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 )
When I was a child, I celebrated Halloween. I didn’t care for the gory and gruesome stuff. I didn’t even care for the scary stuff. I thought the costumes were fun, and I loved the candy.
As an adult, I see more evil in the world thatn I’d like to admit. Today in the news, a woman beats her own 4 year old daughter, calls her a slut, and throws her into traffic. I’m horrified, daily.
Way too many movies glorifying death, destruction, dismembered limbs for my taste. Saw V? Eeps, the poster enough gives me the heebie-jeebies. Scary is good – I liked the old Hitchcock movies, and M. Night Shyamalan‘s movies have great apprehension in them without the gore and killings. And I like movies where things explode as much as the next guy.
But I’ve had enough of the dismembered bodies, the celebration of evil over good. And the last several years, I’ve seen Halloween become such a celebration. I’m not going to participate anymore.
So the lights at my home will be off tonight. Come back at Christmas when we can share joy and love instead.
Have a *happy* Halloween for a change.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 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 )
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 )
An administrator, Patricia Sonntag, at California State University, has banned Christmas.
“Time has come to recognize that religious discrimination, as well as ethnic insensitivity to certain holidays, is forbidden,” Patricia Sonntag, director of the Office of Services to Students with Disabilities, stated in the directive she e-mailed to members of her staff on Dec. 9.
While Patricia was at it, she banned Thanksgiving, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, the 4th of July, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter on the grounds that they are “offensive.” She wrote in an email that the ban was necessary “in order to avoid offending someone else.” Someone else could not be reached for comment.
So in order to avoid offending “someone else,” it’s OK to offend everyone else?
The Catholic League has already pointed out the problem with an adminstrator of a public university taking such a stance.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue called the policy a violation of free speech rights. “It never occurs to these secular supremacists that it is their aversion to anything religious – or patriotic – that accounts for their desire to muzzle free speech.”
Try to remember this simple rule: The US Constitution say you cannot abridge freedom of religion. It doesn’t say to eliminate religion.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
As some of you know, I’m boycotting “Winter Holiday” again this year. I’m not even sure what that holiday is, but I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of pagan / atheist thing. Whatever it is, I want none of it.
For me, it’s Christmas. And for many, it’s Christmas. Why is so terrible to acknowledge that? It doesn’t bother me if somebody wishes me a Happy Honukah or Really Good Ramadan. I don’t celebrate those holidays, but I recognize others do. So why has there been such a push to eliminate “Christmas” from our vocabulary?
I’m going to list some stores in a minute that are anti-Christmas or Christmas-neutral, but I want to pass on kudos to Hobby Lobby first. Not only are they wishing people a “Merry Christmas,” but they do it with big advertisements in USA Today. They do it for Easter, too. And if you’re seeking, they even steer you to a Christian ministry that can tell you more about a relationship with Jesus. Here’s Hobby Lobby’s Christmas 2005 message.
Last year, Dillard’s and Macy’s removed all references to Christmas from their stores. Word got around, and Christians didn’t shop there as much. This year, Macy’s has a full-page “Merry Christmas” ad. Sure, it’s really for a commercial Christmas, but I’d rather have that than a secular “Happy Holidays” anyday.
Lowe’s took a little heat this year for selling “Holiday Trees.” Is there another major holiday celebrating with trees this year that I don’t know about? Lowe’s finally decided to dump all their “holiday trees” and only offer “Christmas trees.” Yeehaw.
Worldnet Daily reports that Wal-Mart promoted other holidays by name, including Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, but not Christmas. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights called for a national boycott. Wal-mart has apologized and redesigned its website, though they still encourage employees to say “Happy Holidays.” Other retailers hiding Christmas behind the “Happy Holidays” sign include Kmart, Sears, Home Depot, Target, Kroger, Office Max, Walgreens, Staples, J.C. Penney, Dell and Best Buy.
Have you run into any “Christmas aversion” this year while shopping?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
Like you, Iâ€™ve noticed the days getting shorter â€“ and not just the hours of daylight. The actual 24 hour cycle is getting shorter, as we hurtle from the calm eddy of our countyâ€™s brief experience of Autumn into what we call the Holiday Season.
It was only a few days ago when the trees were showing off. I noticed the chinaberry trees in bright yellow robes â€“ startlingly bright â€“ in yards all over town. And the cypress treesâ€™ needles were just starting to rust. Then the winds blew one night and these splendors were dumped in halos on the ground around newly naked trunks â€“ looking like discarded bathrobes â€“ and it seemed Fall had fallen until I remembered we still have some maples showing and the red oaks have yet to blaze. The pecans and sycamores are littering the ground just now with bran-colored drifts. Still, the sight of millions of cypress needles dusting the river made me realize it was time to gird for the onslaught of the hardest season of the year.
