Hand of God

I have some good news for me this week; I’m done traveling for a while, I hope. There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. I had some difficulty on this trip; there were last minute changes to the agenda by the client who scheduled me for 8:00am meetings that he couldn’t make, and at the last moment he tried to send me two days early. I came into the office early to take care of some last minute items and a queue formed at my door for brand new issues. When I finally escaped to have lunch with my wife on the way out of town, all packed and dressed to go, I spilled some oriental sauce down the front of my shirt. I went home to change, and good thing I did because I had forgotten to put on a belt earlier and didn’t even know it. When I got to the airport lounge, they didn’t have an internet connection so I couldn’t take my email to go. And then my watch stopped.

Travel can be difficult. I don’t know how many times as a kid I’d hear, “We can turn this car around right now!” Today we’re going to study someone who traveled but with more planning and a whole lot more protection. Let’s turn to Ezra chapter 7, where Ezra finally makes his appearance in the book named after him.

We’re going to cover 4 chapters of Ezra today so we won’t be able to study them verse by verse and get out of class before lunch or even Christmas, so we’re going to study just some key verses. Fred did a terrific job last week summarizing the history and putting the book of Ezra in perspective; this is the second journey from Babylon to Jerusalem which Ezra will lead. It wasn’t as large as the first group but it was a fine selection of leaders and priests. Let’s meet Ezra; the first 5 verses introduce the lineage of Ezra, and if you’ll remember from our study of Hebrews before Jesus became our priest in the order of Melchizadek, priests were required by Mosaic law to be descended from Aaron the Levite, so if you’ll look at the last name of verse 5, whose name is listed there? Aaron. Ezra was a Levitical priest, and if we continue to verse 10 we also see that Ezra also devoted himself to the study, the practice, and the teaching of the Mosaic laws. Dr. Ezra Young, maybe.

Ezra uses the phrase “the hand of God” several times as he describes his journey, and it summarized the faith that Ezra placed in the Lord. Ezra used the phrase frequently to show that Ezra was following God and any credit for success would also go to God. What sort of person was Ezra that the hand of God should be upon him? The answers are in a very short verse:

Ezra 7:10
For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Let’s pick this verse apart like the last pieces of white meat off that Thanksgiving turkey.

“For Ezra had devoted himself.” Ezra had a cause for the Lord that drove his life. Ezra was committed to serving the Lord and had made a decision that drove all other decisions; any decision or action in the future had to be in line with Ezra’s devotion and dedication.

“to the study.” Ezra wanted to know what God says and devoted himself to the study of the scriptures. Acts 17:11 says,

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Studying the law with great eagerness and examining the scriptures to find the truth. If you want to know what the Lord wants for you, you have to study.

“and observance of the Law of the LORD” Luke 6:46, Jesus says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” It is not enough to study the Word, but you must obey. Otherwise, is Jesus really the Lord in your life?

“and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” Notice that Ezra devoted himself, studied for himself, and applied the law to himself first. The next step is to share it with others. Ezra taught the law, he was putting into practice the spiritual gift the Lord had provided. What is your gift? Mercy? Hospitality? Giving? Praying? Evangelism? Your gift is not for you alone, but for you to share with others.

When you are knowledgeable about God’s will, devoted to study, practice, and sharing God’s word as Ezra was, then the Hand of God will be upon you.

Verse 11 through 26 of Ezra 7 is a letter from King Artaxerxes not only giving Ezra permission to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem, but offering Ezra assistance and authority. The king gives Ezra silver and gold for Ezra to use for sacrifices and for whatever other purpose Ezra so desires, and if Ezra needs anything else, he may help himself from the royal treasury. And if that’s not enough, when Ezra arrives in Jerusalem, the local treasurers are supposed to provide him even more stuff – silver, wheat, wine, olive oil, and salt without limit. Ezra was not only a very learned man, but very trusted by the king. Why did the king do this? Let’s look at the second half of

Ezra 7:6
“The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.”

From this one sentence, “The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him,” what does the Hand of God provide? (Giving, blessings, everything you need).

This phrase shows up again 4 verses later in Ezra 7:9 when Ezra’s journey is completed successfully.

Ezra 7:9
He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him.

Besides the blessings from the hand of God, when you are in the hand of God, God is … gracious. God granted Ezra a successful journey, and God receives the glory.

Let’s go to the end of the king’s letter, to Ezra 7:25. The king charges Ezra to keep the law of God and king.

