We’re wrapping up the letters of from Paul to the church of Thessalonica today. Paul’s 1st letter consisted mostly of encouragement as the church faced prosecution and urged Christians to live by high moral standards in an immoral society. Anybody think this might be applicable today? Paul also talked about Christ’s Second Coming, urged the faithful Christians to warn believers who refused to work, and gave guidance on how to live as Christians.
Paul must have received news that in spite of his first letter, the Thessalonian Christians still struggled with three major problems, so he wrote the 2nd letter to Thessalonica. In Chapter 1, Paul encouraged the believers that God is fair even if the world is not. God will punish those who punish the faithful, so we should leave judgment to Him. In Chapter 2, Paul provides additional information about the Second Coming of Christ and encouraging them to persevere despite the hardships and to seek correct doctrine and obey the Word.
Now, in Chapter 3, Paul asks his brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for him, and then addresses the growing problem of believers who not only won’t work, but also interfere with the work of others.
II. Faithful Outside the Church (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5)
Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
Responsible Christians pray and obey to spread the Gospel. When Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to live morally in the immoral society they lived in, he’s recognizing one of the greatest truths of the bible: we cannot do God’s will in this world under our own power. The powerful Christian life always involves two forces; the power of God and the obedience of the believer. There is no doubt Paul was one of the most effective missionaries in the history of the world. Paul was knowledgeable about scripture, Paul was obedient, and here we also see Paul relying on the power of prayer. In verse 1 he asks for prayer that God’s will may be done through him. Paul constantly asked for prayers when he wrote his letters – Romans 15:30-31, Ephesians 6:18-19; Colossians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; Philemon 22; the list goes on and on. It pleases God when we pray for His will to be done, and the prayers of a righteous man are powerful. Prayer has many facets to it -
a. Continual Prayer.
In verse 1, Paul says “Pray for us.” The tense indicates a continual prayer, not just a one time event. Paul recognized the need for constant prayer; in 1 Thessalonians 1:2, Paul says he prays for the Thessalonians constantly, and in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul tells them to pray without ceasing. The world is as lost today as it was in the time of the Thessalonians and is in need of a savior they don’t even know. Pray they hear the word; pray we tell them the word. Pray and obey.
b. Offensive Prayer
These continuous prayers should be both offense and defense in our earthly battle. The words Paul chose for “spread rapidly” implies an imagery from the Old Testament where God’s Words runs swiftly, as though a runner in a race. Psalm 147:15 says, “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.” And “honor” – or “glory,” in some translations, indicates a winner. The runner receives glory through winning, and God’s Word receives glory when somebody comes to Christ. Evangelistic prayer encourages us to go on the offense and spread God’s message so He may receive glory.
Offensive prayer has a purpose. Our world, you may have noticed, is sick. Our world is dying. The Word of God is life-saving medicine. Paul prays that the medicine is spread rapidly because lives are at stake. Jesus had the same urgency in John 9:4: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
c. Defensive Prayer
Prayer is also defensive; we must never forget we are soldiers of Christ engaged in spiritual warfare. The breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit are all parts of the armor of God to protect us. We are at battle with spiritual darkness and the plans carried out by evil men. Evil men that have not only corrupted themselves but intent on corrupting others. Evangelists are on the front line on this battle, and need both offensive prayer to spread the gospel effectively, but also defensive, protective prayer against the evil that would stop them.
III. Faithful Inside the Church (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15)
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
Discipline inside a church is necessary. And just like we’d like God’s justice to reign down on somebody else while only God’s mercy reigns on us, we only want church discipline to be imposed on other people. Some people and even some churches use discipline to kick people out of a church. But church discipline as used by Paul is a loving act. Church discipline is demanded by scripture to bring our wayward brothers and sisters back to the church, back to the fold, to heal wounds, to restore them in love.
Listen to what Jesus says in Mathew 18:15-17
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
The relationships we have with one another are those of brother and sister, and they reflect our understanding of the love God has shown for us. If we can’t show love to our brother or sister, do we truly understand love at all?
In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus tells us that our relationships with each other are so important that until we are reconciled with our brother, our offerings to the Lord are of little value. Our service to the Lord, our tithes, our worship, worthless. Jesus says to put your offering down and go reconcile with one another. Then come back and give your offering.
