Pride and the Lord God

We’re continuing our study of the minor prophets today with Obadiah. Obadiah. When I found out this week’s lesson was on Obadiah, my first obvious question was, “Who in the heck is Obadiah?” Isn’t he one of the Beverly Hillbillies? “Let me tell you ‘bout a story ‘bout a man named Obadiah.” Or is he the subject of that famous Beatle’s song, “O-bla-di, O-bla-dah, O-ba-di-a! Lala how the life goes on.”

Well, it turns out Obadiah isn’t either one of those two choices. Obadiah is the smallest book in the bible, a single chapter of 21 verses, probably a single page in your bible. But don’t let the small size fool you; God has a powerful message in this little book.

First, let’s look at the history. Who is Obadiah? The answer is, we really don’t really know. There are at least 12 people named Obadiah in the Old Testament, but none of them seem to be this particular Obadiah. “Obadiah” mean “servant of Jehovah,” and in Obadiah 1:1 it begins, “The vision of Obadiah. This is what the Sovereign Lord says about Edom.” Perhaps Obadiah’s anonymity in itself is meaningful; if we are a true humble servant of the Lord, then it doesn’t matter if we become famous and our identity is passed along through generations. Obadiah simply appears and announces the vision of God that he has received. Edom will be destroyed.

So who is this Edom? Let’s back up to Genesis 17 where God promises Abraham to make him the father of many nations. Abraham has to wait 4 chapters, all the way to Genesis 21 before Sarah bears him a son named Isaac. Three chapters later in Genesis 24, Isaac is all grown up and falls in love with Rebekah, and in Genesis 25, Rebekah has twin boys, Esau and Jacob. We are told these boys fought in their mother’s womb and they continued to fight their whole lives, from Genesis 25 to Genesis 33. You may remember that Esau sold his spiritual birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup. While this doesn’t say much in favor of Jacob, it says a lot about Esau who would rather satisfy his hunger than obtain his birthright. Jacob eventually begins the nation of Israel; in Genesis 36, Esau begins the nation of Edom by defying the Lord and taking two wives. Esau was the father of the Edomites.

Edom and Israel never got along, even though they shared a common ancestry in Isaac. Edom makes another appearance in the book of Numbers. Moses is finally ready to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, but they have to pass from the desert of Sinai through Edom to get there. Was Edom helpful? No, they were not. When Moses asks permission to pass through, Edom replies in Numbers 20:18, “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.” Israel was forced to go around Edom.

Now, Israel spent some time defying the Lord for the rest of the Old Testament. God made incredible promises if only Israel will follow God’s laws and be faithful to the Lord. Israel was about as successful at that as, well, we are today. When Israel falls short, God punishes Israel. In 586 BC, Jerusalem is defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and the Jews are brought to Babylon in exile. Now, Edom is a large country to the south of Jerusalem, and they share a common ancestor with Israel. Do the Edomites help their sister country when Nebuchadnezzar attacks? No, they do not. They sit in their fortified cities on a hill, brag about how big and strong Edom is and how weak Israel is, and when the opportunity arises, the Edomites sweep in and loot whatever is left of Jerusalem. Not exactly the kind of neighbors you hope for in tough times.

In the book of Obadiah, the prophet tells Edom that the Lord is not amused. While Israel is being punished because they do not follow all of God’s laws, Edom isn’t following any of God’s laws. Edom feels they are invincible, powerful, and mighty. In Obadiah 1:3-4, the Lord says to Edom,

The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rocks
and make your home on the heights,
you who say to yourself,
‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’

Though you soar like the eagle
and make your nest among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,”
declares the LORD.

What was Edom’s great sin? Pride. Let’s read Obadiah 1:11-14 and see what Edom did instead of helping their neighbor:

You should not look down on your brother
in the day of his misfortune,
nor rejoice over the people of Judah
in the day of their destruction,
nor boast so much
in the day of their trouble.

You should not march through the gates of my people
in the day of their disaster,
nor look down on them in their calamity
in the day of their disaster,
nor seize their wealth
in the day of their disaster.

You should not wait at the crossroads
to cut down their fugitives,
nor hand over their survivors
in the day of their trouble.

Apparently Edom laughed when Jerusalem was in trouble. Not only that, but they helped themselves to the plunder, and when they found Jews fleeing the city, the Edomites killed them or handed them over to Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Sort of like coming across an old lady trying to cross the street who is obviously bewildered and confused. Edom pushes the old lady into traffic and steals her handbag. And all of this behavior and attitude rooted is in the pride of Edom.

Before I continue, I want to ask a couple of questions about the most offensive sins. What is the most offensive sin to you personally? Either when you commit a sin, or when somebody else commits a sin in your presence. Murder? Adultery? What’s another really offensive sin?

Here’s 3 examples. Imagine you see a Sunday school teacher at a wet t-shirt contest. Imagine you read about a church deacon that was arrested for breaking into a convenience store. Imagine a prayer warrior proud of the number of people he’s led to Christ.

That last one doesn’t seem so terrible, does it? Our human perception doesn’t rate “pride” very high on the scale of serious sins, but God’s perspective is not the same as ours. In God’s sight, pride is worse that stealing. It’s worse than drunkenness. Imagine saying, “He’s a good man but proud.” Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Now imagine saying, “He’s a good man but a thief.” Pride is the sin of sins, and all the more devious because the nature of pride is so hard to recognize in ourselves. We’ve probably heard Proverbs 16:18 before that says, “Pride goes … before a fall.” We’re less familiar with Proverbs 16:5, “The Lord detests the proud of heart,” and Proverbs 6:16-17 that basically says God hates pride.

What is pride? Simply put, it’s a belief in one’s own importance and superiority. It’s a reliance on self instead of God. It is the attitude of a life that declares an ability to live without God. Pride says we don’t need God. Pride, therefore, is the root of unbelief, and that’s why pride is the sin of sins. In Obadiah, we can see how the pride of Edom led to other sins. In verse 10, pride led to violence against Israel. Verse 11, Edom “stood aloof” while Israel was being destroyed. This is the sin of omission; it’s the sin of saying, “Don’t get involved.” In verse 12, Edom looks down on Israel and rejoices over Israel’s troubles. To feel superior to Israel, Edom boasted and rejoiced over Israel’s troubles. Feeling good because somebody else is suffering misfortune is a symptom of pride, and if we put them down, it is a symptom of pride.

Verse 13, Edom looted Israel during their disaster. After a disaster; a tornado, a hurricane, a flood, what’s the appropriate Christian response: help or loot the victims? Verse 14, pride leads to betrayal. As the Jewish survivors fled, Edom helped the enemy kill the Jews. Pride can lead us to stab another in the back just to improve our own situation.

That’s why pride is the sin of sins. By itself, pride doesn’t seem so bad to us. God knows, though, that pride is a reliance and a dependence on one’s self instead of relying on God and will lead to a multitude of other sins. Human pride denies God the honor due Him. Human pride rejects the need for our Savior.

In Matthew 11:25-26, Jesus tells us that pride makes us “know-it-alls” and that it pleases God to hide things from know-it-alls. He says, “At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

When we are self-reliant and proud, we are often not even aware of it. We tell ourselves we are being obedient to the Lord while living a disobedient life. We become a “practical atheist” – one who attends church and bible study and openly confesses Jesus as lord – but then lives everyday as though God does not exist. And we all do that, each and every one of us, every time we sin and fall short of God’s mark.

Benjamin Franklin had a list of 12 virtues he practiced that he said led to moral perfection:

1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
11.TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

One day a Quaker friend told him that Benjamin Franklin sure took a lot of pride in his moral perfection, so Ben added a 13th virtue: humility. Here is what Benjamin Franklin wrote about pride:

My list of virtues contain’d at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride show’d itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing, and rather insolent, of which he convinc’d me by mentioning several instances; I determined endeavouring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my list).

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.

Pride is something we all suffer from. If we think we do not suffer from pride, then it is possible pride is blinding us to our pride. Pride is real easy to recognize in others, though, isn’t it? It’s because when we see pride in somebody else, we’re smugly saying, *I* don’t suffer from pride like *he* does. Like Benjamin Franklin, we are being proud of our humility.

C.S. Lewis has this to say about pride:

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, grief, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea-bites in comparison; it was through pride that the devil became the devil; pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that- and, therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see Something that is above you.

So how do we recognize pride in ourselves? How do we know when our own pride is blinding us to our own pride? Jacob, the Archbishop of Nizhegorod of the Russian Orthodox Church, wrote this about how to recognize pride within oneself:

“In order to understand and recognize [pride], notice how you feel when those around you do something against your will. If within you there arises not the thought of meekly rectifying the mistake of others, but discontent and anger, then know that you are extremely proud. If even the smallest lack of success in your affairs oppresses you, so that the thought of the participation of God’s Providence in our affairs does not cheer you up, then know that you are extremely proud. If you are wrapped up in your own needs and cold towards the needs of others, then know that you are extremely proud. If the sight of others’ misfortune, particularly that of your enemies, makes you merry, while the unexpected good fortune of those around you makes you sad, then know that you are extremely proud. If you are offended even by the slightest remarks concerning your shortcomings, while praises of your imaginary worth seem wonderful and admirable to you, then know that you are extremely proud.”