Ezra 7:25-26
And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.

Ezra was charged to uphold the laws of God and to teach those who did not know the law. Punishment could be severe for those who would not obey.

At this point in the book of Ezra, he switches to first person.

Ezra 7:27-28
Praise be to the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem in this way and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the LORD my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.

Ezra recognized that the Lord was in charge and Dr. Ezra Young was fully learned in what God will was. Ezra was doing the Lord’s will, and so he knew the Lord’s hand was upon him. What did the hand of the Lord provide Ezra? Ok, that was a gimme. Courage. What makes a king out of a slave? Courage. What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage. What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage.

Let’s have the courage, then, to move forward. In Chapter 8, Ezra tells us details about his journey, who the family members were, and then in verse 15, Ezra discovers there are no Levites among the travelers. Levites were necessary because the Mosaic law said that only Levites could carry temple items used in worship, and they had all these temple items. They needed some Levites to accompany them, so they sent word that they needed help.

Ezra 8:18
Since the gracious hand of our God was on us, they sent us a man named Sherebiah, along with eighteen of his sons and brothers. He was a very astute man and a descendant of Mahli, who was a descendant of Levi son of Israel.

We can’t use “gracious” since we already did that, so let’s focus on what God provided. He provided an astute man, a man of insight; some versions use “capable.” What did the gracious hand of God provide? (Wisdom, guidance, … ) and then in verse 21,

Ezra 8:21-23
There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

The gracious hand of God provided … protection. Ezra was quite concerned about the success of this journey, it was roughly 800 miles and they would be carrying a significant amount of gold and silver and relics. And they had already boasted to the king how great God is. Ezra was ashamed to ask for protection. I’m not so sure this was the wisest move – God certainly expects us to depend on each other, and Ezra had already accepted help from the king in a financial way, but no doubt Ezra as a Levitical priest who studied and taught every day and has a book in the bible named after him might have a better understanding of God than I do. So the hand of Lord on Ezra brought him safely to Jerusalem with all the temple articles intact.

When they arrived at Jerusalem, they counted and weighed all the silver and gold and found it was all present and accounted for, so they sacrificed burnt offerings to the Lord, and everybody lived happily ever after. Well, at least until Book 9.

In Book 9 of Ezra, Ezra discovers the people of Israel had been unfaithful to the Lord. Before I cover this part of Ezra, remember what Dr. Young – Ed Young, not Ezra Young – taught this past autumn about claiming God’s promises? When you study the Word of God, you must be careful to see if the Word applies to you, to a particular person, to a particular time. Sometimes the bible teaches us about God through scripture that applies to a specific place and time. When God told Moses to use his staff to part the waters of the Red Sea and then lead Israel does not mean that you should get a staff and part the waters of Lake Conroe and then the greater Houston area will follow you. The scripture applied to a particular place and time. We can learn from such scripture – in the case of Moses, we can learn about obedience, faith, fear, and so on, but not necessarily about flood control.

In Book 9, Ezra is approached by the leaders of Jerusalem with bad news.

Ezra 9:1-2
After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”

Israel is special to the Lord. Israel is the Lord’s holy people. And the accusation here is very specific – the men and priests and Levites had not separated themselves and kept their nation holy as God had commanded. The problem here is not one of marriage – while Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-4 prohibited foreign marriages, Joseph and Moses married foreign wives and God did not condemn them. Rahab and Ruth were not only foreign wives that God praised, they’re also listed in the genealogy of Jesus. Clearly it is not the fact that the women were foreign.

No, the problem here is who they married. There are eight neighboring people listed here that had what? Detestable practices. The Hebrew word for doing these “detestable practices” is “tow’ebah” (to-ay-baw’) which means a disgusting, wicked ritual abomination. The Lord God was thoroughly repulsed that His chosen people were marrying pagan women, and the husbands were casually accepting and tolerating the worship of false Gods in their homes. When God says “Thou shalt have no other God before me,” it’s not a polite request, it’s a commandment.

What’s worse, it wasn’t just the men of Israel marrying women who were religiously unclean, but it was the priests and Levites marrying them, too. These were the men responsible for maintaining the holiness of Israel, and instead they were leading the abominations. Instead of remaining holy, Israel was becoming indistinguishable from its pagan neighbors.