How do we do that? The first step is simple communication with each other. Just talk. If that doesn’t work, enlist a friend or two to help. If that doesn’t work, take it to somebody in the church leadership. Do that as many times as necessary, it’s not a one-time thing.
Human nature being what it is, you’re thinking of somebody that you’d like to drag up before the church leadership. But what if somebody drags you to the church leadership? What sort of attitude should you have?
Removing somebody from the church body is serious. Remember the goal is to restore sinners and bring them back into repentence. We should give them every opportunity to respond. The most important thing to remember is that we never have the right to treat them in an non-Christ-like manner just because they are acting in a non-Christ-like manner. Regardless of how the other person acts, we are to love them.
Here in the case of the Thessalonian church, Paul was dealing with a specific issues. In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul explained to the church how to act while under persecution. Chapter 2, Paul warned against false teachings. And now, Paul is addressing idle people. See, most of the Thessalonians were Greek and part of the Greek culture was a disdain for work. Work was beneath them, and so they owned slaves to do all their work. Did you know the Roman calendar at this time observed 156 holidays a year? Festival of feasting, Festival in honor of Mercury, Festival of Mars, Festival of Flowers, Festival of Childbirth, Festival of the Dead, Festival of Success. They even had a festival, Agonalia, honoring Janus, the god of gates and doorways.
The Greek Thessalonians used the return of Christ as an excuse not to do work. These idle Greeks became burdens to the church; rather than contributing to the benefit of all, the Greeks lived off the works of other church members, working hard to make a living and contribute to the church.
Paul begins his discussion on church discipline first by studying scripture, in verse 6 he says we must live according to the teaching we received. What does the Lord say about work?
Turns out God has a lot to say about work. Starting in Genesis 2:15, Adam’s job before the fall was to cultivate and keep the garden. In Ecclesiastes 9:10, Solomon says, “whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.” There are a dozen proverbs (Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4-5; 12:11, 12:14, 12:24, 12:27; 13:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:15, 19:24; 20:4; 21:25-26; 22:13, 22:29) that deal with work. Here’s Proverbs 6:6-11 –
You lazy fool, look at an ant.
Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two.
Nobody has to tell it what to do.
All summer it stores up food;
at harvest it stockpiles provisions.
So how long are you going to laze around doing nothing?
How long before you get out of bed?
A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there,
sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next?
Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life,
poverty your permanent houseguest!
Ok, so scripture is consistent about work. After making sure your exhortation is consistent with scripture, the next thing Paul commands is that you yourself aren’t guilty of the same thing. Jesus once said that before you judged another for the speck in his eye, you had to make sure you didn’t have a plank in your own eye. Paul had a vocation; he was a tentmaker and earned his living as he traveled. He reminds the Thessalonians of his example in verses 7-10. In order to be an effective witness for Christ, you must examine your own life first to ensure you are a worthy imitator of Christ. Paul didn’t have to work so hard; I’m sure he was fatigued after teaching all day, writing letters to churches, and then making tents at night. As an apostle, Paul was entitled to accept help from the church, but instead Paul went the extra mile to make sure he was an example worth imitating and relieving the church of the burden of supporting him.
First, examine the scriptures, then examine ourselves. The next step is to examine the situation. Why are the Thessalonians not working? Is it because they are unable, or because they are unwilling? Some people are unable to work. Perhaps they are disabled. Perhaps they haven’t found an opportunity or there are no job openings available. Our country is in a recession, and it appears it’s getting worse, not better. We should be diligent in applying ourselves to work as soon as possible.
Don’t take this to mean that the job must be a well-paying job, or that it pays at all. Some of the most demanding work is housework or taking care of children or ministry work. The point is that, as far as you are able, to contribute to work instead taking, to be busy at the things that pleases God instead of using idle time to simply please ourselves or meddle in the lives of others.
Look at verse 12 again. What commonsense advice does Paul give? As Christians, how can we apply this in our approach to society in general? What type of character is created by honest work?