Pride is being “full of yourself.” Pride is saying, “it’s all about me.” Pride is saying, “I am better than you” or saying “you’re worse than I am.” The opposite of pride is being full of the Holy Spirit. The opposite of pride is saying, “it’s all about God.” The opposite of self-centered pride is humility.

The opposite of pride is not, as some people seem to think, low self-esteem. Pride is thinking too highly of yourself. Low self-esteem is thinking too lowly of yourself. Humility is not thinking of yourself at all; humility is thinking of others.

How do we replace pride with humility? God provides the answer with the fruit of the Holy Spirit which includes humility. Ask the Lord to show you your own pride. When you speak to others, do you speak down to them? Are you focused on your own feelings, or are you focused on the feelings of others? Do you belittle people and tell them what’s wrong with them? That’s pride talking. Instead, lift up people with your words and actions. Tell people about their strength and what you admire about them instead of what you don’t like about them. Don’t try to put them down or put yourself up; leave that to the Lord. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.” Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

So where is Edom today? No, really, where is Edom today? You don’t know, either? They soared like eagles, they built their nest among the stars, but in Obadiah 1:5, the Lord says he will obliterate Edom and there will be nothing left. If thieves break into your house, they steal what they want but they still leave something behind. But the Lord says of Edom nothing, nothing at all will be left. Where is Edom? By the time we get to the book of Malachi, Edom is gone. In the book Malachi, God tells Israel that He loves them even though Israel deserves punishment. Malachi 1:2-5 says

“I have loved you,” says the LORD.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.” But this is what the LORD Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD -even beyond the borders of Israel!’

In 164 BC, Judas Maccabeeus overthew the nation of Edom and by the time of Christ, Edom no longer existed. The last recorded Edomite in the bible tried to kill Christ as an infant. Herod, descendent of Edom, still suffering from pride.

God’s will is not subject to man’s will. Pride tells us we can tell God what to do, but God will do as He pleases, and God invites us to participate. God always fulfills His promises. He promised to demolish Edom, and Edom is no more. God is sovereign, God is all powerful. Obadiah in the first verse recognizes this by calling God “the Sovereign LORD” or “Lord GOD” depending on your translation. The Hebrew is “Adonai Yahweh.” Adonai means “Lord or Master” and acknowledges that God is the Lord over all creation. Yahweh or Jehovah is the personal, covenant name for God, and means “the one who is”. God is absolute and God is unchangeable. By putting “Adonai” and “Yahweh” together, Obadiah recognizes God both as ruler of the universe as well as the personal ruler of the people of Judah.

Adonai Yahweh. Adonai Jehovah. Everlasting, unchanging God of Creation, and everlasting God of me. God hasn’t changed. When God says he hates pride, God still hates pride. And God will defeat pride. Those that ignore God and consider themselves superior to God, they will have their Day of Judgment. For believers in Christ, Christ will deliver us from our pride if we trust in Him. Obadiah 1:17-18 says,

But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy,
and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance.

The house of Jacob will be a fire
and the house of Joseph a flame;
the house of Esau will be stubble,
and they will set it on fire and consume it.
There will be no survivors from the house of Esau.”
The LORD has spoken.

Our deliverance has come if we put our trust in Jesus. Jesus is our deliverance. What is keeping us from acknowledging Jesus as Lord? Some believe that becoming a Christian will restrict their freedom; they will no longer be able to party like they want to. The irony is that it is the Christians who are free, and those that want to party are slaves to that desire. They do not want to give up their freedom because of selfish reasons. They – we – believe we know better than God. We are full of pride.

As we have learned from our study today, God hates the pride that is in each and every one of us, the sin of sins that tells us we can go our own way. Practice today serving humbly and lifting up each other, for it is in humble obedience to the Lord that brings us wisdom. And above all, rest in the sovereign promise of the Lord God that He will deliver us.

Bloom Where You Are Planted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Esther 3:8-9,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mordecai says in Esther 4:13-14,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rededicating Lives

Read. Study. Mourn. Celebrate. Repent. Promise.

The bible is full of interesting, life-changing information. For instance, we know that Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. Adam gave Eve a rib; Eve gave Adam an apple, then made a wonderful marinated BBQ ribs out of apple sauce. This is found in the book of Guinness.

After the book of Guiness comes the book of Exodus. The Israelites became upset with the Egyptians because the Pharaoh made them make their beds without straw. Then Moses led the Israelites to the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Later, Moses went up Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Amendments which were also known as manners from heaven. Sadly, Moses died before ever reaching Canada, which Joshua conquered during the battle of Geritol.

After the book of Exodus is the book of Laxatives which tells us what we can and cannot eat. Lunch today is at Thai Spice Buffett, by the way.

I know this was silly but the reason it’s silly is because, at least in these examples, we know what the bible really says. But the bible is a big book. Do you know what it really says?

God shows his glory in many ways, through the wonders of the heavens to the tiny miracle in a simple leaf of grass. The wonders we see tell us there is a God – but a leaf of grass cannot tell us “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” or “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” God speaks to us through his Word, God-breathed through men as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

If you don’t know the Word yourself, then you can be easily misled. Let me ask you some questions and see how you do. Let’s take a little quiz –

Question 1: House and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from
a) patience
b) God
c) man’s labor.
(Answer: Proverbs 19:14, Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from the Lord.)

Question 2: Christians are persecuted but not
a) depressed
b) suffering
c) abandoned.
(Answer: 2 Corinthians 4:9, Persecuted but not abandoned).

Question 3: Which phrase originated in the bible?
a) Make hay while the sun shines
b) Eat, drink, and be merry
c) In the nick of time.
(Answer: Luke 12:19, Eat drink and be merry. Taken out of context, by the way.)

Question 4: Which expression originated in the bible?
a) fly in the ointment
b) rule of thumb
c) dyed in the wool.
(Answer: Ecclesiastes 10:1, fly in the ointment.)

Question 5: Which expression is *not* in the bible?
a) Money is the root of all evil
b) God helps those who help themselves
c) without rhyme or reason.
(A: Actually none of those are in the bible.)

If you don’t know what’s in the bible, how do you know what God says? How do you know if a preacher is telling the truth? If a preacher tells you to turn to Matthew 27:5, “Judas went and hanged himself,” then tells you to turn to Luke 10:37, “Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” will you follow the scripture as told to you by man?

I like Dr. Young; he teaches from the bible, relies heavily on scripture. He preaches on joy, responsibility, peace, promises from God. How many of you have ever read of Fred Phelps? If you have a weak constitution, don’t google him. He, too, preaches from the bible, but a completely different message. Fred Phelps says Jesus only died for those who believe. John 3:16, “”For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He says that “God loves everyone” is the greatest lie ever told and backs it up with scripture about they type of people God hates. He and his church of about 100 people protest at the funerals of soldiers, saying it is their duty to warn others of God’s anger. President Bush recently signed “the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act” which prevent protest within 300 feet of cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral because of Fred Phelps. Fred Phelps runs a website targeting homosexuals as the worthy of God’s wrath and that the world is doomed because of them. He and his church have been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Who is right, Dr. Young or Fred Phelps? And how do you know since they both quote scripture? When I first became a Christian, I read a lot of Max Lucado books. I found his books inspiring and comforting. But I realized I wasn’t relying on God’s Word – I was relying on what somebody else said God was saying. Why would I think Max is a better source for what God says than God Himself is? The only way to discern between truth and lies is to go directly to God for the answers.

In the book of Nehemiah – oh, yes, we’re studying the book of Nehemiah today. Last week Fred located our place in history – after the relocation from Babylon, after laying the foundation of the temple, and brought us up to rebuilding the walls for protection and how stressed out that made Nehemiah. And now it’s the next day.

The Israelites have had some tough times. They have repeatedly over the last few hundred years demonstrated disobedience to God, and God’s wrath brings them back to righteousness. The destruction of Jerusalem had taught them the importance of obeying God, and the struggles of rebuilding the walls of the city had reinforced this lesson. God’s people were learning the importance of God’s Word.

Now, the Old Testament was not yet complete in Nehemiah’s time. The first 5 books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were the only books recognized at the time as divine revelation. To the Israelites, the heart of the events in these 5 books were God’s description of Himself, such as Exodus 34:6-7, “And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” God’s judgment, wrath, redemption, and laws all flow naturally from God’s own character. The Hebrew word for “law” is torah, and it comes from a verb that means “to throw or shoot.” The idea is that the torah comes from a higher authority, a memo from the boss like “Please note our business hours are from 8am to 5pm. Be at your desk and ready to work by 8:00am or you’re fired.” That sort of torah. The torah can be used for teaching, for instruction, or decisions, from raising children to how to get along with your neighbor. Some of these legal codes were very general in nature, like the Ten Commandments. They are very broad, apply to everyone, and no specific penalty or consequence is attached. Some are very specific, like jaywalking, and applied the Ten Commandments to a specific case and the penalty that goes with it.