Our old black mailbox groans daily with catalogs of delights â€“ most beyond our means, and certainly all beyond our needs. Weâ€™ve been offered clothing (lots of clothing), fruit, travel, books, gadgets and whatnot, all presented in vibrant color, all with guaranteed delivery by Christmas, page after page of gifts. The stack of catalogs weâ€™ve received this month alone is more than two feet tall.
Iâ€™ve seen, on my way home from work, delivery trucks parked in the dark, their headlights on, delivering gifts. This must be a tough time to be a driver for the parcel companies â€“ and the volume will continue to grow, swelling like a crescendo, until the last few hours of Christmas Eve â€“ as entire mountains of gifts pour from their tributaries right to our doorsteps.
In all of this haste, all of this shopping, all of this worrying about budgets and finding the right thing for that difficult-to-shop-for friend, amidst the travel and houses full of family, the grumpy uncles and the weepy aunts, itâ€™s hard to remember this time of year offers some beautiful opportunities.
Churches will offer special musical presentations, opportunities for worship and service. Several local charities will be collecting gifts for the needy, and all of us will find appeals in our mailboxes from worthwhile groups. While many of the appeals ply on our sense of guilt (Iâ€™m thinking about the seemingly endless fundraising efforts of a San Antonio radio station), a precious few of the groups will offer a chance to share in the hope they bring to others. To those it is easy to give, and to give joyfully, if in secret.
Overhead Iâ€™ve noticed the moon dancing farther and farther away from bright Venus in the sky. A few weeks ago the moon, just a crescent, seemed close enough to the shining planet to touch it. As the gap between them grew, the moon grew fuller and fuller until it got so bright several friends complained it was interfering with their sleep. I guess the approaching holidays are like that â€“ as the noise and spectacle of the holidays grows bigger and bigger, until it seems to occupy all the available space of our feeble attentions, it gets more distant from the simple single light that is the reason for the holiday in the first place.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Andrew Coulson at the Cato Institute has a question – why are we fighting over Intelligent Deisgn vs Evolution? Does it matter to one parent if another parent teaches their child about God?
Supporters of the theory of human origins known as “intelligent design” want it taught alongside the theory of evolution. Opponents will do anything to keep it out of science classrooms. The disagreement is clear.
But why does everyone assume that we must settle it through an ideological death-match in the town square?
Intelligent design contends that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved naturally, and so must be the product of an unspecified intelligent designer. Most adherents of this idea would undoubtedly be happy just to have it taught to their own children, and most of my fellow evolutionists presumably believe they should have that right. So why are we fighting?
We’re fighting because the institution of public schooling forces us to, by permitting only one government-sanctioned explanation of human origins. The only way for one side to have its views reflected in the official curriculum is at the expense of the other side.
This manufactured conflict serves no public good. After all, does it really matter if some Americans believe intelligent design is a valid scientific theory while others see it as a Lamb of God in sheep’s clothing? Surely not. While there are certainly issues on which consensus is key â€” respect for the rule of law and the rights of fellow citizens, tolerance of differing viewpoints, etc. â€” the origin of species is not one of them.
The sad truth is that state-run schooling has created a multitude of similarly pointless battles. Nothing is gained, for instance, by compelling conformity on school prayer, random drug testing, the set of religious holidays that are worth observing, or the most appropriate forms of sex education.
Not only are these conflicts unnecessary, they are socially corrosive. Every time we fight over the official government curriculum, it breeds more resentment and animosity within our communities. These public-schooling-induced battles have done much to inflame tensions between Red and Blue America.
But while Americans bicker incessantly over pedagogical teachings, we seldom fight over theological ones. The difference, of course, is that the Bill of Rights precludes the establishment of an official religion. Our founding fathers were prescient in calling for the separation of church and state, but failed to foresee the dire social consequences of entangling education and state. Those consequences are now all too apparent.
Fortunately, there is a way to end the cycle of educational violence: parental choice. Why not reorganize our schools so that parents can easily get the sort of education they value for their own children without having to force it on their neighbors?
Doing so would not be difficult. A combination of tax relief for middle income families and financial assistance for low-income families would give everyone access to the independent education marketplace. A few strokes of the legislative pen could thus bring peace along the entire “education front” of America’s culture war.