Once the examination of scripture and examination of ourselves is complete, we may find that it’s time to confront another in the church out of love and to heal the body of Christ. Verse 13 is key to our heart at this point; Paul says we are never to tire of doing what is right. Doing what is right may be uncomfortable, but it can also be a time of significant personal growth. Here are some reasons for Christian confrontation -
i. Personal differences. This is probably the most common. We are so quick to judge others, yet are so blind to ourselves. The Thessalonians may have grumbled among themselves, “If they don’t have to work, why should I?” Sin is often unintentional, but sin nonetheless hampers God’s plan for us and for His church. When there is sin in the life of a believer, the health of the church is affected. Paul’s word for these believers were “disorderly” believers, people that marched out of step with others, disobeying Christ’s commands or the instructions of church elders. Instead of being busy, they were busybodies, and 1 Timothy 5:13 says that busybodies are more than just idle gossipers, they may be opposing God’s will by talking nonsense about others and doing Satan’s will. How tragic to find that we think we are good Christians but find instead that our idle talk is encouraging Satan instead of the church.
ii. Doctrinal error. We may find another Christian teaching the wrong doctrine. If they are doing it out of ignorance or lack of knowledge about scripture, we are to teach them the truth. 2 Timothy 2:25 says we are to do this so that God will grant them repentance and lead them to the truth. If they continue, Titus 1:10-14 says we are to rebuke them sharply. If the error continues, Romans 16:17 says avoid them, and 2 Timothy 2 says eventually we are to separate from them because their teaching will spread like gangrene.
iii. Another reason for righteous confrontation is if a believer has been overtaken by sin. This happens to believers, far more often than we think. Even the Apostle Peter denied the Lord, David yielded to lust, Moses to pride, and so on. Galatians 6:1-3 says that for these believers, we the church are to restore them gently. Remember Jesus and the adulterous woman? Jesus wasn’t harsh with her, He was gentle, admonishing to her to go and sin no more. The word “restore” literally means “to set a broken bone”. It takes gentleness and kindness and patience, not sudden judgment and condemnation.
iv. Then we get to the repeating troublemaker. Titus 3:10 tells us to warn them twice and then have nothing to do with them. These people are divisive, they often have good scriptural knowledge but because of their pride, they love to take side and encourage argument. They have a strong opinion because they love to get their way – they may argue about how the Lord’s Supper ought to be served or how the worship songs should be sung or even what kind of service to the Lord is more important. Pride is at the root of division, and Satan uses such heretics to divide a church.
v. And then, there is the church member living in open immorality. 1 Corinthians 5 deals with a case of incest within the church. The church was proud of their tolerance, how despite this open, flagrant sin, the church passed no judgment on him. There are many churches like this today that openly accept members and elders in open sin. Paul tells us that instead of being prideful of our tolerance, we should be in mourning. A believer in open sin should be expelled from the church. Paul warns us not to treat these people as enemies, because they are not. They are our brothers and sisters. Just like Lot fell out of fellowship with Abraham and the Lord because he moved to Sodom, Genesis 14:14 says, “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan.” Our goal is to rescue our brother, not condemn him.
2 Thessalonians 3:14 says we should have such a purpose in our separation. When it comes to the idle, the busybodies, the heretics, the unrepentant sinners, after trying to restore them, rebuke them, disassociating with them, the purpose of our actions is to bring them back into the Lords will. Examine scripture first; make sure you are correct in your theology. Examine yourself, make sure you do not have a plank in your own eye and that you are a good example. Confront them individually, with another believer, with a church elder in order to restore them. And then, if all else fails, leave them alone and mourn that they are not in fellowship with the Lord.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Paul wraps up 2 Thessalonians 3 with note that as Christians, the Lord of Peace himself will give us peace at all times and in every way. This peace is for all Christians; notice Paul says, “The Lord be with all of you,” and this includes those he just finished rebuking. This peace is for us. Let us examine ourselves and our church family and work for what is right for the benefit of all, to make a strong, healthy body of believers for our Lord and Savior.
In the two letters to the Thessalonians, Paul taught them how to live in fellowship as believers. The lesson Paul taught is just as true today. We don’t know when Jesus will return, but we do know that His return is eminent. Until then, we have tasks to do as His body. Work eagerly and joyfully at the tasks God has given us on this earth, all the while keeping an eye toward heaven. In this Chapter, Paul tells us about two of those tasks; we are to pray, and we are to earn a living. In all circumstances, we can take comfort in the peace given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
The message of Christmas is simple: God loved us, so He sent His son to us. We’re celebrating His birthday.