In the eight chapter of Nehemiah, Israelites were concerned they would repeat the mistakes of their ancestors, and consequently God’s written Word had become quite important. Without knowing God’s word, they were doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. In our time, the bible is the best selling book ever, every year. At least 20 million bibles are sold every year in the US alone. Worldwide sales of the top 8 best selling bibles sell well over 100 million bibles a year. Then add the bible distributed freely and for missions – the Gideons distribute 70 million bibles every year, and the Bible Society, biblesociety.org, distributes nearly 400 million bibles or portions of the bible every year.

But in Nehemiah’s time, there was no way to mass produce the torah. No neighborhood Kinko’s. Scripture was copied by hand onto expensive parchment scrolls and took years to produce a single copy. So how do you get the word out to all of God’s people?

Nehemiah 8:1, I almost got distracted from the lesson when I was working on Nehemiah 8:1. This book starts in the middle of a sentence. The first half of the sentence ends at the bottom of Nehemiah 7. Must be an English translation thing. Let’s read Nehemiah 8:1-3

all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Notice that it was the people asking Ezra to read the scripture. They had been in captivity for 70 years and public speaking of the Word was probably prohibited. They were eager to hear what God had to say. “All the people assembled as one man” shows the unity and reverence of the people for the law. This was important stuff! If you don’t want a smiting from the Lord again, better find out why the Lord has been smiting! Ezra brought the Law of Moses out to the people and conducted a great bible reading from sunup to noon, at least 5 hours straight, and all the people, those who were able to understand, listened attentively.

Can you imagine standing and listening to the bible for 5 hours straight? I could teach for 5 hours straight, I think, and the miracle is that all of you will live forever. Or at least it’ll seem that way to you.

The value of listening to the Word of God for 5 hours straight is enormous. I demonstrated earlier how scripture can be extracted piecemeal to prove almost any point you want, but when the scripture is read continuously in a long session, the biblical context is clear. We are untainted by somebody else’s vision, we hear God’s word directly, we can get a better understanding of why a particular sentence exists, and we have a better understanding of how to apply it to our lives. This is powerful. Hebrews 4:12 says the word of God is active, sharper than a two edged sword. It opens our heart and lays bare our soul before God. It exposes our sin to the Lord, it convicts us. We cannot make excuses to the Lord for a selfish sin we want to keep when we read God’s word directly into our hearts. We begin to see our own sinful actions laid bare next to God’s perfect Word. Do we justify lust to ourselves? Is it ok for us men to ogle other women, is it harmless? Is a little flirting with the opposite sex ok as long as nothing comes of it? Is it ok for a woman to explain to her husband what he’s doing wrong, to criticize him, to use her tongue as a whip, after all, she’s just trying to make her husband a better person. The answer to both of these questions is in here, the bible. We can justify it to ourselves that we’re good decent people, we cannot justify it God. He does not entertain our excuses; He judges and He convicts in His loving and perfect way.

The people gathered near the Water Gate which was on the southeastern side of Jerusalem, between the temple mount and the Gihon spring. If the reading of the Word was held in the temple, Mosaic Law limited entrance to the inner court to men. The people gathered outside so men, women, and the older children could hear and understand. Previously, worship consisted almost entirely of sacrificial worship to the Lord, but during the rebuilding of the temple, a new form of worship began that consisted of public reading and teaching of scripture. The location outside the temple emphasizes that the people needed to understand that faithful obedience in daily life was far more important than mere attendance at temple services and offering sacrifices. Sacrificial worship, of course, still took place, but the addition of reading and teaching enabled people to realize the true nature of scripture. Scripture originates with God, not man. The people referred to the first five books as the Law of Moses, but they believed God had given them to Israel. 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 says the bible is God-breathed, inspired by God, and did not come about because of man’s will. Through scripture, God speaks to humanity and reveals Himself to us. This was true in Nehemiah’s time and it’s true today.

Nehemiah 8:4-5 describes the scene and the amount of preparation they put into it. A high wooden platform was built specially for the occasion, and Ezra the scribe stood on it surrounded by 13 men. This allowed Ezra’s voice to project farther and clearer. Ezra opens the torah parchment in full view of all the people, and all the people stood up in reverence. Before reading, Ezra praises God, our Father, the Lord Almighty, and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then the people bowed down with their faces to the ground and worshipped the Lord.

In preparation for hearing the Word, the people first lifted their hands. The lifting of the hands was symbolic during prayer; in Ezra and Psalms 28:2, lifting of the hands symbolized their dependence on God to supply all their needs.

Second, the worshippers said a double “amen.” Sometimes I hear preachers use “amen” like a question. “We’re all going to attend Wednesday night service, amen?” That irritates me; “amen” has a particular meaning that the preacher is misusing. And if he’s misusing a single word, is he misusing the rest of the bible? The Greek Old Testament usually translates “amen” to mean, “So be it” or “truly.” The Jews are taught that “Amen” means “God who is trustworthy.” It’s a statement that this is perfect truth. Jesus refers to Himself in Revelation as “the Amen, the faithful and true witness.” Amen is not a word to be taken lightly. The worshippers said a double amen because they recognized they were going to hear the truth of the Lord firsthand, and they were acknowledging their responsibility to obey the Word they were about to hear.

Thirdly, they bowed down and worshipped with their face toward the ground. People bowed before rules, before kings, to show their submission to one in authority. They recognized God’s authority over them.

In verse 7 & 8, the people are ready to receive God’s Word. Ezra is up high on the platform where everybody can see. The Levitical priests are among the crowd, and as Ezra reads the Word, the priests repeat the Word, then help make the Word clear to the people. “Do you understand?” Sort of like in Acts 8 where the apostle Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch and asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

After hearing the Word, let’s look at verse 9,

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

Q: Why do you suppose the people were weeping after hearing the Law read to them?

The people, upon hearing the Word, realize that they have been disobedient to God. The light of the Word does that, it shines on our sin, revealing it. Once it is revealed, we can repent. Too often we try to do it the other way around – we try to repent first, and then come to God. But we need to see our sin as God sees our sin, not as we would like to see our own sin. We sort of scrub ourselves up a little and think we’re clean, but we can still grow potatoes behind our ears. The Word of God shines into places in our soul we can’t reach on our own.

You know that song they sing at 11:11, “Come Just As You Are?” That’s the way God wants us to come, dirty sins and all. You can’t clean yourself up good enough to get to heaven. Bring your sins to God, confess them, and God will give you the strength and wisdom to clean you. God will do a much better job of cleaning your soul than you can do on your own.

God has a plan for each and every one of us. The plan God has for you is unique; the plan God has for me is unique. To find the unique plan God has for you, you have to read and ask your own tough questions. And when you read God’s plan for you, you cannot help but realize that you’re not quite measuring up to God’s standard. In fact, we’re downright disobedient sometimes. When questioned, we’re all quick to say, “Oh, I’m not perfect.” We’re dismissive of it, it’s no big deal. Well, ok, so how, precisely, are you imperfect? How are you being disobedient, how are you missing the mark God has planned for you? What is your sin? Don’t trivialize it. Recognize it. No matter how small the sin is, it offends God. If you’re not sure what sin you have, as Dr. Young says, just guess. You’ll probably get it right the first time.

So Nehemiah’s people are upset, crying, weeping, as they realize how far short of God’s will they had fallen. But let’s look back at verse 2 for a second. What day is this? It’s the first day of the seventh month. Let’s hop over to Leviticus 23:23-25, which describes the Feast of Trumpets:

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.’ “

First they were weeping because they were convicted of their sin; now they find out even the weeping on this particular day is a sin. Talk about opening the floodgates. This is a holy day, a Sabbath day. A day made for rest, a day made for feasting. It’s a day for celebration. Sort of like crying on Christmas, it’s just not right.

I think this is reflective of how we should live as Christians. We should read the bible to be convicted of our sin – but why should this conviction lead to misery? Why should it a bad things to discover something in ourselves that doesn’t meet God’s standards? We know already that we are not perfect, so why should imperfection make us weep?

Question: What is the value in confessing our sins? Why does God think confessing our sins is important?

Instead, it should be an opportunity. Celebrate! With the Lord’s guidance, our sin has been revealed to us. If we repent of our sin, hurray! That’s a step towards righteousness, a better person for the Lord. Instead of being upset that we’re not perfect, praise the Lord that He has revealed our iniquities. That’s just what the Israelites did – they celebrated. Look at verse 12, “Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” So rejoice at the Word of God that shows us our imperfections. Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.” 1 John 1:4, “And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.” God doesn’t want you to have a little fun, He wants you to have a whole lot of fun reading and studying His word. If you’re not having fun when you read the bible, something isn’t quite right. Ask the Lord to help. Go to Him in prayer and ask Him. Say, “Lord, I want your Word to bring joy to my life. Show me why I am not joyful, remove whatever keeps me from joy when I study your word.” God will answer that prayer when you are honestly praying to God for His will in your life.

