physically, he was weaker, but spiritually he was stronger.

One of the most important blessings one can receive from God is the promise He will never forsake us, that he will never leave us. When we are resisting God, we are walking in darkness. When Jacob’s life was darkest, family members trying to kill him and all alone in the camp along the river at night, he needed God to show him the way. Once Jacob wrestles with God and submits, daylight comes. Psalm 119:105 says,

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

When we submit to God and seek Him, we walk out of darkness and into the light, just like Jacob.

God says to Jacob, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” This is an important event in the Old Testament, because in Exodus 33:20 God will tell Moses that no one may see God’s face and live. God protects Jacob by withdrawing from him before daybreak and not showing his full glory to Jacob, but even so, Jacob does not come away unscathed. His limp will forever remind him of his struggle with God and remind him where his strength comes from. Paul had a similar struggle with the Lord when he pleaded for the Lord to take away his thorn in his flesh, but God tells Paul that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. It’s only by submission and asking for God’s will that we get out of His way and let Him accomplish what He was going to do, with or without us.

When Jacob was in darkness, afraid and alone, he probably felt like God was very far away. How far away was God? When we wrestle with God, God is closer to us then than at any other times in our life. It feels like we’re alone in the dark, but God is there with us. It feels like a great struggle we face all alone in the dark, but it’s because we are not in submission to God that we feel we are alone. God is with us in our struggle. Once we turn from our rebellion and to Him for our strength, we walk out of the darkness and into the light and begin to see God’s blessings in our life. We, too, wrestle with God, and when we are submissive to his will, we see the day break.

Jacob finally begins to receive God’s blessings in Genesis 33. Jacob must have confidence that the Lord was with him the next day, but still fearful that Esau wanted to kill him. But the Lord was at work on Esau; Genesis 33:4 says Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him, and they wept together. God can do great miracles if we only submit to His will and let Him.

Effective prayer depends on our obedience and humility and a focus on God’s greater plans. When we wrestle with God, we often feel alone and in the dark, but God is closer to us when we wrestle with him and submit than at any other time of our lives. And when we submit with humility, we walk out of that darkness and into the light.

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Jesus and Money

Posted on September 19, 2007. Filed under: Faith, Finances | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Jesus and Money

Recently in a comment, I was challenged regarding posting my stock selections; the concern from Chris was that such financial considerations were incongruous with the teachings of Jesus.

Chris Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 11:03 am
I find it somewhat ironic and mildly amusing that your blog contains articles of spirituality along with your market trading activity, especially since the Bible states that Jesus suggested we should exercise caution in mixing the two. That said, you may be on to something. Perhaps church attendence would increase if the priests set up some of those red flashing LED signs with messages such as “The Holy Father recommends a buy today on Goldman Sachs at $192.50/share.”

First, I want to make something perfectly clear – I’m not hyping any particular stock. I’m tracking by own personal stock trades publicly based on a Mechanical Investing forum at the Motley Fool. If I buy something, feel free to sell it. Or buy it, makes no difference to me. I had been doing something similar on the Motley Fool forum but then I thought, hey, I have a blog. Shouldn’t I blog on my blog?
:)

I challenged Chris to give me some scripture he was concerned about, and Chris brought up 3 perfect examples:

Chris Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 9:58 pm e
I offer these passages:

“Jesus entered the Temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer but you are making it a den of robbers.’” Matt. 21:12-13 (see similar Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-16)

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt. 6:19-21 (see similar Luke 12:33-4)

Also the parable in Luke 12:16-21, which is portrays a prosperous farmer who wishes to tear down his barns and build bigger ones but is warned by God: “You fool…”, and is concluded by Jesus saying: “This is how it is with those who pile up riches for themselves but are not rich in God’s sight.”

Absolutely perfect choices; I’m going to add one more, Matthew 19:24, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Let’s tackle each of those and see how it applies.

  • Matthew 21:12-13

This passage has a lot of lessons in it; for instance, it shows Jesus being angry and having a temper. Aren’t Christians supposed to be peaceful and bland? Jesus shows that there is a place for anger and we can learn from how he expressed it. Jesus was angry that religious leaders were standing between God and His people; the people could only use certain currency sold at the temple at very high exchange rates, and they could only sacrifice certain unblemished doves sold at high prices inside the temple, one couldn’t bring their own dove. Jesus was angry at those who would make money and put a barrier in front of people trying to worship God.

But… what about the money? Is Jesus somehow saying money and Christians don’t go together? I don’t see that in this passage. There *may* be some application to those who are selling Christian books, but even that’s a stretch unless you’re required to buy the book to worship inside. Don’t get between people and God and attempt to make money; don’t charge for church parking or charge an admission or sell church clothing required to enter a sanctuary, stuff like that. But in this example at least, Jesus is not saying anything about Christians making money.

  • Matthew 6:19-21

This is far more applicable to Christians making money. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Jesus says you can’t take it with you; if your “treasure” is money, it’s lost when you die. If your “treasure” is the eternal presence of God, that’s far more lasting. Where is your treasure? Do you value the commands of Jesus more than the commands of your job? This is related to the commandment, “Thou shalt worship no false idols.” Some people worship money. They will run over people, be ruthless in their business dealings. Is it ok to lie, cheat and steal to make money? After all, it’s only business, not church, right? Jesus is shedding light on this fallacy; don’t make money your idol.

Does Jesus say not to make money at all? Some people certainly interpret it this way, but I think that flies in the face of examples of wealth in the bible. David and Solomon, for instance, were both incredibly wealthy, yet were also favored by God. Job was wealthy, then destitute, then wealthy again, all while being in God’s favor. I think this has to be balanced against passages like Matthew 25:14-28, the parable of the talents. Are we being good stewards of the talents God has provided? Everything comes from God; our intellect, our food, our health, our homes, everything. If we understand that our wealth, too, comes from God, we are called to use it for His glory and purposes. If we do that, we are good stewards. If we do not, but make the money itself the goal, then we are storing up treasures on earth.

So how does posting my Mechanical Investing strategy fit into this? I am showing my strategy for making money, but I haven’t shown what I’m doing with the money I’m making (or losing, as the case may be.) What am I doing with it? I appreciate the concern, but that’s between me and God. I believe I’m being faithful with what He has provided and being a good steward, but I’m not going to share the details. Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus says, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

  • Luke 12:16-21

This is a stern warning to those who are storing up treasures on earth. In this parable, a rich man has an abundance. Instead of sharing, the rich man builds even bigger storage sheds so he can keep it all for himself. We are cautioned again that greed and the accumulation of wealth for its own sake offends God; we are to use what He has provided wisely, to love our neighbors as ourselves. There may be some application here to excessive saving; I’ve heard it said that millionaires feel rich if they could just have $1 million more. It’s never enough; greed corrupts and leads one to idolize money.

But notice the judgment is primarily against the second barn in the parable, not the first. Was it ok for the rich man to store up crops for himself? Jesus doesn’t address that; Jesus instead condemns the building of a bigger barn to store even more crops. This leads me to believe that as long as one is faithful with our possessions, Jesus does not condemn. Sharing our homes, contributing to charity, taking care of neighbors, serving with our time, and tithing to our church are all good uses of our money.

But making money? It doesn’t appear God condemns that. Instead, God condemns hoarding money.

  • Matthew 19:24

Apparently it’s a huge balancing act. How much money is too much money? The bible doesn’t say; whether you are rich or poor, the hoarding of money is a bad thing. Even the poor widow that tithed her two pennies; if she kept the money for herself, would Jesus condemn her? I don’t know, but I do know that God looks at the heart, not the external actions or appearances. If the poor widow wanted to keep the pennies for herself but a neighbor needed one of them, I think the bible gives ample examples that we are to trust God to provide and we should be faithful with his gifts. I think it’s easier for the poor widow, though, than for the rich man; Jesus says that’s “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Ideally, when I die, I’ll have two pennies left. I’ll spend one penny on the funeral and give the other penny to charity. I don’t know what God’s plans are for me, but I’ll take this warning to heart; don’t idolize money, don’t be greedy, and that wealth has serious temptations to resist.