Ways to celebrate this gift to us are many, and bring peace and joy to us, knowing that God loves us. We can spend time with those we love. We can spend time with those that need love. We can give gifts to show our love.
And then there are horrible ways to honor this gift. Here’s a sample from today’s news:
Shopping is war.
The battle is not just among the jostling crowds at the sale bins and cash registers in these pre-Christmas days; it is also between warring factions of our own brains, some economists and neuroscientists say.
Recent studies suggest that each buying decision plays out in the brain as a fight between a pleasure center seeking the bliss of acquisition and an aversion center seeking to avoid the pain of paying.
Waste money on consumerism. With so many needy people around the world, lining up a day before Christmas to overpay for a limited-edition set of sneakers is a complete waste of time and money. Before you spend $2000 trying to get something that moths and rust will destroy, try to imagine how many low-cost sneakers you could buy for the millions of people in this world that have no shoes.
Criticize Santa. Criticize parents for lying to their children instead of nurturing imagination in children.
Vandalize a nativity scene. It’s a sad commentary that churches have to outfit baby Jesus with a GPS to catch petty thieves trying to ruin Christmas for others.
It’s easy to kill the Christmas spirit, but in doing so, you miss the gift that was meant for you.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
I could call this the “Day After Trying to Recover From What Might Have Been a Minor Flu Edition,” but I won’t. Christmas Season and Flu Season accompany each other every year, like Hansel and Gretel, or Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. I had just enough aches and pains to baby myself to prevent a flu… heck, enough of the excuses. Instead of posting the Christian Carnival last night, I took some Nyquil and went to bed at 8pm.
Feeling good today, and ready to roll. And whoa, there are a lot of submissions this week. Here’s the 254th Christian Carnival in reverse submittal order-
Henry Neufeld presents Stories in a Chronological Context posted at Participatory Bible Study Blog. Sometimes we behave as though the Bible consists of nothing but God’s interventions. Perhaps we ought to consider the time that passes between our favorite stories as well.
Tiffany Partin presents Five Bucks and a Piece of Tin Foil posted at Fathom Deep: Sounding the Depths of God. A simple gift, 2 opposite reactions. This is the season to offer help to those who really need it.
A. Lee presents Edvard Munch : the Man behind the Scream ~ Biography posted at e Art Fair .com. What does Munch have to do with Christianity, you might ask. Everything, I’d like to answer. Munch comes from a strictly religious upbringing and this influence has permeated his art.
In a post entitled God’s arrival in Jerusalem, Weekend Fisher traces an Old Testament prophecy of God’s arrival in Jerusalem back to when God’s arrival was first announced: “Prepare the way of the LORD”. These are among the words which Mark uses to open his gospel. WF considers the possibility that Mark considered Jesus to be the LORD spoken of in the prophecy. Read the article at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength.
Vickie Sloderbeck presents Some Thoughts on Why I Homeschool My Children posted at Sidetracked Moms. Good thoughts on the benefits of homeschooling. Yeah, I know it’s a second entry from this blog, but if I can post the carnival a day late, then Vickie can have 2 posts.
Drew Tatusko presents the great emergence from abundance posted at Notes From Off Center. God’s grace is a gift that extends beyond any contingencies in which the cause and effect of life finds all people. This includes death itself. Because God’s grace is not contingent on what happens in the world in which we live, God must deserve thanks at every point in time and history. A more fitting alternative is to say either that God simply must not exist, or at least the God who gives the gift of grace to all, for all, and forever must not be real.
Allen Scott presents Living in the Land of Denial posted at Journey Across the Sky. Many people live their lives in a state of denial. An altered state of reality you could say. A place where, in their opinion, everything is as it should be, but those around them hold to a different viewpoint.
Stephen Miracle presents Christmas Charity: Giving This Holiday Season posted at Inspirational Articles @ AltNoise.net. It might be harder to give this Christmas season, but it gives us the perfect opportunity to help those in need. It will no longer be automated action, but something actually coming from your heart.
The 253rd edition from last week, the Advent (Conspiracy) Edition CCLIII, can be found at “Parables of a Prodigal World.”
You know you’re itching to submit an article. You can do so with the Christian Carnival Submission form http://blogcarnival.com/bc/submit_1551.htmlRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
The Houston Chronicle has a story about the “tradition” of regifting Christmas presents -
Scrambling to find the perfect, last-minute Christmas gift?