In Nehemiah 9, two and a half weeks later, the people returned to assemble together. They spent the day fasting to help them become attuned to God speaking to them. They wore sackcloth as a sign of humility, like wearing uncomfortable burlap against your bare skin. They put dust on their heads, which was a sign of mourning, they way we wear black at funerals. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. They did not blame their fathers for their trouble, but acknowledging that sins are passed from one generation to another. The children duplicate the sins their fathers taught them, and it’s passed from generation to generation until either repentance or judgment comes.

The people were serious about their study. This wasn’t a half hour bible study that has to last us for a week. They read from the bible for three hours, then spent the next 3 hours confessing their sins and worshipping the Lord. “Blessed be your glorious name,” they praised Him.

Now starting in Nehemiah 9, verse 6, they recap the entire bible. You want the Cliff Notes version of the Old Testament, here it is. From creation to Abraham to the exodus out of Egypt and the miracles against the Pharoah, just read Nehemiah 9, you get all the headlines. And then to summarize, they give praise to God for His mercy and judgment. In verse 38, they make a binding agreement and put it in writing, and all the leaders signed it; they’re all listed in Nehemiah 10. I’m not going to read these names, but they’re impressive. Perhaps if you or a relative is going to have a baby, I could recommend one of these names, like Meshullam or Shebeniah. In Nehemiah 10:28, the rest of the people signed a binding agreement:

“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand- all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.”

My, all of this from reading the bible. These were God’s chosen people, but they realized how far short of the mark they had fallen.

Question: Why is rededication to God sometimes necessary?

Ponder something for a moment: what sort of covenant do you have with God? If you sat down and penned a letter to God with the promises you make to the almighty Creator, what sort of things would you promise to do? What sort of things would you promise not to do? Would you be willing to write it down on a piece of paper? “Dear Lord, I promise to… Dear Lord, I promise not to… “. And then sign your name to it? People sign up for a lot of things – a lease on their apartment, a loan on a car – and then they sign their name to it. What sort of changes do you need to make in your life to align your life with God’s will? What sort of promise are you willing to make to God?

The Israelites read the bible and were filled with the Word of God. They realized they were hypocrites, claiming to be good people while sinning against the Lord. They wept and mourned and were convinced of their sin. They rejoiced and celebrated that the Lord was with them and He was merciful to them in their sin. They praised God, they studied some more, and they made a personal promise to God to obey the Lord, all the commands and decrees. And then they signed their name to it, Amen. Consider this week doing the same. Read. Study. Mourn. Celebrate. Repent. Promise. Then, write a letter to the Lord and sign your name to it. I recommend placing this letter in your bible, right here in Nehemiah 10, where you’ll eventually read it again. See how the Lord will work in your life.

Seizing New Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 29:10

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Now* we can begin the book of Ezra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exercise Confidence

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

Do you recognize those words? The Little Engine That Could, carrying a trainload of toys over the mountain. The load was so heavy and the journey was so long, the Little Engine was ready to give up. Defeated. I can’t do this, the load is too heavy. Then what happened? The Little Engine found courage, confidence, and strength to carry on. I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.

We’ve spent the last two months learning how Jesus is better. Better than angels, better than Moses, better than Levitical priests, a better sacrifice, a better covenant. We’ve listened to how we should place our faith in Jesus because He is better than anything else we can know. Hebrews chapter 1 through the middle of chapter 4 tells about God’s Word. From there to about the middle of chapter 10, we learned about God’s Work.

With this faith in Jesus, how shall we live? The next four weeks in the month of November, the rest of the book of Hebrews answers the question, “So what?” So what if Jesus is better? What does that have to do with me? And today’s lesson will describe the confidence we find when we totally give ourselves to Jesus, our perfect sacrifice and advocate in heaven.

Diane has to listen to my occasional complaints about work; I try not to complain too much, but I find sharing some of my struggles with her builds me up and makes the rest of the day easier. Work can take a toll on us. But it was easy compared to what the Hebrews were going through. As new Christians, they were being fed to the lions by the Romans and being stoned by the Jews. As you can imagine, this can cause a little pessimism because of all the persecution. My work day seems a little easier by comparison. The writer of Hebrews tells the Hebrews to be confident. As they have accepted Christ, they know how the battle ends; the Christians win, one to nothing.

All of us here may struggle with being a confident Christian. I overheard a table at a restaurant the other day; the woman was saying she was getting married and asked one of the 3 guys if he was thinking about marrying his girlfriend. He said, “Why would I want to do that? It’s just a ring and it’ll just cost me a lot of money.” Perfect opportunity to speak up about God’s plan for a man and a woman to cleave and become one flesh and how Christ treats His church is our model for how a husband should treat his wife. And… I just sat there. Part of it, of course, is because I inadvertently eavesdropped, but a bigger part, if I am to be honest, is that speaking up uninvited to a table of strangers was intimidating, scary. What was I afraid of? Was it not God’s plan for all of us that I wanted to share. Was it a lack of confidence?

We profess to be the children of Christ, and among us children we are not afraid to discuss our faith in the Lord. Think back on this last week. Where are places where we could have spoken up, but didn’t? Work? Gym? Grocery store? What keeps us from speaking up? Are we like these early Hebrews, even if the obstacles to sharing God’s word are so much easier to overcome?

We’re going to walk through this part of Hebrews one part at a time and discuss it, so let’s open to Hebrews 10:19-21:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,

Dr. Young likes to remind us that when we see a “therefore,” it’s a conclusion for all that came before it. When we see a “therefore,” we ought to remember what it’s there for. The author calls these young Christian Hebrews “brothers,” and reminds them what we have been studying the last 2 months. We’re told to have confidence because Christ is superior to the Old Testament system of offering sacrifices for sin over and over again. Christ’s sacrifice is once and for all sufficient for all of our sins. Confidence to do what?

Hebrews 10:22-25:

let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Christians are encouraged to do 5 things, 5 exhortations here –

  • Draw near to God
  • Hold unswervingly to the hope we profess
  • Consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds
  • Don’t give up meeting together
  • Encourage one another

Just like the ancient Hebrews that were questioning the cost of becoming a Christian, the writer tells them they can have confidence by practicing these five simple things.

First exhortation, we draw near to God. We do this in 4 steps –

First step, with a sincere heart. When we come to church to worship the Lord, we must focus on God’s desire for us. We all want to approach God for help; “God please do this for me. God, please give me a promotion at work. God, please make me healthy. God, please smite my enemies, and here’s a list of who they are.” But that’s not a sincere heart. A sincere heart is, “God, please show me your will in my life. Please use me for your glory. Let me be your servant at the job you have provided me. Let me show your glory when you heal me, or let me show the joy in have in you in suffering. God, show me how to turn the other cheek and love my enemies.”

Second step, in full assurance of faith. In full acceptance of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. In full acceptance of the sacrifice Jesus made for *me* personally. I don’t have to seek out a Levite preist and ask him to intervene for me in the holy of holies. Jesus died for me and I can approach him directly. He is my advocate and intercedes for me at the right hand of God. I have confidence knowing that Jesus did these things for me, and knowing how much He must love me.

Third step, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. When we accept Christ, our sins are forgiven. Are we still walking around like beaten dogs? Goodness knows I can look back on my life and see many, many things I regret. The disrespectful things I’ve said to my parents growing up. The trouble I got into as a youth. The times I’ve cheated and lied. But Christ has forgiven me, and the Lord God says He will remember my sins no more. Why should I continue to remember my sins? Paul tells me in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that if I am in Christ, I am a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come! Why should I walk around defeated? I am free of my guilty conscience and I should live boldly for Christ and stand up to challenges. I don’t have to be embarrassed because I’ve done wrong. I can stand up and proudly say that my Lord has forgiven me. How great is the Lord that can do that!

Let me remind you that for our sins to be forgiven, we must confess those sins and repent or turn away from that sin. When the adulterous woman was brought before Jesus to be stoned, his words to her were “then neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” Jesus didn’t say her sin was ok with him. He was showing us that we should turn from sin in front of Jesus, and he promises to remember that sin no more.

Fourth step, having our bodies washed with pure water. Think back to the day you first gave your life to Christ. What was one of the first acts of obedience you did as a new Christian? Thats right, you were baptized. The Greek word, baptizo, means to immerse, to plunge, to dip, or be buried in water. Romans 6:3-5,

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

I believe this “bodies washed with pure water” is an admonishment that we also called to be obedient to God’s word, starting with baptism.