I was about to say something like, “See? My mechanical investing strategy is ok,” but I don’t think I’ll do that. Instead, I’ll ask you to share your thoughts. What do you think Jesus would say about investing in the stock market?

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Michael Vick: Where is Jesus?

Posted on August 28, 2007. Filed under: Faith, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, has been all over the news recently. Indicted for dog-fighting, his friends turning witness against him, loss of his quarterback position and the millions of dollars in signing bonuses and advertising deals, Michael Vick has certainly learned a hard and probably one-way lesson. And given the atrocious stories about how the losing dogs were killed, Michael Vick has few supporters anywhere standing up for him.

So Michael Vick pled guilty. The first news snippets indicated that perhaps the Lord was working in Vick’s life – and those of us that have had the Lord work on us know that the Lord does not discriminate on the basis of wealth, race, upbringing, whatever. If the Lord is going to use you in a powerful way, first He will break you from your dependence on anything except Him. Moses, David, Jesus… everybody goes through it. So when I first started hearing that Michael Vick had “found Jesus,” I started to pay attention.

But the Houston Chronicle makes absolutely no mention of Michael Vick turning his life over to Christ. Did I imagine it? Were they just rumors? The Chronicle captures the guilty plea, the apology, the full acceptance of his actions and the negative effect he’s had on those who followed him as a role model. What happened to the “Jesus” reference?

I searched for the full text of Michael Vick’s statement and found it on USA Today. It includes this -

I’m upset with myself, and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God. And I think that’s the right thing to do as of right now.

For Christians, this is the most redeeming part of the Michael Vick story. Why does the Houston Chronicle delete this reference? Is it because they think it’s unimportant? Then they do not understand the bible belt they publish in. Or worse, did the Houston Chronicle intentionally leave it out?

Why is the fact that Michael Vick said he’s given his life to Jesus left out of the Houston Chronicle’s story?

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God's Word is Essential

Posted on May 13, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Have y’all seen the stories on the news this week about Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda? For the last few years, Mr. Miranda has claimed to be Jesus himself. He says he had a vision in 1973, then after 3 marriages, 5 children, a heroin addiction and a couple of jail sentences for petty theft, in 2000 Mr. Miranda claimed to be Jesus himself. Mr. Miranda says there is no devil or sin because all of that was defeated 2000 years ago, prayer is a waste of time, and he teaches that his followers have a “freedom to indulge” because his followers are predestined for salvation no matter what they do on earth. He tells all of his followers that all churches and religion are heresy and they are to burn religious writings and attack local churches. He’s been banned in several countries. He’s in the news this week because he now claims that besides being Jesus, he’s also the anti-Christ. He is a “good” anti-Christ, though, because there is no such thing as evil. To mark this new revelation, Mr. Miranda now has a very prominent “666” tattooed on his forearm. Of course, his followers happily had their own “666” tattooed on their arms.

1 John 2:18: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” We know that this Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is not Jesus because of scripture passages such as, well, the entire book of Revelation. It’s also clear from scripture that Mr. Miranda cannot be both Christ and the anti-Christ at the same time. If you ever watched “Star Trek” you’d know he’d explode and the universe would cease to exist.

Why are people misled by a charismatic preacher? It’s because they do not know who Jesus really is or what Jesus says. Colossians 2:4,8 says, “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Peter faced similar situations with false teachers. Peter and the apostles had been in direct communication with the Lord Jesus Christ and knew exactly what Jesus’ message was. The Word of God was shared through oral traditions and through the Holy Spirit, but the written word, the New Testament, had not yet been written. There was a vacuum of information, and men being what they are, unscrupulous or misinformed people stepped into the vacuum and began to spread problems of all kinds. Legalism was taught, authority of God was challenged, the core teachings of the gospel were challenged, and even the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus was challenged. The apostle Peter wrote this scripture specifically addressing the true theology of Christianity. He wanted Christians to know the truth, the freedom of living in Christ, and put to rest the false heresies that were being spread.

Let’s look at 2 Peter 1:12-15

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

Peter tells the early Christians that they already know the truth, but Peter will “always remind them.” Peter tells them he wants to “refresh your memory” for as long as he lives. Let’s see if Peter’s assessment holds true for us today – do we know the truth about Jesus? Are we firmly established with this truth and what Jesus wants for our lives? I think so. So why is it important to be reminded of these things and to have our memories refreshed?

Let me ask it in a more personal way. We are not perfect like Jesus, are we? We are tempted and fall into sin, whether it is lust of the eyes, hurt with the tongue, worshipping money and idols, sin of pride, something personal we struggle with as we persevere in our faith. When we sin, is at that moment that we stop believing in God? When we sin, is it at that moment that we stop believing in the bible? No, not at all. Of course we believe. What we have forgotten, though, is the truth of the Word. We forget that sin has consequences. We forget that Jesus paid an incredible price for that sin. When we fall into sin, we don’t become unbelievers. We become un-rememberers. We forget our need for grace. We forget God is watching every move and listening to every thought. Peter doesn’t want the believers of Asia Minor to forget. God doesn’t want us to forget.

When Peter says “as long as I am in this tent,” this of course, refers to Peter’s mortality. Our bodies are frail, they are impermanent, and they are imperfect. We have only so much time on this earth to do God’s will. When we are aware of our limited time here compared to our eternal destiny, it should give us some urgency to do God’s will while there is still time.

Peter knows that his time is short – Jesus hinted to Peter in the book of John (John 21:18) that someday Peter would also be crucified. “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Peter had an urgency to share the gospel, but we, too, have the same urgency.

Let’s read 2 Peter 1:16-18 –

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

Peter is telling us the truth; false teachers are not. Peter’s words have the strength of his conviction behind him, the truth of the Lord behind him, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within him. Myths about Roman gods were passed along from generation to generation that illustrated a particular Roman lesson, but they were myths. Peter reminds us that the story of Jesus is not a myth. Peter didn’t learn about it from others, it wasn’t hearsay or gossip passed along. Peter was there; he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ miracles. Peter was there on the mountain when he heard God speaking from the heavens. And notice Peter says “we” – Peter, James and John were there on that mountain and were direct eyewitnesses to the transfiguration of Christ. God directly spoke from the heavens that Jesus is the son of God and that God is well pleased with Him.

It’s important to remember that Jesus appeared to thousands or people. When Jesus fed the 5000, how many people were there? Ok, that was a trick question. The point is that these 5000 people were still alive and it was very easy to check to see if the story was true. These were real events that had occurred during the last 20 or 30 years, during their lifetime.

Let’s say I told you that 20 or 30 years ago that Richard Nixon was a great war hero and had fought in Vietnam and because of his great leadership the Vietnam war was won? It would not be a credible story because there are people here in this room that know that isn’t true. In Peter’s day, Jesus was well known. He had appeared to thousands of people, taught thousands of people, and after he died and was resurrected appeared to hundreds of people. They were eyewitnesses. The apostles were so sure that Jesus was the messiah, the son of God, that they were willing to die for preaching Christ crucified. Not one of them recanted their story, even though they were martyred for preaching the gospel.

Peter knows without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus came as the Messiah, as the Christ, as the Son of God, that Jesus died and rose from the dead after 3 days and ascended into heaven. False teachers could not claim that, nor could they dispute Peter’s eyewitness account. What other miracles did Peter see first hand?

That’s why Peter knows he is speaking the truth. Through divine revelation, Peter heard the very words of Jesus. The faith of Christians is not based on clever stories. Christianity is based on real, historical events with multiple eyewitnesses. Can you imagine seeing the transfiguration and hearing God speak from the heavens? Can you imagine how confident Peter was in his faith after seeing that? God wants us to have that same confidence in Him. How does God do that?

Let’s read the rest of our verse for today, 2 Peter 1:19-21 –

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

I love that part – you will do well to pay attention to the Word of God; it’s like a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s Word gives us confidence; even though we are not eyewitnesses, we have the words of the eyewitnesses.