Then put down that bottle of wine. And please â€” back away from the blender. Chances are the person you give them to will slap new bows on the boxes and pass them along to someone else.
Bottles of red and white, along with bath products and small kitchen appliances top the list of the most regifted items this holiday season, according to Money Management International, a Houston-based credit counseling agency, which suggests regifting as a way to save money.
It would appear the gift-recycling movement is growing in popularity and respectability. In fact, Thursday was National Regifting Day, according to regiftable.com. A recent survey conducted by the credit counseling agency concluded that regifting has increased in acceptability since 2005. The national survey of 1,049 respondents also found that more people consider regifting a fiscally shrewd move.
Most of us have no idea how blessed we are. After a trip to Kenya a few years ago, I left knowing that Americans are so much more materialistic than we ever realized. Our “stuff” is important to us, we keep up with the Joneses, we can’t wait to get our paws on the latest iPhone. In Kenya, they’d be ecstatic with a clean bottle of water.
When it comes to Christmas gifts, we are essentially giving a gift that says “I thought of you” or “I didn’t forget you.” The actual item isn’t as important anymore – I think we instinctively know we have enough. The things we want aren’t things we need. And so when we receive something, we have no qualms about wrapping it back up and giving it to somebody else.
Are you regifting items? Are you repacking stuff you don’t need because you and your family and friends already have enough? Then consider giving instead to those that would be happy with a clean bottle of water. Here in Houston, contributing or volunteering to Star of Hope or the Salvation Army is a good way to get started.
That stuff you’re regifting that will eventually be regifted instead would be happily received by a family or individual that has little. Consider giving to those that need. Instead of giving somebody a gift they don’t need and maybe don’t even want, consider donating to a charity in their name instead.
God has blessed up far more than we realized. Let’s give thanks by giving to those that need.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
I have a lengthy todo list. It’s quite detailed; on my diet, I even include meals and snacks so I can check of my allotted portion as I go along. I almost go so far as toput “brush my teeth” on my todo list. I would put “wake-up” on my todo list, but apparently by the time I noticed it was on my todo list, I’d already be awake.
And I get satisfaction checking items off my list. Schedule meeting? Check. Eat breakfast fruit serving? Check. Look up fireworks schedule? Check. Check items off my todo list? Check.
But when the list gets long, I end up having to reschedule things over and over. Rent “Old Yeller?” Er, not this week. Maybe next Monday. Make dentist appointment? Nope, it’s a holiday week. Sometimes, like “Rent Old Yeller”, an item is rescheduled over and over again. That one may have been on my list for 2 years now.
So I start deleting items. The satisfaction of checking off an item is missing. It’s acknowledging defeat; my time is limited and there are some things I’ll never do. Rent Old Yeller? I’m not sure why it’s on there anymore. Delete. Fortunately, my brain capacity is even smaller than my PDA, so an hour after I delete it, I won’t even remmber it was on there. That’s sort of why I have a todo list in the first place.
Do you do something daily that gives you satisfaction?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
Beliefnet has setup a “Holiday Culture Wars Blog” that makes for some interesting reading. From a Christian perspective, they’ve highlighted television shows with sexually-explicit lyrics set to Christmas music, obscene art that is “rife with Christmas-themed debauchery,” and how Christmas has become so secularized to the point where atheists “unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”
Disclaimer: First, Beliefnet is not a Christian website, it’s designed for all beliefs, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Atheism. Also, the “Holiday Culture Wars Blog” isn’t actually a blog, either; there’s no discussion, no author listed, no RSS feed, no nothing. It’s more of a running series of news articles. Still, it makes for interesting reading.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we completed our study of the book of Hebrews and weâ€™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, wasnâ€™t there? I learned a lot about angels, Jesus, and good solid Christian character. Iâ€™m going to miss Hebrews.