Our second exhortation is to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. Why? For He who promised is faithful. When we studied Malchizedek a few weeks ago, we studied how God is faithful through the ages. He promised Abraham many children, He promised Israel the Promised Land, and He promised us a savior. When God makes a promise, God fulfils His promise. What is the greatest promise God has given us? The gift of salvation! God has made this promise to us that we know He will fulfill, and because we know this, there is reason for our hope!

What’s our third exhortation? To spur one another towards love and good deeds. Spur us! Craig what happens when you spur a horse? I bet it hurts, and I bet it makes that horse move a whole lot faster, doesn’t it? As children of Christ, I believe God has a purpose for each and everyone of us. When we’re actively involved in the ministries of Christ, God works in us and through us. When we’re praying for the health of someone ill, when we’re volunteering for Angels of Light, when we’re using any of the spiritual gifts of hospitality or mercy or administration or teaching or giving or healing or discernment or whatever, God is working in us.

Remember that parable about the man who gave his servants a sum of money, and one of the servants buried the money for safekeeping? The master was outraged when he found out and took the money away from him and gave it to another that had already doubled the money? Everyone who has, more will be given. Those that have nothing, even that will be taken away from them. And so we are to serve the Lord with the gifts we have been given and spur our brothers and sisters to do the same.

Our fourth exhortation, “Don’t give up meeting together.” Go to church, go to bible study, go to social and mission activities, do things together as Christians. We have strength in numbers and when we’re together we can spur each other towards love and good deeds. When we separate, when we are away from our bothers and sisters, we seem to lose confidence in our faith. That’s why when we’re at work, at the gym, at the grocery store, when we’re next to a table of people saying that marriage is just an expensive ring so why bother, we just sit there without saying anything. We’re told that whenever two or more of us are gathered in His name, Jesus is with us, so let’s remember that when we’re making our plans for the week.

Our fifth exhortation is the encourage one another. Notice how positive this message is. It doesn’t say, “Criticize and backbate each other when you don’t think they’re doing a good job.” It doesn’t say, “if you don’t like a brother, smack them upside the head with a family-edition bible.” We are to be positive, to spur our brothers and sisters towards love, toward good deeds. There’s no room in this exhortation for criticism. There’s a good reason for that, we don’t respond well to criticism. I know I don’t, so don’t even think of starting that with me. Tell a brother how well he is doing something, and you can be sure he’ll do more of it. Positive spurring towards love, positive spurring toward good deeds.

At this point, the writer of Hebrews reminds us in very scary language worthy of Halloween why we are to live our lives this way. Let’s read Hebrews 10:26-31:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Let’s remember that the writer of Hebrews is talking to Christians. These were recently converted Jews who were considering rejecting Christ in order to go back to being Jews again. So the writer says, “remember all that stuff I told you about Christ being the complete and perfect sacrifice forever and ever? The old system is dead. There is no other way to be saved.”

The Lord’s judgment is perfect. We like how that sounds when we think about evil people like murderers and thieves. When we see “It is mine to avenge, I will repay,” we think, “Alrighty, then Lord, come smite mine enemies, and I want a front row seat!” When we admit that we ourselves are sinners, we’re not too thrilled with the idea of an almighty, all powerful, all seeing omnipotent being determining what sort of judgement we deserve. “Lord, I ain’t so bad. Smite somebody else, will you?” This passage reminds us that Christ died for our sins, but it’s not a free pass to go on sinning. It’s sort of like asking Christ to die for us, over and over, to pay for our continuing sin. Those without the covering blood of Jesus have no hope in salvation, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and raging fire.

When I read this, I am reminded that often we act like part-time Christians. We’re Christian on Sunday, then go home and email some raunchy joke to a friend. We’re Christian on Sunday, then say something critical about our spouse when he or she is out of earshot. We’re Christian on Sunday, then cuss at a co-worker and take the Lord’s name in vain. We’re part time Christians. Matthew 7:13-14 says,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

How narrow is this gate? Why do we continually try to see what we can get away with, instead of trying our hardest to walk dead-center down that narrow road? How do we walk down the middle of the road? By continually re-examining our thoughts, actions, and words to be in line with God’s will.

The last part of this chapter of Hebrews returns to an encouraging note again, Hebrews 10:32-34:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

These are some of the light and momentary afflictions we Christians can expect if we are to boldly proclaim the good news of Christ. These Hebrews stood their ground in the face of suffering, insulted, persecuted. They joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property. Joyfully? I suppose once you come to grips with the fact that you can’t take it with you, then you can be joyous. You don’t get to keep in anyway.

Let’s conclude with Hebrews 10:35-39

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
“He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

If we are confident in our faith in Jesus, we will be richly rewarded. If we persevere by doing the will of God, we will receive our salvation. We can be confident because we know our eternal destination has been promised to us. We should be confident – we have direct access to God through Jesus. Romans 8:31, if God is for us, who can be against us? And Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

The most stirring example of confidence I can find in the bible is the story of David and Goliath. I got to see the statue of David in the city of Florence Italy several years back by Michelangelo. You know, until that trip, I had no idea that statue of David was the same David that faced Goliath. And when I saw the statue up close and saw the sling over David’s back, it finally dawned on me. Goliath and David faced each other and Goliath was thinking to himself, “What the heck is this little fellow doing? He’s naked as a jaybird!” *Thwack* he gets nailed in the forehead by a rock.

In 1 Samuel 17, the Philistines lined up for war on one hill, and Saul and the Israelites were on the other. Neither side wanted to go first because they’d have to run down into the valley and would be target for the archers on the other side. Then Goliath of the Philistines came out to challenge them. Verse 4, and I’m going to use the version from The Message –

A giant nearly ten feet tall stepped out from the Philistine line into the open, Goliath from Gath. He had a bronze helmet on his head and was dressed in armor — 126 pounds of it! He wore bronze shin guards and carried a bronze sword. His spear was like a fence rail — the spear tip alone weighed over fifteen pounds. His shield bearer walked ahead of him.

Goliath stood there and called out to the Israelite troops, “Why bother using your whole army? Am I not Philistine enough for you? And you’re all committed to Saul, aren’t you? So pick your best fighter and pit him against me. If he gets the upper hand and kills me, the Philistines will all become your slaves. But if I get the upper hand and kill him, you’ll all become our slaves and serve us. I challenge the troops of Israel this day. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!”

When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine’s challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope.

No confidence. Terrified at the giant before them and ready to give up. David shows up at this point, just in time to hear Goliath’s challenge, and volunteers to fight. They tried to put armor on him, but it was too heavy and David could hardly walk. So he took all the armor off. I don’t know if he was naked, but he didn’t have any armor on him. Instead, he picks up 5 smooth stones.

When he walks toward Goliath, Goliath taunts him again. “Come on,” he said. “I’ll make roadkill of you for the buzzards. I’ll turn you into a tasty morsel for the field mice.”

David didn’t shrink back. David answered,

“You come at me with sword and spear and battle-ax. I come at you in the name of God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel’s troops, whom you curse and mock. This very day God is handing you over to me. I’m about to kill you, cut off your head, and serve up your body and the bodies of your Philistine buddies to the crows and coyotes. The whole earth will know that there’s an extraordinary God in Israel. And everyone gathered here will learn that God doesn’t save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to God—he’s handing you to us on a platter!”

God blessed David for the confidence David had in God. We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. For Christ, I think I can, I think I can, I know I can.

Be Obedient

This is our 4th week in the book of Hebrews.

The first week we learned how awesome angels are, learned about our own guardian angel, and that no matter how awesome angels are, Jesus is better than angels. If I recall, Jesus was also better than a Polish hotel, though I might have some wires crossed there.

The second week, Fred taught us how perfect Jesus is and that he was a perfect sacrifice for us, and reminded us that if we want to be part of God’s family, we ought to participate in the family business. And also that Jesus is better than Ann Murray.

Last week, Meredith took us into the third chapter to remind us that Jesus is better, perfect, and eternal and that Jesus is also better than house siding. See, you need to come every week if you want the nitty gritty details about Jesus, we’ve covered it all. Between the hotel, Ann Murray, and house siding, we’ve covered how Jesus is better than any place, person, or thing.

So now we know how awesome Jesus is. Today’s question is – so what? So what if Jesus is so awesome? What does that mean to me? Now that I know how perfect and awesome Jesus is, how does that impact me? What do I do with this information?

I’ll tell you what, God went through an awful amount of trouble to sacrifice His son for it not to mean anything. Jesus’ death isn’t just some sort of historical interesting fact, it has personal implications for you in your life today. Let’s get some historical background first though and turn to the book of Hebrews, Chapter 3.

Hebrews 3:16-19
Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

I like this “answer a question with a question” paragraph. First, we’re asked, “Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? “ Of course, the writer is reminding us of the stubbornness of God’s chosen people – God performed miracle after miracle, magnificent miracles like the part of the Red Sea. How did God’s people react? They rebelled. They build golden idols. Even though they had seen and heard God’s word.