The bible is a unique book. There are 66 separate books written over 1500 years, by over 40 separate authors from all walks of life. Amos was a farmer. Luke was a doctor. Ezra and James were ministers. David and Solomon were kings. Daniel was a political prisoner. Peter was a fisherman. Mathew was a first century IRS agent. It was written in Europe, Asia, and Africa, from deserts, dungeons, palaces, and battlefields. It covers all sorts of controversial topics such as raising your kids, improving your marriage, managing emotions, handling money, breaking bad habits, and inheriting eternal life, all in unity. And yet the entire bible has one hero – the Messiah, Jesus Christ. One villain – Satan. One problem – sin. And one purpose – salvation. The entire plot of the bible can be summed up by –

Jesus is coming (the Old Testament)
Jesus is here (The 4 gospels)
Jesus is coming again (The New Testament epistles)

Peter reminds us here – he’s always reminding us, isn’t he? And then he’s reminding us that he’s reminding us. He reminds us that the Word of God is not written by man. Man may have been holding the pen and using his own unique personality, but the Word of God is provided by the Holy Spirit. Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. This is repeated in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Scripture is spoken by God, every word inspired by the Holy Spirit working through men. And it’s not just relaxing Sunday-morning reading, we are to use the Word. It teaches us, it rebukes us, it corrects us, and it trains us in righteousness.

If we take God’s word that the bible is indeed God’s word, how does that affect our relationship with Him? For one thing, if this is God’s Word, does God make mistakes? No, we know God is perfect and holy and infallible. Therefore, we take every word in the bible to be true, holy and infallible.

I heard a story about a pastor who was going to be preaching about Noah and the ark and the Great Flood. A couple of boys decided to play a prank on the pastor, and they snuck into the sanctuary and glued some of the pages of his bible together. Sunday morning, the pastor started reading from the bible and it came out a little different than he expected. He read, “And Noah took a wife, and she was” (here he struggles to turn the page) “450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall.” The pastor stood there stunned for a minute, and then said, “I have been reading this Bible for 30 years, and there are still some things that are hard for me to believe.”

Skeptics and atheists claim the bible is full of discrepancies and inaccuracies, but theologians have a scholarly rebuttal to each claim. Some scripture, a lot of scripture, may be difficult for us to understand, but what we have to recognize is that the problem is not with the bible. The bible is incredibly consistent, and when we come across what appears to be inconsistent scripture, we can recognize that the problem is with us. We have limited understanding. With study, prayer and meditation, we can understand more and more, and when we arrive in heaven, we will understand all of it. Right now, in our mortal life, we have a limited view of an unlimited God. Eventually, if we continue to seek him, the full meaning will be given to us. We can learn to doubt our doubts.

What do we do about scripture we do not understand? In Matthew 11:25, Jesus says, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” The Pharisees knew the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. I believe God reveals himself to us slowly over the course of our life; just as He revealed himself to Israel over 3000 years. Scripture that is unclear to us one year becomes incredibly clear to us in later years. Jesus says that if we seek Him, we shall find Him. What that means to me is to implicitly trust that the bible is true even if I cannot fathom its full meaning.

If we accept the entire bible as complete true, what does the bible say about the bible? Besides being useful for teaching and rebuking, the word is relevant. Does anybody remember the scripture that is at the bottom of each class newsletter? Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The bible is not dead literature, it is living and active. It’s sharp and it cuts and exposes us to God. It convicts us and shows us our sin and how we fall short of His glory and how much we need our savior Jesus Christ.

There are many ways to ask the Lord for this sort of surgery, surgery that cuts the sin out of our lives. Try asking the Lord to reveal Himself to you. Read His word and apply it to your life. The problem, I think you’ll find, is not one of understanding so much as it is a problem of obedience. Mark Twain once said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that trouble me; it’s the parts of the Bible that I do understand.” Many passages are easy to understand. The Ten Commandments, for instance, are very easy to understand. “Honor thy father and mother, especially on Mother’s Day.” If you want God to work within you, try committing a favorite passage to memory. Try reading your bible eagerly and accept it as God’s holy word and then submit yourself to what it says.

Let’s look at John 8:31-31 – To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

To the non-believer, Jesus has but one command: “believe in me.” But if we are to grow in our faith, Jesus wants more from us. Jesus tells us to “hold to His teaching.” Where do we find His teaching? The very word of God, the bible. His teachings are here. Hold to His teaching, and we become His disciples, followers of Jesus. Hold to His teaching, then we will know the truth. Hold to His teaching, and we are set free from the bondage of sin.

An intellectual belief in God is not sufficient. The wisdom of man pales next to the foolishness of God. Heartfelt emotions are not sufficient – emotions can mislead us. Sincerity is not sufficient – the most sincere person can be most sincerely wrong. Sincerity does not equal truth, and sometimes religious leaders can be wrong. In Acts 17:11, it says, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” While the Bereans were excited that Paul was in their midst and preaching to them, they examined scripture for themselves to see if Paul was preaching the truth. That’s how we know that Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is not Jesus the Christ. What he preaches conflicts with the Word of God. It’s misleading. It’s false.

I’d like to close with the words of another eyewitness to the life and words of Jesus Christ. From the book of John, chapter 1, verse 1,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Let’s give a word of thanks to our Lord who has given us His holy Word.

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Once Saved, Always Saved

Posted on March 5, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

We’re going return to the New Testament for the next 3 months and work through 1st and 2nd Peter, written by the apostle Peter approximately 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. In the 30 years since Peter denied Jesus three times, Peter has grown a lot. Within two years of writing 1st and 2nd Peter, Peter was martyred, proclaiming the glory of Christ till the very end.

I’d love to spend a lot more time discussing who Peter was, how he grew from a fisherman, and in Acts he was described as “unlearned and ignorant,” to the man who wrote these letters. Peter is a perfect illustration of 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Peter was in Rome when Rome burned; Nero, who “fiddled while Rome burned,” blamed the fire on Christians and martyred both Peter and Paul during this time. So you can see how much history is wrapped up in Peter’s life, but we need to delve right into 1 Peter and see what this apostle has to say to us. So let’s get started and see what the Holy Spirit has to say through this man of Christ and perhaps have hope that we, too, may become this unlearned and ignorant. So take out your bibles and turn to 1st Peter and let’s dig in. 1 Peter 1:1-2 :

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

“Strangers in the world” is also sometimes translated as “temporary residents” or “aliens residing in a foreign land.” Believers in Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit inside, soon find that their moral values are different from the world. We become new creations that don’t seem to fit with the old world anymore. We turn from partying to service, we turn from selfish behavior to loving our neighbor. We become strangers in the world. Peter defines a whole bunch of characteristics of Christians in a single sentence –

  • God’s elect, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. God knows all, including knowing who will choose Him. It doesn’t say God makes us choose Him, we have the gift of free will He gave us. But God knows all.
  • Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. When we accept Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who turbocharges our conscience and begins the lifelong process of sanctification.
  • Obedience to Jesus Christ. To love our Lord, we seek to find His will in our lives.
  • Sprinkling of His blood. This is a also a gift given to us, and nothing we did to earn it. Christ died for us.
  • Grace and peace be yours in abundance. Two more gifts given to Christians; as we allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, God’s grace and the peace from Christ lives in us. In abundance, too.

Wow. No wonder we’re going to go through the books of Peter slowly. That’s five descriptions of Christians and we’re not out of the first paragraph yet, and each description we could devote a complete study. Not today, though, we’re going to study 1 Peter 1:3-9 instead. I’d like to read this together as a class, and to make sure we’re all reading the same version, I’ve provided a handout with these verses:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter tells us so much here, about how to have inexpressible and glorious joy, how our faith is protected by God’s power, how we suffer so that our faith may be proved genuine. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Once saved, always saved?” I confess that before I started studying this week, I had some doubts about that. No more, no more doubts. And absolutely knowing that there’s not a thing I can do to mess that up brings me this peace and inexpressible and glorious joy. The salvation of my soul is secure, kept in heaven for me and shielded by God’s power. There’s a lot of comfort in that. Peter tells us that through Jesus we have come into an inheritance that can never, spoil or fade, that this inheritance is kept in heaven and protected by the all powerful God.

Are you pretty sure you’re going to heaven? Unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s a good chance you’re going to heaven? Or do you absolutely know, without a doubt, 100% guarantee, that you’re going to heaven? God wants you to know and be absolutely confident, because there is joy and peace in this knowledge. Let’s see if there’s any other scripture that talks about this confidence.