For the next month weâ€™ll be studying Ezra, then in January weâ€™ll move on to Nehemiah, then by February weâ€™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, doesnâ€™t he? As some of you know, I got called away on business this week. Iâ€™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; Iâ€™d be arriving Saturday evening, last night. I continued to pray; my faith is that the Lord Godâ€™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. Iâ€™m sitting on the plane, waiting for takeoff. And waiting and waitingâ€¦ and it dawned on me that Iâ€™m wondering where Iâ€™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. Iâ€™m still not sure Iâ€™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, Iâ€™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? Thatâ€™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 Iâ€™m going to ask Diane to tell you all about it. No, Iâ€™m just kidding, Iâ€™ve been traveling so much, I havenâ€™t had much chance to tease my sweetheart. We prayed for the funds to go, and for a while we werenâ€™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 wasnâ€™t sure who Ezra was. Some jazz singer, maybe. Itâ€™s only been 8 years since Iâ€™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, donâ€™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 â€“ before I gave my life to Christ, I used to get depressed at Christmas. I even knew why â€“ 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 Iâ€™m almost downright giddy. I realized that getting down was my selfish state of mind, itâ€™s all about me sort of thing. It never was about me. Itâ€™s all about Him. He is the reason to celebrate.
Yes, God answers prayers and fulfills His promises, and thatâ€™s what weâ€™re going to study. So today weâ€™re going to study the book of Ezra, so letâ€™s turn to the book of Jeremiah. Bear with me, we have to get the history.
During the time of Jeremiah, the Israelites were in rebellion to the Lord. For centuries, the Lordâ€™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 Lordâ€™s prophecy fulfilled.
Isaiah 44:24-28 (shortened), â€œThis is what the Lord says â€“ 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, â€¦ who says to Jerusalem, â€œIt shall be inhabitedâ€™, of the towns of Judah, â€œThey shall be rebuilt,â€ and of their ruins, â€œI will restore them,â€ â€¦ who says of Cyrus, â€œHe is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, â€œLet it be rebuilt,â€ and of the temple, â€œLet its foundations be laid.â€
And the people were like, â€œCyrus? Who is Cyrus? Billie Ray Cyrus? Donâ€™t Break My Heart, Achy Breaky Heart Cyrus?â€ 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 kingâ€™s name wasâ€¦ thatâ€™s right, Cyrus. Amazing. Coincidence? I think not.
*Now* we can begin the book of Ezra.
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.
“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 youâ€”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, heâ€™s just lying through his teeth and Iâ€™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, â€œEveryone 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.â€ 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, â€œThe kingâ€™s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.â€ The Lordâ€™s will be done, whether youâ€™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 heâ€™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 Levitesâ€”everyone whose heart God had movedâ€”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? Cyrusâ€™ 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 â€œeveryone whose heart God had movedâ€. Were the ones who stayed behind outside of Godâ€™s will? I donâ€™t know. What we do know, however, comes later on in the book of Esther â€“ 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 donâ€™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 donâ€™t speak the same language as me isnâ€™t my calling. I guess Iâ€™m saying I probably identified more with the Jews that stayed behind.
Just because God doesnâ€™t call us to be a missionary doesnâ€™t mean He doesnâ€™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 â€œMoreover, 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.â€
Where did Cyrus get these vessels of the Lordâ€™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: â€œBelshazzar, 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 â€“ verse 2 shows a Nehemiah, but this is not the same Nehemiah weâ€™ll be studying next month. Thereâ€™s also a Mordecai listed, but this also isnâ€™t the Mordecai from the book of Esther.
Verse 7 is Elam. Verse 31 isâ€¦ the other Elam. How would you like to be known through history as â€œthe other Elam?â€ Hi, Iâ€™m Elam, but not *that* Elam. Iâ€™m the other Elam. Nice to meet you, Iâ€™m the other Nehemiah. And Iâ€™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. Jeremiahâ€™s act was one of faith. God promised He would return them to their land and He did. Thereâ€™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 â€“ just like the body of Christ has many parts â€“ a hand, a foot, Iâ€™m a big toe â€“ 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 â€œFor 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.â€ 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 didnâ€™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 â€˜the people assembled as one man in Jerusalemâ€™ 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 â€“ read the scriptures and work together as one without fear. Now thereâ€™s a goal for a church.