Vs 17, “And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness?” Angry, provoked. God was angry with those that had heard and seen His miracles, yet who now were rebellious, disobeying God.

When we think of “God is love,” what do we think this love is? That no matter what we do, no matter where we go and no matter how we do it, we expect God to be right there with us. As Dr. Young has been teaching, there are many promises in the bible, and often the promises are conditional. God will do something *if* we do something. The Old Testament is full of what God expects out of His people – faith and obedience. And the Old Testament is full of God providing instruction to His people in order to save them from His own wrath. When you were growing up, did you do things your parents disapproved of? You did it secretly? And you were afraid that if you were caught, your parents would be mad? Why would your parents discipline you? Because your parents believed they knew what was best for you, and punishment helped you see things their way.

God acts much the same way – He knows what is best for you spiritually, and when you do not pay attention, he disciplines us lovingly, and when we don’t listen, his discipline turns to anger because we have provoked him like the Israelites did. Eventually, as we know from the Book of Revelation, God’s patience and discipline finally come to an end, and only wrath remains.

Let’s look at verse 18-19.

Hebrews 3:18-19
And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

And now we see why God becomes angry. He’s angry for us, He wants us to come to Him and on His terms, putting aside our selves and our selfish wants and desires. He wants us to enter His rest, but God’s peaceful rest is not possible if we are in rebellion. The Israelites were promised the good news of rest in the land of Canaan, but they did not trust God would actually give it to them.

Hebrews 4:1
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

We see here that the promise of entering God’s rest still stands, but we are cautioned not to fall short of the promised land. The Israelites fell short of the promised land because of their unbelief and lack of faith, and we, too, can fall short of what God has promised for us if we do not trust God will actually provide for us.

What rest are we talking about? I believe the writer of Hebrews is talking about two kinds of rest at the same time. The rest of the Israelites was the promised land of Canaan, and for us the promised land is the salvation and rest we find in Jesus Christ. We are not so stressed out about this life when we know it’s temporal and we have eternal life. But the writer also mentions a Sabbath rest, implying that not only will we have eternal rest, we should also have rest in this life. Let’s look at verse 4:6-10:

Hebrews 4:6-10
It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.

I think it’s clear that the writer is talking not only about our eternal rest, but also worldly rest. Rest from your own work on the Sabbath. Rest from the weekly stress, household chores, preparing for work, just rest. God rested on the 7th day, and so should we. Don’t put it off; verse 7 says do it today. We can rest by spending quality time with our spouse, taking a nice walk in the park. We can rest by visiting with family. We can rest by fellowshipping with our Christian brothers and sisters that are right here in this room – by the way, lunch today is at Los Cucos.

Hebrews 4:11
Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

If we fall by disobedience, how do we become obedient? Before you can become obedient, you must do something first. What is it?

That’s right, you must know what the rules are. You can’t be obedient if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. When Diane & I were in Europe in July, we rented a car. That was pretty exciting. The French didn’t have the courtesy to put up road signs in English. So we’re driving around and doing our best to obey the traffic laws. Some of the signs are easy to figure out. Some are not.

French Traffic SignThis one is pretty straightforward, easy to understand.

French Traffic SignThis one is a bit more difficult. The top line is the speed limit in town, the second line is the speed limit when leaving town, and the bottom line is the speed limit when you are back on the highway.

French Traffic SignNo airplanes? No spaceships? No, it indicates you have the right of way and there is a cross street coming up.
French Traffic SignTrucks are not allowed to pass on the left.
French Traffic SignPlease do not explode. Exploding vehicles are not permitted. No, it’s hazardous chemicals are not permitted.
French Traffic SignSpaceships please use water landing area. No, it’s an indication that you should drive this way if you’re carrying pollutants over water.

Let’s put these two together. If you want to avoid the wrath of the French Police, you must obey the traffic signs. If you want to avoid the wrath of God, you must obey His word. And where do we find His word? Right here, between Genesis and Revelation.

Let’s see what the Word says about the Word.

2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The Word of God is the very breath of God. To be the man that God wants you to be, equip yourself properly. To teach others, to rebuke them when they know they are wrong, to correct them when they don’t know, to train yourself in righteousness., equip yourself with the Word.

2 Peter 1:20-21
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

It is God’s will, not man’s will, that writes Scripture. The Holy Spirit directed prophets to write what God wanted us to know.

John 12:48
There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.

Jesus adds some ominous words; rejecting His word has consequences. Like the Israelites that rebelled against God, rebelling against Jesus will seal your destination with the end of time arrives.

John 8:31-32
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Where do we find Jesus’ teachings? Jesus tells us that if you really are one of his students, you will study and lean what He has to say, holding on to the truth. The truth will set you free from the bondage of sin.

Hebrews 4:12-13
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

“Living and Active”

The word “living” is from the Hebrews word “zon” which can also mean “quick”. The bible is not a series of dead letters; centuries later, the Word is still changing lives. How could it be dead? As the word of the living God, the Word itself is living.

Something I’ve found interesting in the Old Testament is how God progressively reveals himself through the ages. First with Adam and Eve, then Abraham and Moses, God tells us more and more about him as the ages pass. Why progressively? I think it’s because we have to take baby steps before we can run; we must understand the simple concepts of God before we’re ready for some understanding of the depth of God. Jesus, too, alluded to this; in Mark 14:33-34 it says “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.” The Word itself never changes, but we change based on the Word of God as God progressively reveals Himself to us.

Ever wonder why the book of Revelations predicts the end of the world with God’s wrath and His will victorious, and at the same time we know that the demons know scripture, yet the devil proceeds anyway? Why doesn’t the devil try something different? I think it’s because the devil has no idea what the scripture says, all he can do is quote it. I mean really, if the devil really know Jesus was the Son of God and that Jesus will be victorious in the end times and the devil will be cast into the lake of fire with all the unrepentant evil people, don’t you think the devil would reconsider? I don’t think the devil understands.

Let me give you an example of how living the bible is and how it progressively reveals itself from something that happened to me just last week. I was reading Luke 16, the parable of the shrewd manager. I wasn’t reading it specifically for this lesson, it was just up next on the list of scripture for me to read. See, I have this spreadsheet of scriptures and it’s cross-linked to a calendar of when I’m going to read them… never mind, it’s an engineer sort of thing. Anyway, I read this scripture for the umpteenth time, but this time it clicked, and suddenly I had an example of “living” for this morning’s lesson. God is just amazing that way. Let me show you what I mean, if you want to turn to Luke 16 with me…

Luke 16:1-8
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

” ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
” ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

I’ve read this parable a dozen times, and each time it’s confused me. Maybe it’s made sense to you, but to me I was no comprende. I kept thinking, “this can’t be right. Jesus says it’s ok to be dishonest as long as it’s for your own personal gain? As long as you have a good selfish reason, dishonesty and embezzlement is ok? I mean that can’t be right, but isn’t that what it says?

Let’s look at the next verse that seems unrelated.

Luke 16:9-12
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

Or is it unrelated? Ding. Light bulb over my head. He brings good things to light. These two verses go together. The first part is a worldy example of a shrewd manager and how worldly people think and how worldly people are rewarded. But no where does Jesus say we should be like this, only that we learn from it and apply it to spiritual matters. The next verse that I thought was unrelated says we should waive spiritual debts from one another – if we’re holding something against a brother or a sister, if we’re angry with somebody and if we haven’t actively forgiven them, do so while we are “employed” – I mean “living”. Why? Because our spiritual master – God – will reward that kind of behavior in heaven. In other words, our material possessions are worthless in the long run, but use them in such a way that pleases God. Suddenly this word wasn’t as confusing to me anymore, it’s now an admonishment to remember to store up my treasures in heaven.

The word is not only living, but it is active. The word “active” is the Hebrew word “energes” which also can be translates “powerful.” We get the word “energy” from it. It literally means “at work”. One of the things I’ve learned to rest at is spreading the Word of God – sharing my faith doesn’t mean I have to convert people to faith in Jesus. It’s my job to share, not convert. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit, and if I try to do His work I just get in the way. All I have to do is say what I believe and why I believe it. Scripture will do it’s own work. Isaiah 55:11, the Lord says

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

It’s powerful. It’s not that “the Word plus me” is powerful. The Word is powerful. Period. Jeremiah 23:29,

“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”

The Word is penetrating, sharper than any two edged sword. The word *is* the sword, part of the armor of God, according to Ephesians 6:17 which tells us to take the sword of the spirit which is the word of God. The Roman short sword was lightweight and deadly because it was sharp on both sides and cut both ways. The Word of God is like a sword that can cut you all the way to the joints and the marrow of your bones, dividing your soul and spirit. It is not possible to read the bible with an open heart and not be convicted. No heart is too hard, no soul is too dark.