1 John 5:13:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may *know* that you have eternal life.

It doesn’t say “think” we have eternal life. So that we may *know* we have eternal life. It’s not arrogance to say that I know I will go to heaven. It’s confidence, not in my ability, but in Christ’s sacrifice. Once a person places their trust in Jesus, God immediately and irrevocably grants that person eternal life and salvation and a guaranteed place in Heaven that can never be lost, regardless of what they do or what they don’t do. It’s not based on you, never was. It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

John 5:24, Jesus says,

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses certain Greek tenses of verbs here to make His point. When He says, “has” eternal life, Jesus uses the present tense. Then He switches to future tense, “will not be condemned”. Jesus says believers have it! And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus says the believer “has crossed over from death to life.” Jesus switches present tense to perfect tense, and is saying that the believer has already crossed, always will be crossed over from death to life. We are new creations already, we don’t become new creations after we die. We *have already* crossed over, we *have* eternal life, and *will not be* condemned. Past, present and future.

John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son *has* eternal life.” John 6:47, “I tell you the truth, he who believes *has* everlasting life.” It’s an irrevocable contract Jesus makes with us when we confess Him as our Lord, written here in the Good Book for us to read the fine print anytime we wish. What does Jesus promise to do for us as our Lord? Well, here’s the fine print of the contract.

  • Hebrews 10:17, God says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” You and I can’t forget, as hard as we try, but God will remember no more. Poof, it’s as if they never happened. With the blood covering from Jesus, we become pure in God’s sight.
  • Philippians 4, our names are inscribed in the Book of Life. Again, not *will be* inscribed. They *are* inscribed.
  • Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now. No condemnation. Freedom.
  • Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Deeper than the Titanic, our sins are buried in the sea.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The Holy Spirit lives in us, takes up residence, and gives our conscience a kick-start.
  • Galatians 4:6, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” We become adopted by God, we are His children, His heirs. We are no longer slave to sin and the death that comes with it.
  • Romans 8:31-33, God has chosen us, we are God’s elect, and if God is for us, who can be against us?
  • Ephesians 1:13-14, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” Marked, sealed, identified, stamped. Seems like every translation I read used a different word here. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours. We are indelibly branded, permanently stamped, and guaranteed our inheritance.
  • John 10:27-28, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus becomes our shepherd, we becomes His sheep, He gives us eternal life, we will never perish, and no one can change that.
  • Any loopholes left in this contract? Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Looks like an absolutely iron clad contract to me, how about you?

This salvation we already have. This eternal life we already have. Heaven is a destination where we go when our mortal chores are through, but our place there is already guaranteed. Peter says praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our inheritance awaits us and to rejoice. Rejoice! Again I say, rejoice! I rejoice because I know if I could do something to lose my salvation, I’d have done it already. I’ve messed up so many times and if I was given a second chance, I’d just lose it again. Sometimes I can go for 6 or 8 hours in a row without sinning, but then I wake up and have to get out of bed. This is great news, knowing we’re eternally saved. In order for us to lose our salvation,

  • somebody would have to find some sort of loophole in the contract that isn’t up or down, present or future, angel or demon, and convince Christ not to love us anymore,
  • change us from Christ’s sheep into a toad,
  • remove the brand He sealed onto us,
  • snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us,
  • cancel God’s adoption papers and write us out of the will,
  • evict the Holy Spirit out of His home in our heart and tell him to find someplace else to live,
  • dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up,
  • remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more,
  • and make God into a liar for putting all these promises down in writing.

Ya know, I just don’t see any of that happening.

So what about all those difficult questions about “Once saved, always saved?” What if I claim to be a Christian, but don’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? I party and drink and do drugs and sleep around and so forth – Am I still going to heaven? And what if I say I’m a Christian and I know I’m going to heaven, does that mean I can do anything I want? Lie cheat and steal, take candy from babies or be a serial killer? Am I still going to heaven? How about if I say I’m Christian, but then I curse God to His face, turn my back on Jesus and says I want nothing do with those uptight religious freaks anymore? Am I still going to heaven? And what about when I hurt or when I’m depressed and I just don’t feel like getting up and going to church anymore? Am I still going to heaven?

Great questions. I hope somebody here can answer them, I ran out of time studying.

No seriously, they are great questions, and the answers are in this same Good Book.

Number 1. What if somebody claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? Partying and drinking and so forth? I think it’s important to remember that eternal salvation is granted when you confess with all your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord. God does the rest. If we think our actions before God are better than somebody else’s actions, we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus did for us. Romans 3:20 says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” No one, no matter how good we try to be, is good enough for God. Any righteousness we have comes not from ourselves but from accepting the blood covering of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” It has nothing to do with what we do. We don’t gain eternal life because of our good performance, and we don’t lose eternal life because of our bad performance. It’s Jesus plus nothing; it’s a gift. The church of Galatia thought the same thing, and Paul gave them a dressing down. In Galatians 3 Paul writes, “You foolish Galatians! [...] After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” 2 Timothy 2:13 Paul says, “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful.” Getting into heaven has nothing to do with our human performance and everything to do with God’s grace. We don’t sing Amazing Human Performance in worship for a reason, we sing Amazing Grace. So if somebody has truly accepted Jesus Christ but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian life, they still have an invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party.

Number 2. If our salvation is secure, does that mean we can do whatever we want? If I’m going to heaven no matter what I do, why does it matter what I do? Why not lie, cheat and steal? Why not cheat on my spouse? Why not party like it’s 1999? I’m going to heaven! Well, there’s a serious problem with this. You may have that invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party and you are guaranteed entry, but what you do in this life has everything to do with what kind of reception you’ll get when you get there. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames

.

The foundation is Christ, and with our mortal lives we build on that foundation. We can build on it with long lasting stuff – obedience, servant hood, prayer, humility, or we can build on it with disobedience, arrogance, and selfishness. The choice is up to us. But there will come a day of Judgement where we stand before Christ, and all our earthly deeds will be exposed for what they are. Everything bad or worthless will be burned away, and if there’s anything left, there’s a reward. What kind of reward? I don’t know – I’m guessing something made of chocolate. All I know if there’s a line forming to collect a reward from the almighty God, I want to be in that line. What if your building is all gone? Well, you don’t get any chocolate, but you yourself will be saved. You’re not in heaven because of the building, you’re in heaven because of the foundation.

Another problem with living a sinful, selfish life, the Holy Spirit is inside doing a number on our conscience. We will feel guilty. Things we could get away with before accepting Christ, we feel bad when we do them now. David writes in Psalm 32 that when he kept silent about his sins, not confessing, not repenting, his bones wasted away and he groaned all day long. When we accept Christ as our savior, we become more focused on pleasing God.

Number 3. What if somebody turns their back on Jesus, renounces God, becomes an atheist. Are they still going to heaven? Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teen who lived in London from 1735 to 1790. He was a delinquent teen, but at 17 took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching to “laugh at the poor deluded Methodists.” Two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ. He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words. But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography. Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity and became Unitarian who do not believe Jesus was the only Son of the Father. In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” Robert Robinson never did return to Christianity, and died denying the deity of Christ.

So what happened? We can’t know for sure, can we, because we can’t ever know Robert Robinson’s heart. But we do know this – if he ever truly trusted Christ, then yes, Robert Robinson is in heaven. Even if we are faithless, God is faithful. In Matthew 21:18-19, Jesus tells us what happens to people like this.

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

In order to produce fruit, you have to be connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit. If you’re not connected, the best you can produce is leaves, and Jesus says if you’re not connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit, the sap of the church of a body of believers, you wither. You become bitter and angry. I’ve never met a person who has accepted Christ and then turned his back on him that was a joy to be around. They’re hurtful, mean, selfish people. But when you’re connected to the sap, you produce fruit. So when you meet a person like this, either they never truly gave their heart to Jesus, or they did give their heart, but through circumstance, weakness, persecution, suffering, whatever, they turned their back on Jesus. It’s not for us to determine, but the Lord knows their heart, and if they truly gave their heart, they’re in heaven. But not in the chocolate line, they’re in the … carob line.