But let’s be honest. At least a few Americans see our recurrent battles over the government curriculum as a price worth paying. Even in the “land of the free,” there is a temptation to seize the apparatus of state schooling and use it to proselytize our neighbors with our own ideas or beliefs.
In addition to being socially divisive and utterly incompatible with American ideals, such propagandizing is also ineffectual. After generations in which evolution has been public schooling’s sole explanation of human origins, only a third of Americans consider it a theory well-supported by scientific evidence. By contrast, 51 percent of Americans believe “God created human beings in their present form.”
These findings should give pause not only to evolutionists but to supporters of intelligent design as well. After all, if public schooling has made such a hash of teaching evolution, why expect it to do any better with I.D.?
Admittedly, the promotion of social harmony is an unusual justification for replacing public schools with parent-driven education markets. Most arguments for parental choice rest on the private sector’s superior academic performance or cost-effectiveness. But when you stop and think about it, doesn’t the combination of these advantages suggest that free markets would be a far more intelligent design for American education?
Incidentally, the reason those that we’ll continue to fight over this issue was mentioned yesterday – the Left hates Inequality. All children should be taught equally, and that means your child taught whatever the state decides.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 24 so far )
Coming back after the Christmas holidays, I’ve shocked by the news from Asia, where a tsunami has killed thousands – 22,000 at the last estimate I’ve seen. A huge, catastrophic number.
Some of the pictures are personal – I vacationed once in Phuket, Thailand when my mom and sister came to visit me in Singapore. This is what Phuket looked like when I was there in 1999:
And this is what it looks like today:
The tsunami traveled at close to 500 mph; when it found the shallow beaches of Phuket, the wave slowed down and grew in height to perhaps as high as 30′. Anything under 2 stories tall would have been slammed by this wall of water, including people and tourists just walking the streets. They would have received no warning; a bright, blue sky day, then a wall of water.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
Eight Days till Christmas. Are you ready? Most of my family will be here for Christmas *SUNDAY* and I think I’m barely going to be ready in time. The rest of you lucky squirrels have another week to get ready.
I’ve been occupied and forgetful, and I’m going to get all caught up in a single post. Fasten your seatbelts.
I’m blessed to be able to give some of my time this year while I’m celebrating the Christmas holidays. Last week I helped serve dinner at Angels of Light at the church – 22 buses that night with nearly 1100 inner city people came for dinner, bags of groceries, toys for kids, entertainment and fellowship. There were so many volunteers I had trouble finding a spot, but eventually I was able to grab the pitchers of lemonade and serve drinks.
I went to 2 Christmas concerts and Lights in the Heights, bought a new washer and dryer that isn’t fully installed yet, tried to take Patch to the Bark Park but it was underwater, went to a special Christmas lunch and sat next to ex-Astros Craig Reynolds, and went to a co-worker’s Christmas party last night. Still left to go is a church singles Christmas party tomorrow, family Christmas Sunday, a Classic Car Christmas show on Monday. And Christmas Eve there will be snow at the church – they’re praying for divine intervention but will bring in snow blowers just in case. And my son comes home from college this weekend and I’ll see how well he’s progressing in his quest for a secondary education.
Whew. There is also a very exciting change going on in my life, but I’m not ready to spill the beans out loud yet. Let’s just say for now that Michael has a big smile on his face lately.
I’m going to wrap up this post with some linky love of some of the stories I’m following:
Another Day Closer is following several bah-humbug stories. In Plano, Texas, they’ve banned red and green because they’re Christmas colors, but the Department of Justice has opened an inquiry to see if they’ve gone too far. Well… duh. Yes they have. Tony is also following anti-Christmas activities in Colorado and in Vermont.
At Tongue-Tied we see a student that succeeded in overturning a chool’s overly restrictive policy toward Christians. The principle said he’d allow it if the seniors voted for a nativity scene, and the seniors unanimously voted in favor of it.
Santa is bringing Jo at Spin the Moon some minor surgery for Christmas. I guess she’s been bad this year; a lump of coal would be kind compared to surgery. Please keep her in your prayers.
I don’t need TV when Uptown Girl gives me Franisodes to follow. Eeps.
Lions and Lambs is lamenting how we’re crossing Christ right of of Xmas. I suppose you could also look at it as putting the cross back in Christmas, too, but her admonishment is still valid. Christmas is a remembrance that Christ came to save us.
Pardon My English reminds us that between Thanksgiving and New Years, the less fortunate receive a lot of help. Please remember than when the holidays are over, they still need help and to continue serving all year long.
I’m all caught up on my blogging now.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
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