Reverend Spurgeon said. “When God wills it, his word can pierce anyone as a certain Mr. Thorpe in the 18th century Bristol found out. Thorpe was a part of a band of men who called themselves, the ‘Hell Fire Club.’ Their reason for existence was to mock and ridicule the work of the famed evangelist, George Whitefield. On one occasion, the ‘Hell-Fire Club’ gathered at a pub for such mockery. Mr. Thorpe offered his brilliant imitation of Whitefield, whom he and his friends called, ‘Mr Squintum’ because of Whitefield eyes. He delivered his sermon with brilliant accuracy, perfectly imitating his tone and facial expressions as he quoted Scripture and Whitefield’s exposition. Suddenly amidst the laughter he had to sit down for he was pierced through and was converted on the spot. Mr. Thorpe was a thoroughly nasty man, engaged in a nasty action yet the Word of God pierced his heart and changed him in an instant. Mr. Thorpe went on to be a prominent Christian leader in the city of Bristol.”

It’s a living word. It’s an active word. It’s a discerning word, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. God sees everything, and when you expose yourself to the word, God lays your soul open.

Hold on to this truth, there are secular “scholars” rewriting history, trying to obscure the history of Jesus, minimize the impact and importance of the bible. People like Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code putting forth some preposterous idea that the bible is a man-made manufactured story book for the sole purpose of subjugating women to a patriarchal society, that it wasn’t Jesus who was holy but Mary Magdelene – don’t you believe a word of it. Why? Because an open heart exposed to the living word of God changes lives. We know that, we can see it with our own eyes, it is a miracle we witness each and every time we see someone give themselves to Christ. We know the truth and the power of the Holy Word because we are witnesses to the work of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and in others. No amount of obfuscation and confusion can ever convince us of a lie when we experience this living, active truth personally. So far I’ve only been able to get close to a few of you, but those who have shared their testimony with me are also proof to me that the book of truth has divided their souls and carved their hearts like a two edged sword. I know who they were before and who they are after and all the worldly lies in books, TV documentaries, and the news can’t convince me that the bible is anything other than what it says it is, the very breath of God written by the Holy Spirit through the hands of holy inspired men.

Gipsy Smith, an English evangelist from early this century, told a story of a man who complained that he had received no inspiration from the bible although he had gone through it several times. Smith replied, “Let it go through you once and then you’ll tell a different story”.

Taking Comfort in God's Strength

I taught a lesson on “Taking Comfort in God’s Strength” and never got around to posting my notes. I have found that I tend to get lost in my notes and I tried to switch to an outline format. It actually worked out better for teaching, but it looks like a lousy format for a blog. So without further ado, here are my notes.

I. Introduction

A. Why is it that some Christians find living by faith to be a powerful positive experience and others don’t? The bible talks often about the joy of salvation, yet some Christians walk around in a funk with their own little black cloud following them every where they go.

B. The difference between Christian living in victory and a defeated Christian is refusing to let go of the world and cling to God, who offers an endless supply of strength.

II. First, let’s do the history lesson.

A. Isaiah, as a prophet of God, had a job to tell the people what God said. During this time the Israelites were sinning against God and refusing to turn from their sins, so God was in the process of punishing them. In 722 B.C, during Isaiah’s life time, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians and the people were either killed or taken into captivity. In 586 B.C, more than 100 years after Isaiah lived, the Southern Kingdom was overrun and its peoples carted off to Babylon.

B. Isaiah prophesied the Babylonian captivity of 586 B.C. He repeatedly warned the people that this was going to happen to them because of their sins and their refusal to get right with God. In addition to warning them of God’s impending judgment, Isaiah also spoke to the Israelites words of grace and comfort from God, telling them that their punishment and captivity would not last forever. This passage in Isaiah is all about the hope and comfort of God.

C. The Jews found these words comforting because it assured them that God was still their God, even thought they sinned, and that God would be true to His promises to them as a people. The Israelites knew that one day God would take them back to their homeland and bless them.

D. So in chapter 40 of Isaiah, Israel is complaining about their captivity and oppression by King Cyrus. They’re tired and weary and as a result, they’ve taken their focus off of God. Now they are focused on their own “woe-is-me” state of mind, and with their mind off of God they’re now relying on their own strength to see them through the tough times.

E. But Isaiah points out that just because we have lost sight of God, that’s not the same as losing God. God is still there for us, but often we are too focused on ourselves to notice.

F. Isaiah 40:1-5. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah focused on the judgment of Israel because of Judah’s sin. By the time we get to Chapter 40, God emphasizes comfort and hope.

i. v1. The word “comfort” here is not just a pat on the head or casual encouragement. It’s the type of compassion you offer someone over the loss of a loved one.
ii. v2. Israel has seen some tough times because of disobedience, but now comes a time of comfort. Her iniquity, her sin, has been pardoned. In Exodus 22:4-9, God’s law says a thief should repay twice what he stole. God is saying that Israel has stolen from God and has now received twice the punishment required.
iii. v3. This is a messianic prophecy, a declaration that Christ will come. John the Baptist cried the same thing 700 years later. Roads at the time were usually well worn paths that meandered to and fro, but when royalty announced their intention to travel, a roads would be straightened to make travel easily. And the desert implies that God will travel through an inhospitable place.
iv. v4. Talk about making straight paths. Valley will be lifted up and mountains leveled to make a smooth road for the Lord.
v. v5. And when the glory of the Lord appears, not only Israel will see Christ, but all humanity will.
vi. v6-8. The Assyrians that conquered the Israelites must have seemed overwhelming, but God is pointing out that, despite appearances, anything humanity does will fade. God’s breath is like a hot dry wind in the desert that dries up anything humans can accomplish, including the Assyrians. And after the grass is dried and the flowers gone, the Word of God still remains.
vii. v10-11. God assures us that his rule is not like human rulers that can rule by fear and intimidation. God’s rule is more like a shepherd watching over his flock because He loves us.
viii. v27-29. Israel has been saying that God isn’t listening. Israel’s way is hidden from the Lord. God’s response is that He has been there for centuries, through the Exodus, bringing Israel into Canaan, but Israel kept turning away from God to idols. People today often ask the same question – where is God – while the same people are disobedient. God hates sin and will not look upon it, so one can’t go on sinning and asking where God is.
ix. God reminds us in v. 28 that God is different from people – God is everlasting, humans are temporary. God is the Creator, people are the created. God’s strength knows no limits while people grow weary. And that’s the part that’s most interesting to me.

III. Isaiah 40:30-31:
“Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength: They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

A. Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Does work get you down? Do you have family that stresses you out? Neighbors? Housework? What sort of things make you weary?

B. We can have hope through this scripture that we can tap into God’s strength.
a. How strong is God? God is infinitely strong. He created Heaven and Earth. Genesis tells us that God clapped twice and said, “Let there be light.” He created the sun, the moon, and the stars. When did He do this? Hard to tell, because He created time, too. God is everything.

C. Isaiah 40 above tells us two things –
a. We all grow weary, and
b. As a people of faith, expectantly waiting on the Lord, we will find new strength.

IV. Growing Weary

v. 30, “Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly. . .”

A. All of us are going to grow old and weary, but sometimes young people don’t realize this. This verse is specifically for younger people like Ken, a warning that their strong energy level will fade. They think they’ll be 18 till they die, that they’ll always look vigorous and handsome, that their energy level will always be high. But those of us with a few miles behind us realize this doesn’t last forever. As the younger grow older, they’ll get weary and tired, too.

B. When we get older, we realize we’ll get even older yet. A mark of maturity is recognizing life for what it is and accepting it, but sometimes we grow weary. This past Easter Sunday we visited my mom and stepdad, joined them for their church service and then went out to brunch. We had planned on going to Minute Maid, but we got worried about his health since he spent several months in ICU last year. So we’re driving around when all of a sudden his leg cramps up. He has to pull over and I offer to drive, so I get out of the back seat at swap places with him. As he’s getting in the back seat there’s a lot of groaning going on as he tries to wedge himself back there, then he warns me not to laugh because one day I’ll be older too. I told him I wasn’t about to laugh – when we’re 20, we might think old people are funny, but by the time we’re in our 40’s we’re recognizing that someday we’re going to be that old, too. It’s not as funny anymore.

C. And as we get older, we get weary and worn out, and as we get weary, we start developing problems. For instance, when we’re weary, we drop our defenses. We’re too tired. Like a wolf picking off the weakest sheep from the flock, the enemy waits for us to become weary. Then he pounces. When we are weary, we are defenseless against the enemy.
i. Deuteronomy 25:17-18, “Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God.” Very powerful example the devil’s attack on weary Christians.
ii. 2 Samuel 17:1-2, “Furthermore, Ahithophel said to Absalom, ‘Please let me choose 12,000 men that I may arise and pursue David tonight. And I will come upon him while he is weary and exhausted and will terrify him so that all the people who are with him will flee. Then I will strike down the king alone.” When we become weary, we are defenseless.