Number 4. What if I just don’t feel saved? What if I don’t feel connected to the Holy Spirit, or connected to the church. Am I still going to heaven? One of Satan’s tricks in our materialistic secular humanistic society is the “do what feels good” philosophy. Feel bad about debt? Go shopping until you feel good. Feel bad about weight? Eat until you feel better. Don’t like your spouse? Get a divorce. And you look at our society and see what happens to us when we let our feelings determine our direction. When our feelings are at the wheel, we don’t have any idea what direction we’re headed.

I know exactly first hand what happens when you let feelings rule. I left my wife because of feelings and my feelings drove me right off a cliff. But you know what? Christ caught me. Now instead of trying to get happy and going in whatever direction I wanted to, I let Christ take the wheel and let Him determine the direction, and I ended up far happier than when I was trying to be happy. Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Feelings aren’t supposed to be driving your around; feelings are supposed to be in the passenger seat.

So do your feelings determine whether you’re going to heaven? Does John 3:16 read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” as long as he feels like it? John 5:24 says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” How do your feelings change that? John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Unless, of course, they’re unhappy? Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Where do feelings come into play? Your feelings are something you do, and nothing you do will gain your salvation. I think we try to make this complicated, but it’s almost too simple to believe. God gives us the gift of salvation, and we say “thanks.” That’s it, and nothing we do or feel or say will change that. No performance evaluation, no report card. Just grace. Your destiny is already safe, already secure, you are already an eternal being. When you’re not afraid to die, then you’re not afraid to live.

So you don’t have to get up every week and walk down the aisle every single week and give your life to Christ, Meredith. You already belong to him and nothing, not death nor life, not angels nor demons, not the present nor the future, nor any powers, not height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to change that one teeny bit. Your destiny is safe. And that’s why Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Once Saved, Always Saved? It really is that simple. Don’t complicate it with man-made judgments and opinions. Salvation is a gift through Jesus that is eternally secure. To receive it, all we have to do is ask. And all we have to do to keep it is… nothing.

* due credit goes to Lon Solomon of the McLean Bible Church and his sermon series on Bible bootcamp for the ideas and scripture references behind the “fine print of the contract” above.

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Bloom Where You Are Planted

Posted on February 11, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

On a Christian forum website I regularly read, one of the Christians had posted some sad news. He had participated regularly with a Christian Missionary organization called Honduras Outreach. This week in a remote mountain village in Honduras, their vehicle was in an accident in rugged terrain. There were 28 adults from four church groups from Georgia. Ten people suffered various injuries from head injuries to a broken femur; three people died. They were in Mal Pais, Honduras to bring fresh water to villages, build chimneys in homes to reduce lung inflammations, lay concrete floors, and build latrines. I found the press release and made copies for everyone; it includes the names of these heroes and links to their individual churches. Pray for their families this week and this organization that is doing so much to help people and spread the love of Christ.

The Christians that participate in this forum I read were supportive and offered prayers and condolences; the original poster was concerned that people might be afraid to serve with Honduras Outreach that does so much good for some of the poorest people on the planet. That if people realized how dangerous this missionary work is, people would not sign up for it. There are a lot of non-Christians and even atheists that participate on that forum – God bless them, I’m learning a lot about what the world teaches people and it’s often not pretty. One post from an atheist begins, “Do you really believe any of this stuff yourself? Or is Christianity just one big social club?” The atheist asked, “”God works in mysterious ways” is usually a good one for you — but it solves nothing. For example, why didn’t God just keep his eye on his good missionaries in South America and save them from being killed in the first place? Do you suppose he wasn’t pleased with their ‘work’? Do you suppose he just wanted to ‘call them home’?”

Yes, God works in mysterious ways, but the more one studies God and learns these mysterious ways, the clearer answers to questions like these becomes. Many Christians – and non-Christians – believe that God’s primary function is to protect us, preserve us, prosper us. An omnipotent Santa Clause where we line up, confess Jesus as our Lord, and then hold a big bag open for God to pour in His blessings. A belief in a God like this cannot understand why God would lead people someplace where they would be uncomfortable or be in some sort of danger. Why God would send missionaries to Honduras and then not use His big supernatural hand to keep their bus from tipping over. Scripture confirms and comforts us that God loves us and He cares for His children. We can take great comfort in knowing the almighty Lord is in control. But God’s primary purpose is not to pamper us. God’s will is not what we will it to be, and rather than trying to find out why God isn’t doing our will, we can study our entire lives to find out what God’s will is. It took Moses 40 years of study before he was able to know the will of God. We only have about 30 minutes today, not nearly enough time to learn all about God. We’re going to see today that God’s primary purpose is accomplishing His will through His people. Those purposes are not always comfortable, not always safe. Sometimes it will require sacrifice; sometimes it will require great personal risk. The Lord expects His people to exercise faith in obedience to His will in whatever situation the Lord leads.

We’re continuing the book of Esther this week, chapter 3 and 4. Last week, Fred introduced us to Esther who was a poor Jewish orphan girl. Through a series of “coincidences,” she was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia. How did she arrive there? Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, her inner and external beauty. This beauty is a gift from God, and like all gifts, we are entrusted by God to use it wisely, for His glory alone, in obedience to Him. The old Queen Anna Nicole Smith, er, I mean Queen Vashti, we’re told, was very beautiful on the outside. But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further God’s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen. Esther also had external beauty, but also internal beauty.

In Chapter 3 of Esther, the plot thickens, mwahaha. Enter the villain of our lesson, Haman. In Esther 3:1-2,

After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.

This is ominous. Haman’s father was Hammedatha the Agagite, which means he was a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites. The Amalekites were a tribe from Canaan who had constantly opposed the Israelites throughout history, from the Exodus out of Egypt throughout the reign of David. In Exodus 17:8-16, around 1440 B.C, just after Moses struck the rock and the water flowed, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Joshua led the battle against the Amalekites, and Moses stood on top of a hill with his arms raised in glory to the Lord while Aaron and Hur held his arms up. When the Amalekite army fled, Exodus 17:14-16 says,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord. 1 Samuel 15:1-3, it says,

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

And of course the Israelites were obedient, right? But nooooo… Saul gets this idea to spare King Agag of the Amalekites and keep the sheep and cattle and fat calves and lambs. The next morning, Saul tells Samuel, “I did it, I followed the Lord’s instructions!” And Samuel is like, “Do I hear sheep?” And Saul says, “Ah, the sheep. Well, um, well we saved Agag and the sheep and cattle, but, um, other than that we followed the Lord’s instructions.” The Lord kept trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.

Now, another 500 years later, around 500 B.C., we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom or Persia where the Israelites live as subject to the king of Persia. This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.

King Xerxes (or Ahasuerus) of Persia does orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman. It’s not clear what Haman did to deserve this promotion, or exactly what his new position is. From some of the other verses in Esther, it seems that King Xerxes and Haman were drinking buddies. But Haman gets a new lofty title, like… Darth Vader, and everybody is supposed to bow down and give homage to him.

Mordecai refuses to bow down. Now, it’s not against Jewish law to bow down and give respect. The Jews bowed down before their own kings in other books of the bible, like 1st and 2nd Samuel and in 1st Kings. And Mordecai also almost certainly bowed down to King Xerxes or he wouldn’t be alive.

Some scholars believe that one reason Mordecai would not bow may be that as a descendent of Agag, Haman would believe he was devine or semi-devine, a god. Mordecai would certainly not bow down before another god. Other scholars believe it was simply because Mordecai would not bow down before an enemy of God, an Amalekite who hated Jews.

Whichever one it was, Haman certainly noticed the one man standing while everybody else at the king’s gate bowed down to him. The other royal officials tried to pressure Mordecai to comply, but Mordecai refused, obeying his faith.

Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai. No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews. A religious, ethnic cleansing.

Esther 3:8-9,

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.”

Haman could not come right out and tell King Xerxes he wanted to kill all the Jews. Xerxes would know that the Jews were loyal subjects; Mordecai had himself saved King Xerxes life in the second book of Esther. So Haman mixes in half-truths… a “certain” people. They’re… “different.” They don’t… “obey.” You shouldn’t have to “tolerate” them. By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these “certain people” should be killed.