I think fear is still common â€“ I think about the Christians that may be working at Best Buy or Home Depot or Kroger where they are discouraged from saying â€œMerry Christmasâ€ and told to say â€œHappy Holidaysâ€ instead. I tell people that I donâ€™t celebrate â€œWinter Holidayâ€ because itâ€™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 â€“ 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 couldnâ€™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 donâ€™t thank our Lord for them. The privilege of worshiping Him is a gift that the Jews didnâ€™t have, and weâ€™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 â€œWinter Holidayâ€ 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. Weâ€™re losing monuments and crosses that reflect the Judeo-Christian ideals this country was founded on, and â€œMerry Christmasâ€ is considered unwelcome. Letâ€™s give thanks weâ€™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. Letâ€™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. â€œWhy 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 didnâ€™t mind all the walking to get here. Weâ€™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, weâ€™d have to strap barb-wire to our feet to keep from slipping.â€
The old group wasnâ€™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 aboutâ€¦ well, letâ€™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 â€œthe old way is the right way to do thisâ€ philosophy. Younger hearts are what we all need.
As we close the first three chapters of Ezra, letâ€™s remember that Godâ€™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. Letâ€™s remember that sometimes God calls us to take action, and sometimes God calls us to be the supporting people. Letâ€™s remember that when we are in accordance with the scripture, we become like one body in unity in purpose. And letâ€™s remember to give thanks and praise for our almighty Father in Heaven from whom all blessings flow.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
ST. ALBANS, W.Va. – Christ is missing from Christmas in this small town. The community’s holiday display has a manger with shepherds, a guiding star, camels and a palm tree, but no baby Jesus, Mary or Joseph.
The parks superintendent said Jesus was left out because of concerns about the separation of church and state.
Ah yes, camels and palm trees, the reason for the season.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
I’m boycotting “Winter Holiday” again. If you want to celebrate some sort of pagan winter thingy, you just go right ahead. But if a retailer can’t acknowledge that I’m celebrating Christmas, then I’m not going to shop there. I did this last year, too.
Some changes from last year, though – Wal-Mart firmly has the Christmas spirit this year. They recognize other religions and holidays, that’s great. But they learned a lesson last year, and this year they’re celebrating Christmas.
I’m not shopping at Best Buy this year. â€œWe are going to continue to use the term holiday because there are several holidays throughout that time period, and we certainly need to be respectful of all of them,â€ said Dawn Bryant, a spokeswoman at Best Buy Co. Inc., whose advertising omits any reference to Christmas.. If their advertising omits Christmas, then I’m going to omit Best Buy.
Here is a summary of who’s recognizing Christmas this year:
Target – They’ve changed their tune since last year and now are offering mention Christmas and Hanukkah.
Sears has a “Merry Christmas” signat the entrance to its stores nationwide.
Walgreens released the following response: “Next year, you can be assured our advertising will better incorporate ‘Christmas,’ and our holiday trees will be called Christmas trees. Unfortunately, all of this yearâ€™s December ads are already printed, so it’s too late to make changes for this season.” It’s too late for me to shop there this yeat, too, so if Christmas comes back, so will I.
Lowe’s is also recognizing Christmas this year.
Here’s the Grinch List:
Office Max, K-Mart, Home Depot, Best Buy, L.L. Bean, Zales, Kmart, Outback Steakhouse, Lexus, Old Navy, Kroger, Cingular, Pier 1, Red Lobster, Office Depot, Gillette, Applebee’s, Burlington Coat, Nordstrom, Dell, Walgreens and Milton-Bradley.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
In 1986, Mkele Mbembe was on holiday in Kenya after graduating from college. On a hike through the bush, he came across a young bull elephant standing with one leg raised in the air. The elephant seemed distressed so Mbembe approached it very carefully. He got down on one knee and inspected the elephant’s foot, and found a large thorn deeply embedded in it. As carefully and as gently as he could, Mbembe worked the thorn out with his hunting knife, after which the elephant gingerly put down its foot.
The elephant turned to face the man and with a rather stern look on its face, stared at him. For several tense moments Mbembe stood frozen, thinking of nothing else but being trampled. Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned and walked away.
Mbembe never forgot that elephant or the events of that day. Twenty years later he was walking through a zoo with his teenaged son. As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to near where Mbembe and his son Tapu were standing. The large bull elephant stared at Mbembe and lifted its front foot off the ground, then put it down. The elephant did that several times then trumpeted loudly, all the while staring at the man.
Remembering the encounter in 1986, Mbembe couldn’t help wondering if this was the same elephant. Mbembe summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing and made his way into the enclosure. He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder. Suddenly the elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk around one of Mbembe’s legs and swung him wildly back and forth along the railing, killing him instantly.
Probably wasn’t the same elephant.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
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