D. When we are weary, we also lose our perspective. We do stupid things. Remember Esau in Genesis 25? Esau came in from the field, famished and tired, and sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. What was he thinking? He was weary, forgot what was important, and missed out on God’s blessing.

E. When we’re tired, we get sleepy. We get inactive. We can actually become a hindrance to other Christians because we become baggage that gets dragged around. They’re trying to vacuum the living room, we’re snoozing on the sofa. Every once in a while we crack open one eye and say, “Hey, not so loud.” We’re in the way.

F. When we are weary, it’s easy to get depressed. When we are weary, we want to throw our hands up and quit. We get negative, critical, and we feel like everyone is against us. Let me read this Psalm that shows our attitude when we are depressed.
Gloom, despair, and agony on me.
Deep dark depression, excessive misery.
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.
Gloom, despair, and agony on me.
What’s the answer to this kind of darkness? Take it from me, Hee Haw reruns aren’t the answer.

V. Vitality in Waiting on the Lord

A. v. 31, “Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength: They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

B. Wow. Run and not get tired. What does it mean to wait for the Lord? I looked up the word “wait”, and the original Hebrew word is “qavah.” The word “qavah” does not imply sitting around, doing nothing, waiting for something to happen. It’s more than an expectation, too, it implies you are bound together with God like the braids of a rope. Inseparable, stronger together than if you were apart.

C. Qavah is a fairly common word in the bible, used 49 times in 45 verses. I’m not going to read them all unless you have time, of course, but I wanted to highlight one of them that implied something besides “wait.”
i. Genesis 1:9. “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together (qavah) unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” Waters gathered together. Ropes bound together. We are to be inseparable if we want to run and not get tired.

D. Can we do this without God? Do we have inexhaustible strength? The truth is that if we rely on ourselves, our own strength runs out. What we need is new strength, a renewing strength. When we wait upon the Lord and bind ourselves to Him, we exchange our weakness for His strength.

E. Then look at the impact this exchange has on our lives – we will “mount up with wings like eagles.” When we exchange our weakness for His strength, we grow spiritual wings, we learn to soar above our earthly problems, our light and momentary afflictions. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” As we exercise our faith in Jesus Christ, our inner man is renewed day by day. When we are bound with God, we soar with wings like eagles. Sometimes instead of soaring like eagles, or we’re flapping like wounded ducks.

F. But that’s not the whole promise. It also says, “They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Sometimes we are called to run, to do something immediately for the Lord. If Jesus is setting a fast pace, He will provide the strength we need. There are times when He calls us to run. And in those times, we “will run and not get tired.” But there are other times when we just walk. In those times, we “will walk and not become weary.”

G. I just noticed it makes us no promises if we just sit there. Our daily walk with Christ is a movement, a doing something for Christ. Get up and walk, and sometimes run.

H. So if this promise of strength is for us, why don’t we always get strength?
i. Sometimes it’s because we don’t stay bound with God’s Word. Instead of being wrapped up in His Word, devoting time to prayer and meditation and study so that His Word is in our head, we treat it as a part-time hobby. I heard a story a couple of weeks ago from a man who said his family teases him about an incident years ago when he hit his thumb with a hammer. Apparently when he hit his thumb, a lot of very interesting words came out of his mouth. When he was asked, “what exactly did you say?” He responded, “I don’t remember. But I can tell you this – whatever came out of my mouth, I had been practicing to say it. It was what was in my heart and it flew out of my mouth.” So instead of staying bound with God to rely on His strength, we often abandon Him when we need Him most.
ii. Instead of being bound with God, we’re bound to our past thoughts and habits. Imagine for a moment, a young boy whose father is an alcoholic. When his father comes home drunk and mean, the boy is scared, runs and hides. The pattern is repeated over and over, the boy hiding from his father every night. When the boy grows up and somebody confronts him in an angry way, how does he respond? He runs away. It’s a habit, a stronghold in his mind to respond that way.
iii. We all have these strongholds in our minds, and they’ve come from years of practicing them. Instead of trusting in God’s strength, we learn to cope with Plan B, our own strength. These strongholds can be a sin, a missing the mark for what God has planned for us. Once you decide to follow your plan instead of God’s plan, the next time a similar situation comes up, you’ll probably choose your own plan again. Why? Because that’s what you practiced, it’s becoming a habit. If you repeat an act over and over, it becomes a habit. And once this stronghold is in your mind and actions, it becomes very difficult to change. Here’s some examples –
1. Hostility. When you are threatened, how to you respond? If you’re driving down 610 among the construction of the week and some pickup truck nearly takes off your front bumpers cutting across 3 lanes of traffic, do you get road rage? If you’re trying to convince your boss of some idea you’ve had, and he responds, “That’s stupid, it’ll never work,” do you get mad and wish you could quit? When a family member irritates you, do you sharpen the tongue and go at them? It’s a stronghold, a habit to respond that way because you’ve practiced it. God is stronger than this. If you’re bound with God, though, you know that you should love your enemy, pray for your enemy, turn the other cheek. God is stronger than hostility, but you have to be bound with Him.
2. Inferiority. I’m not good enough to do that, I can’t do that, nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m going to the garden and eat worms. That’s a stronghold, shrinking away from people and not wanting to get involved. You attend bible class but you don’t join the church because somehow you don’t feel like you belong, that those other people are somehow better than you. You don’t feel you pray enough or read your bible enough or share your faith enough. Pretty soon you start thinking about your failures and agreeing that you’re probably not very lovable to God. You’ve grown weary and Satan is picking the weak sheep off. God says you are a child of God, a saint who is inferior to no mortal. Bind yourself in God’s word and know that He values you above all creation.
3. Manipulation. Control freak. You feel that if it’s happening in your life that you must control the people and circumstances. You’ve developed a stronghold by practicing a pattern of control, and now it controls you. Bound yourself with God, what does He say? He says to give control of everything to Him. Give your problems to God.
4. Sexual immorality. Anorexia, bulimia. Negative thought processes that you trust more than God’s strength, and in so you become a weak sheep that the evil one wants to pick off and devour. But bind yourself with God, walk with God and you won’t become weary and disillusioned. Getting rid of the old sinful self was God’s grace, a gift through the Holy Spirit. God changed our nature, but it our responsibility to change our behavior, putting to death our fleshly desired. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul rebukes immature Christians for their expression of jealousy, strife, and division. Why? They had old habits and were choosing self over God.

I. So now you’re saying, but what about meeeeee? What does this have to do with meeeeee?
i. First of all, no more pity parties. Don’t be like the chocolate Easter bunny that went to see a psychiatrist. The chocolate Easter bunny lies down on a psychiatrist’s couch with the psychiatrist sitting beside him taking notes. The chocolate Easter bunny was explaining his problem to the psychiatrist: “Naturally, I would like people to love for me for what’s inside. But Doc, that’s the problem. I’m hollow on the inside.” Ps 103:2-5, “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” What are some of God’s benefits?
1. Fellowship with God, they almighty God, maker of Heaven and Earth. He’s not a spectator and watching our game of life, he wants a relationship, one on one with us. In Exodus 33:7, 9, 11a, it says, “Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it “the tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp … As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses … the Lord would speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks with his friend.” As a man speaks with his friend. That’s the kind of relationship God wants with us. Who was here for Savior last Friday night? Fabulous musical and the opening song was a love song, a duet, between Wintley Phipps with the voice of God singing “who will appreciate this beautiful world I’ve created? Who will enjoy the waters that that are deep and clear, who will enjoy the music the birds sing? And it turned into a duet with Eddie singing as Adam. Just beautiful.
2. Fellowship with one another. Jesus said second only to loving God with all your heart, we should love one another. Every relationship with another that you have is a gift from God. Your parents, your older brother or younger sister, your next door neighbor, are all gifts. That’s a benefit. Treat them all as the gifts that they are.
3. Gift of eternal salvation. An eternity of Heaven. Hard to beat that benefit. He doesn’t owe it to us, but he gives it freely. So no more pity parties!
ii. Take command of your attitude. Ephesians 4:22-24, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” And Philippians 2:5-8, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” If you think you’re something special, more special than everyone else, or if everyone else owes you something, then you need an attitude check. If you’re always fighting for your rights, then you will always be fighting. A good attitude comes from laying down his rights for the good of others. What rights did Jesus fight for? Did He claim we owed him something? Remember, many things on earth are backwards from the way they are in heaven. If you want to be exalted, humble yourself, and let God lift you up. If you want to receive strength, you must learn to give strength to others. You have to empty yourselves so that God can fill you up.
iii. Walk with Christ. Colossians 2:6, As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him. When you’re just walking or driving or sitting, think about these words. If you’ve professed your faith in Christ, are you now walking with Him? Think about when you are relying on your own strength, and realize that someday you will be weak there, like the grasses dried by God’s breath. Think about when you are weakest, and how God’s strength is yours if you will just learn to rely on God instead of yourself. Compare each of them to what you know God wants from you. How will you do today?