As Christians, we’re still at war with the Amalekites. Dagnabbit Saul, why didn’t you do as you were told? The Amalekites in positions of power today still sit at the king’s gate, and we’re still not bowing down. The Amalekites sit at the gate of information. They taint Christians with half-truths:

- Control freaks. Instead of focusing on attempts to save the lives of unborn children, they paint us as trying to control what women do with their own bodies.
- Hate-mongerers because we encourage people to turn from sinful ways.
- Uptight people that do not want to have fun, or let anybody else have fun.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of entertainment:
- Movies and television that portray Christians as uptight people, like Ned Flanders of the Simpsons
- The NBC show “The Book of Daniel” that portrayed Christians as hallucinogenic, influenced by drugs and dysfunctional.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of Academia:
- No recognition of God in our schools. No Christmas, no Easter.
- We control our own destiny, evolution happens all by itself without any influence by our grand designer.
- That case in California, near Oakland, where schools used role-playing to teach seventh graders about Islamic history by making them wear nametags with Islamic imagery, memorize Islamic religious teachings as “fact”, wear Islamic clothing, recite phrases from the Koran and mimic the fasting of Ramadan. This was in 2002, after 9/11.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of the political establishment:
- The Oakland case on teaching Islam was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
- People believe the U.S. Constitution mandates a “separation of church and state.”
- “Under God” removed from Pledge of Allegiance (which is still being fought in the courts).

So with half-truths and innuendos, Haman convinced Xerxes to sign the death warrant for the Jews.

Persia was a big empire, and this ethnic cleansing could not happen immediately. Haman cast lots (v7) and decided the annihilation would occur in the twelfth month of Adar, about a year away. All the royal secretaries were summoned (v12), and the decree was written in every language of Persia and then distributed to all the satraps, governors, in all the provinces. This took a lot of time since they didn’t have email or FoxNews. In Esther 3:13-14,

Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews — young and old, women and little children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.

The Jews would have an entire year to fear their fate. Apparently this was met with a lot of confusion in the city of Susa. In verse 15, King Xerxes and Haman sit down to drink a toast to the destruction of the Jews, but the city itself was bewildered. The Jews had been loyal subjects. Why had the king ordered them destroyed?

Mordecai is a little troubled by all of this, if you can understand this. By refusing to bow down before Haman, he had set in motion the destruction of all of his people within the year. Esther 4:1 –

When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

Part of this was a public display against the orders of the king, but most of it was probably genuine grief. He’s going to die. All of his loved ones are going to die. All of the people of his faith are going to die. Esther 4:2,

But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it.

Apparently they had some sort of dress code and Mordecai was not allowed inside. Esther 4:3,

In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

All of the Jewish people are scared, mourning, praying, crying. Esther apparently is oblivious, though, because she sends the king’s eunuch that was assigned to attend her to go find out what’s up with the sackcloth.

The eunuch, Hathach, went out to Mordecai to get the scoop, and Mordecai is very prepared. Mordecai tell Hattach everything that has happened, how Haman has ordered the destruction of the Jews, and also gives him proof – look, here’s a copy of the edict. Mordecai tells Hathach to explain all this to Esther and tell Esther to beg the king for mercy for the Jews.

In verse 9, Hathach reports back to Esther and tells her everything Mordecai has said, including Mordecai’s request for Esther to go before the king. Esther’s like, uh, no, that’s a bad idea. As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today. Esther was still a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned. The law was strict – if you crash the king’s party, you die. There was a possibility that the king could hold out his golden scepter and your life would be spared. But whatever relationship Esther and the king had, it was not currently in the best of conditions. Esther had not been summoned by the king for 30 days. She was certain that to appear before the king would mean her death.

How do we understand God, who created us and everything we see? Do we decide who He is, and then assume God will do what we want? Or do we decide to be obedient and try to understand what God wants? Do we stay safe, keep silent, avoid taking risks? Or do we try to be obedient?

God’s will will be done, whether we obey or not. We can choose to participate, be a spectator, or deny Him altogether, but we cannot thwart God’s will. God sees history all at once, past, present and future. God creates us for a purpose and plants us right where we are. Your job, your family, your pretty face, your intelligent brain, your feelings, your money, your talents have all come together for this one instant, this one instant that will never occur again. In another minute, in another hour, this moment will have passed.

In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul explains this concept to new Christians. It says,

Nevertheless, each of you should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to you, just as God has called you. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each of you should remain in the situation you were in when God called you. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For those who were slaves when called to faith in the Lord are the Lord’s freed people; similarly, those who were free when called are Christ’s slaves. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. Brothers and sisters, all of you, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation in which God called you.

In other words, Paul tells us as Christians we are to bloom where we are planted. How? It says, right in the middle of those verses, “keeping God’s commands is what counts.” Not the legalistic old testament stuff, but the attitude and love of Christ Jesus, with all your words and all your actions.

Sometimes we feel stuck in a rut and can’t bloom. I read a story about a woman who was complaining about working with heathens. The boss was mean, her coworkers poked fun at her faith, and out of a hundred employees, she was the only Christian. Her pastor complimented her and told her God must think a lot of her to trust her with 100 people. If she quit, the only light these people have would be gone. Maybe she wasn’t stuck. Maybe she was just planted.

And don’t fall for that “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” philosophy. The only reason grass is green is because it’s watered and cared for. If you want your grass to be green, bloom where you are planted.

Mordecai knows all this. Esther is exactly where God put her. God removed Vashti and placed Esther as queen. She had every resource she needed to do God’s will. But will she do it? Will she risk everything given to her to do what God wants her to do? God had given Esther so much. God gave her external beauty, and it was her beauty that gave her and her alone access to the king. Would she put her beauty on the line and risk death? God gave her position – she was queen and had access like nobody else. Would she put her position as queen on the line and risk death? Esther also had her inner beauty and love for her people. Most important, Esther had the entire kingdom of heaven behind her. She had everything she needed, but would she risk it, or would fear hold her back?

Mordecai delivers at this point one of the most memorable lines of the bible. He tells Esther that God will accomplish His purpose, nothing she does or does not do will change that fact. If Esther will not do it, the God will save His chosen people another way. Esther’s choice is whether she is going to participate in God’s plan and realize that her entire being, her beauty and position, was orchestrated by God, and God will accomplish His will through His obedient people. Mordecai also tells her that if she’s trying to save her own skin, she’s probably going to lose that, too. She’s a Jew – if the Jews are eliminated, that includes her. She cannot save her own life. All she can do is choose to be obedient, or not.

Mordecai says in Esther 4:13-14,

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

The entire purpose of Esther’s life had come to a point of decision. Her entire existence had a purpose. What was more important, being queen, or being the liberator of the Jews? God will not fail to keep His promises or fall short of His purposes, therefore, the deliverance of the Jews was certain. God had made Esther queen so that she could deliver His people. God places people exactly where they can serve Him.

Our beautiful Esther, spurred by her cousin of faith, chose to do God’s will, and fully aware of the consequences. Esther 4:15-16,

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

And if I perish, I perish. God’s will be done. Esther did the right thing, obeying God, even though it was against the law and at risk to her life. This is a key to understanding all you are. You are God’s child and entrusted with your life to serve him. If I perish, I perish.

While Christians in other nations like Sudan are risking their lives, in America the risk to life is pretty small. In fact, we mostly just risk our own comfort. Afraid to defend the words of Jesus because we don’t want to look silly. Afraid to tithe because if we just had a few more dollars we could afford that Lexus. Afraid to serve because we might miss out on an episode of American Idol.

What are you doing with the resources God has given you? Are you using your talents, your money, your looks, your heart, in a way that is pleasing to God? Are you taking risks in service to Him who created you? Or are you afraid?

Dr. Young and Wallace Henley of the West Campus sent the following that I thought wrapped up today’s lesson well. It says,

79 years ago God brought us together as the family that would be known as Second Baptist Church. On that founding Sunday, the first pastor preached the first sermon in the life of this church. His text was Esther 4, the very passage we study today.

That pastor said to the congregation assembled in 1927—“Who knows but what God has brought us as a body of Christ to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

History has proven him right. The generations who followed caught the vision, and because of that tens of thousands of people have been transformed by Jesus Christ. They’ve impacted families, educational institutions, politics and government, businesses and the marketplace with the vision, values and worldview of God’s Kingdom.

They sacrificed, many giving sacrificially so the great ministry of this church could be carried out. They did so because they understood God’s providence and that He had a plan for them individually, and their resources.

Now the question is before us—Will there be a generation a century from now who will still be standing like Mordecai, still be using the best of the themselves and their resources, like Esther, for God’s Kingdom?

That answer is in our willingness to say of our personal lives and resources, “If I perish, I perish…”

Examine yourself and where you are in this world. God placed you right here for a reason. Our talents, our money, our selves should be used for God’s purposes, every minute of the day. Take a risk at being uncomfortable for God. Bloom where you are planted.

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Seizing New Opportunities

Posted on December 4, 2006. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we completed our study of the book of Hebrews and we’ll be moving on to new scripture to study. The bad news is that we completed our study of the book of Hebrews. There was a lot of good information in there, wasn’t there? I learned a lot about angels, Jesus, and good solid Christian character. I’m going to miss Hebrews.

For the next month we’ll be studying Ezra, then in January we’ll move on to Nehemiah, then by February we’ll be in the book of Esther. There will be a brief intermission around Christmas when we study Psalm 139.

God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t he? As some of you know, I got called away on business this week. I’ve added it up; I was home 9 days in November, and I was supposed to be home this last week and was sent out of town again. I prayed to God; His promise is that if you are doing His work, He will provide all you need, but I was wondering where I was going to find the time to study and prepare. I left Sunday evening with all my study materials, and the plan was to return Thursday and prepare for this lesson on Saturday. Then, after I got there, I found out I had to stay longer than expected; I’d be arriving Saturday evening, last night. I continued to pray; my faith is that the Lord God’s will is always done. I boarded the plane only 20% finished with preparation and a plane flight that was too short to finish preparing.

Be careful what you pray for, God will answer you in ways you do not expect. I’m sitting on the plane, waiting for takeoff. And waiting and waiting… and it dawned on me that I’m wondering where I’m going to find the time to finish preparing, and here the plane is delayed, giving me even more time. I whipped out the laptop and got to work. I’m still not sure I’m 100% ready today, but God gave me ample time. All the credit goes to God, all the rambling incoherency goes to me. And if I start to ramble too bad, I’m going to fake some sort of jet lag induced seizure to distract you.

And have you ever prayed for patience? What happens, how does God answer a prayer like that? That’s right, he tries you with so many activities and events and crisis at once. How are you going to learn patience unless you have emergencies going on all simultaneously?

About a year ago, Diane & I were considering going on a mission trip to Kenya. God had moved her heart to go, and eventually my stubborn heart got out of the way and God moved mine, too. Diane tells the story so much better than me, so I’m going to ask Diane to tell you all about it. No, I’m just kidding, I’ve been traveling so much, I haven’t had much chance to tease my sweetheart. We prayed for the funds to go, and for a while we weren’t sure we were going. I think Diane gave up for a while. We kept praying, and eventually we relied on faith. We just planned on going as though God had already provided. And then all at once, just before we were to leave, God provided everything we needed.

I know some of you have been Christians for a lot longer than me; in fact, before I started studying the last few weeks, I wasn’t sure who Ezra was. Some jazz singer, maybe. It’s only been 8 years since I’ve given my life to Christ, but God has answered so many prayers in the last 8 years. The most amazing is when God repaired our marriage; that was an absolute miracle and completely unexpected that He could repair a marriage that had broken and divorced. Your marriage is a miracle, too, don’t ever take it for granted. Before you were married, did you expect your spouse would be like he or she is? Of course not, God answers prayers in expected ways. Sometimes really unexpected.

I just realized this week another miracle – before I gave my life to Christ, I used to get depressed at Christmas. I even knew why – nostalgia for happy Christmases past, the whole family under the tree opening presents. Then I grew up, and my parents divorce and then my own shattered Christmas for me, and I knew it was never going to be the same. What I realized this last week is that since I gave my life to Christ, I have not been down at Christmas. In fact, this year I’m almost downright giddy. I realized that getting down was my selfish state of mind, it’s all about me sort of thing. It never was about me. It’s all about Him. He is the reason to celebrate.

Yes, God answers prayers and fulfills His promises, and that’s what we’re going to study. So today we’re going to study the book of Ezra, so let’s turn to the book of Jeremiah. Bear with me, we have to get the history.

Jeremiah 29:10

During the time of Jeremiah, the Israelites were in rebellion to the Lord. For centuries, the Lord’s people refused to live up to the terms of the covenant with the Lord. First God unleashed the destruction of the Northern Kingdom Israel, and still the southern people of Judah continued their defiance. God then unleashed the Babylonians against them. Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonians (modern day Iraq) against Jerusalem and the soldiers destroyed the city, slaughtered many of the Jews, and looted the temple. The survivors either fled to Egypt or were hauled off to Babylon as slaves.

The prophet Jeremiah told the Jews that this period of captivity will last 70 years, and during this 70 years the Jews formed unhappy communities there and put down their roots. They were very bitter about their slavery, even though Jeremiah had warned them this captivity was due to their disobedience. They had no temple and they were unable to offer the sacrifices in the law of Moses.

So what happened after the seventy years? Now we have to back up to the prophet Isaiah to see the Lord’s prophecy fulfilled.

Isaiah 44:24-28 (shortened), “This is what the Lord says – your redeemer, who formed you in the womb. I am the Lord, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, … who says to Jerusalem, “It shall be inhabited’, of the towns of Judah, “They shall be rebuilt,” and of their ruins, “I will restore them,” … who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”

And the people were like, “Cyrus? Who is Cyrus? Billie Ray Cyrus? Don’t Break My Heart, Achy Breaky Heart Cyrus?” And they continued to wonder this until the 70 years of captivity were up

Meanwhile, in a land far, far away, the king of Anshan was getting ambitious. He built a mighty army and attacked his grandfather in Persia which is now modern day Iran. The king then conquered Sardis in Lydia (which is now Turkey), and then turned his attention to Babylonia. In 539 B.C., Babylonia fell to the king of Ashan and became the new ruler of the captive Jews living there. This king’s name was… that’s right, Cyrus. Amazing. Coincidence? I think not.

*Now* we can begin the book of Ezra.

Ezra 1:1
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:

The Jews were not free; instead of the Babylonians, the king was now Cyrus. But while the Babylonians ruled by intimidation and fear, Cyrus chose a different method. Give the people what they want, and the people will be loyal to you. Sort of like the Democrats.

Ezra 1:2-4
“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
” ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Anyone of his people among you—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’ “

Was King Cyrus a believer in the Lord God of heaven? Nope, he’s just lying through his teeth and I’m not going to draw any more parallels to any particular political party. Cyrus created a new policy to honor the customs and religion of the people he governed. An historical clay cylinder called the Cyprus Cylinder contains a letter to the local Babylonians where Cyrus also claims to be an instrument of the Babylonian god Marduk and asking for their blessings. You know, just giving the people what they want and pretending to be one of them. Dang politicians.

So how is it that the Lord God put this in Cyrus heart? Romans 13:1 says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Yes, God in in charge of all authority on earth, whether that authority knows it or not. God is in charge. And Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” The Lord’s will be done, whether you’re a believer or not. As a politician, Cyrus ends up doing the will of the Lord, for the Lord God can use anybody and anything He wishes. Cyrus thinks he’s building his own kingdom, but God is using Cyrus for a far greater purpose.

Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings.

Notice that the proclamation provided a choice. The people did not have to go back to Jerusalem. The younger men who were physically able to reconstruct the temple had been born sometime during the last 70 years in Babylon. They had never been to Jerusalem, never seen a sacrifice offered, never offered one of their own. Now they were being given a chance to leave a place they had known all their lives and go to a place they had only heard about. They would be giving up comfort of their old home they had grown up in to go to someplace unknown. Would they be sent unprepared? Cyrus’ proclamation instructed their the neighbors to help support them financially and materially with their venture in Jerusalem. God takes care of everything! A freewill offering means the neighbors were not forced to give, but asked out of the goodness of their hearts. Something similar happene when God told Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and the Egyptians provided them with gifts of gold and silver and clothing. When God leads, He also provides.

Only a small number of Jews returned to Judah. It says “everyone whose heart God had moved”. Were the ones who stayed behind outside of God’s will? I don’t know. What we do know, however, comes later on in the book of Esther – those that stayed behind were the Jews that Hayman almost had exterminated until Esther spoke up. Anybody see One Night with the King? Beautiful movie of the story of the life of Esther and what happened to these Jews. We also know that there were no ill feelings between those Jews that returned to Jerusalem and those that stayed in Babylonia because of the amount of gifts provided.

I think back to the mission trip Diane and I went on. Not everybody is called to be a foreign missionary; that takes a very special spiritual gift to spread the word of God that way. I don’t think I was effective; I served cheerfully to the best of my ability; providing medical care and services and monetary help was very rewarding, but door to door evangelism to people that don’t speak the same language as me isn’t my calling. I guess I’m saying I probably identified more with the Jews that stayed behind.

Just because God doesn’t call us to be a missionary doesn’t mean He doesn’t call us to help. If our means allows, we should support those in the field, and back them up with prayers and encouragement. For every missionary out in the field, it can take ten or more people supporting them with money, food, clothing, medical care, bibles.

Verse 7 of Ezra also says “Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god.”

Where did Cyrus get these vessels of the Lord’s house? In the book of Daniel, he records what happened that night Cyrus appeared in Babylon. The Babylon ruler Belshazzar was having a drunken feast: “Belshazzar, while he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, and his wives and his concubines drank in them. They drank wine and praised the god of gold and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood and stone. That very night the city of Babylon was captured.

When we get to verse 9, we see what Cyrus returned to Jerusalem:

This was the inventory:
gold dishes 30
silver dishes 1,000
silver pans [b] 29
gold bowls 30
matching silver bowls 410
other articles 1,000
In all, there were 5,400 articles of gold and of silver.

Ezra Chapter 2 gives us a list of people with unpronounceable names returning to Jerusalem. Would somebody like to volunteer to read them all? I thought not. I want to look at a couple of the names on the list though – verse 2 shows a Nehemiah, but this is not the same Nehemiah we’ll be studying next month. There’s also a Mordecai listed, but this also isn’t the Mordecai from the book of Esther.

Verse 7 is Elam. Verse 31 is… the other Elam. How would you like to be known through history as “the other Elam?” Hi, I’m Elam, but not *that* Elam. I’m the other Elam. Nice to meet you, I’m the other Nehemiah. And I’m the other Mordecai.

Look down at v23, there were 128 men of Anathoth. When Jeremiah made that prophecy that God would restore Judah after 70 years of captivity, God also had Jeremiah in Jeremiah 32 to buy a piece of land as a sign that Judah would be restored. Jeremiah’s act was one of faith. God promised He would return them to their land and He did. There’s a little town called Anathoth to this day where Jeremiah purchased the land. When the men of Anathoth returned, they had a lawful claim to the land Jeremiah had purchased.

I find all the people listed in Ezra 2 intriguing – just like the body of Christ has many parts – a hand, a foot, I’m a big toe – we see here that God uses the Jews in many roles. Some to rebuild the temple, some to give out the Word of God, some going as missionaries and others supporting the missionaries. Someday, we will receive rewards in heaven for the work we do; all of our work will be inspected and judged and the worthless work will be burned away by fire and only the precious work of the Lord remains. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” The work we do is what God calls us to do, and each part of the body needs each other part.

When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled as one man in Jerusalem. Then Jeshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices.

About 50,000 Israelites had returned and settled in and around Jerusalem with the money and materials that were brought to begin the work on the temple. The first priority was the rebuilding of the altar, which of course the rebellious people didn’t do right away. We find out elsewhere in the book of Haggai the first thing they did was build homes and Haggai had to rebuke them for putting their selfish needs before the Lord.

So after a good rebuking, they got down to work building the temple. Under the law of Moses, Jews had a sacrificial system of atonement we studied in Hebrews. The phrase ‘the people assembled as one man in Jerusalem’ showed their solidarity and unity of purpose. The two men who lead the rebuilding were Jeshua, a priest and descendant of Aaron and Zarubbabel, a descendant of David. Both the priestly and royal branches of Jews worked together to reestablish the Mosaic covenant. Then is ways they built the alter despite their fear and in accordance with the Law of Moses. It sounds like such a simple formula – read the scriptures and work together as one without fear. Now there’s a goal for a church.

I think fear is still common – I think about the Christians that may be working at Best Buy or Home Depot or Kroger where they are discouraged from saying “Merry Christmas” and told to say “Happy Holidays” instead. I tell people that I don’t celebrate “Winter Holiday” because it’s pagan. I celebrate Christmas!

Working together as one has a more positive example just this week. I got a few emails this week telling me about Angels of Light I missed this week – that is such a wonderful service and it is so rewarding to see so many people working together as one.

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD :
“He is good;
his love to Israel endures forever.”
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.

The foundation for the alter was finally complete, and the Jews couldn’t wait to celebrate. The Mosaic covenant was being followed exactly as described by Moses. This same order was followed when David brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem in 1 Chronicles 16:5-6, and when the ark was brought to the temple in 2 Chronicles 5:12-13. The priests wore their ceremonial robes, the descendants of Asaph and the priest performing sacrifices and others playing cymbals, harps, lyres and trumpets. The Jews knew this time the Lord was making this temple possible and wanted to give praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for His love for them. The temple worship has been restored after 70 years, just as prophesied.

When we receive gifts, most of us remember to say thank you. Sometimes we forget what gifts we have, though, and don’t thank our Lord for them. The privilege of worshiping Him is a gift that the Jews didn’t have, and we’re losing, too, in part of the world and in this country, too. Fifty years ago it was unthinkable, but now our government compels children to attend purely secular public schools where the pagan “Winter Holiday” is celebrated instead of Christmas, and instead of being taught that sex is a gift reserved for married couples, the children are taught sexual activities with cucumbers. We’re losing monuments and crosses that reflect the Judeo-Christian ideals this country was founded on, and “Merry Christmas” is considered unwelcome. Let’s give thanks we’re not yet like the Jews in Babylonia and can worship our maker freely. Count every blessing, name them one by one and Praise God for all that He hath done. When the Jews realized what they had lost during captivity, they praised God for His sovereignty, faithfulness, forgiveness and restoration. Let’s not take that for granted.

But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

There were two types of people present during the dedication of the temple. On one hand were the younger generation that had never seen the original temple built by Solomon. To these younger people, this was a wonderful time. A new temple, new opportunities to worship and serve the Lord. The other group were the old-timers who remembered the old temple and were making comparisons. “Why this old temple is nothing compared to the one in my day. Why, our temple would eat this temple for lunch. It was worth making the journey, and we didn’t mind all the walking to get here. We’d walk uphill to get here. Both ways. We gave everything we had, even the shoes off our feet. The walk back was uphill, too, but now we were barefoot. And on cold, icy days, we’d have to strap barb-wire to our feet to keep from slipping.”

The old group wasn’t exactly encouraging to the younger group, were they? Being critical of something is really easy; being encouraging is much harder. I was recently reminded of this while I was out of town yet again, griping about… well, let’s just say I thought this trip was much ado about nothing, mountains made from molehills. Reading some scripture in the middle of the week about encouraging one another as long as it is called Today cut me to the heart about my disobedience. I had developed some old person “the old way is the right way to do this” philosophy. Younger hearts are what we all need.

As we close the first three chapters of Ezra, let’s remember that God’s will be done. He can use the unbelievers for his will in order to faithfully fulfill His promise and He sometimes answer prayers in unexpected ways. Let’s remember that sometimes God calls us to take action, and sometimes God calls us to be the supporting people. Let’s remember that when we are in accordance with the scripture, we become like one body in unity in purpose. And let’s remember to give thanks and praise for our almighty Father in Heaven from whom all blessings flow.

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