The word holy means “set apart”. The church sanctuary is holy; it is set apart for the use of God. My car, even though I drive it to church, is not holy since I drive it to work and the movies and so forth. Marriage is holy matrimony; the relationship we have with our spouses are unique. I have a relationship with Diane that is blessed by God; it is unique and set apart.

Paul says in Ephesians 5:22

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.”

Wives, think about just the last week. How did you treat your husband? What words have you said to him? Did you treat your husband the way the Lord should be treated? Your marriage is holy. Do you seek the Lord’s will daily through study and prayer and treat your husband the way the Lord requires? Let’s pause just a moment to think about that.

Husbands, your turn. Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-27,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Husbands, do you give yourself up for your wife? Christ loved the church so much He died on the cross for us. What do you give up for your wife? Do you have selfish needs or habits that annoy your wife? Or do you cleanse her with the word of God? Do you forgive her daily the way Christ forgives you? When you look at her, is she without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish? Do you see her as holy and blameless? Let’s pause for a moment to think about that, but not as long because we husbands don’t have that sort of attention span.

Holy things are set apart for the glory of God. Israel as God’s chosen people were to remain holy, yet they participated in acts abhorrent to God. If you thought of something about your holy marriage that abhorred you, you can understand Ezra’s response. The first thing Ezra did in verse 9:3 was to tear his clothes and pull out the hair from his head and beard and sit down appalled. Convicted of sin. Devastated. The Hebrew word is “shamem” (shaw-mame’) which is the same word used after a locust plague devours a field. Ezra had spent his life in devotion, study, and application of God’s word, only to find that God’s holy people had defiled themselves.

Ezra was a true man of God, though, and even in his desolation, he continued to do God’s will. Ezra was convicted of his sin. The fact that it was his people sinning and not him specifically didn’t matter; Ezra included himself in the conviction of sin. Verse 4 says “everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness.” It was a sudden realization of their sin, a realization that they had been living a lie. Telling themselves that their little sin was ok, but it grew into a big societal sin that permeated even the religious leaders. As a society, we have tolerated a little sin in each other that has grown into a much larger sin that permeates even the religious leaders of some churches, have we not? I sometimes wonder if we’ve truly learned God’s lessons 2500 years after Ezra.

Not everybody gathered around Ezra; only those that trembled at God’s word. Ungodly people do not tremble at God’s word; ungodly people do not become convicted of their sin and gather around religious leaders. They may have trembled also because if you remember, the king told Ezra that Ezra was to teach and uphold the law and execute his people that didn’t.

That evening, still with torn clothes and hair, Ezra fell on his knees and prayed. The word used implies falling not just once but repeatedly. This was the second thing Ezra did after his conviction. I wish we had time to read Ezra’s prayer slowly and dissect it. It begins with confession, “I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.” Consider this your homework this week to read Ezra’s prayer in chapter 9 to see how a godly man with the hand of God upon him prays to his maker. First the confession, then praise and thanks, calling the Lord “gracious” for the relief from bondage and for giving them another chance to build a temple to worship Him. Ezra acknowledge specifically their sin; the command from the Lord in Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Ezekial were to enter the promised land, not to even seek a friendship with their detestable neighbors, and instead they married their daughters. Then Ezra acknowledges God’s sovereignty and wisdom, that God has every right to destroy them all and not even leave a remnant this time, but also acknowledging that God’s grace has punished them less than they deserved. The third thing Ezra did was to repent of the sin.

The fourth thing that Ezra did after his conviction was to correct the error. After conviction of sin and then praying, action must follow or it is not true repentance. If the people of Israel are to be holy and set apart, then all impurities must be eliminated. This is true in your marriage, too. If your marriage is to be holy and set apart, then any impurities must be removed. In Ezra 10, the holy people of Israel realized that to be pure in God’s sight, they must send the foreign women away. They interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1-4 that a husband was to write a “divorce certificate” and place it in her hand if the there was “something improper about her.”

Now the word “divorce” is very rare in the Old Testament and it’s not used here in Ezra; the word is that the foreign wives were “sent away” with custody of their children. Now here is where we say this does not apply specifically to us. Even if your wife is pagan and worshipping idols, you don’t send her away. You are not the people of Israel and part of God’s chosen people and to be kept apart and holy. You are a Christian spouse. There was plenty of confusion about Deuteronomy’s rules; “something improper” could mean she snores too loud. In the 10th book of Mark, Jesus says it was because of Israel’s hard hearts that Moses wrote that law, but under the new covenant the rules were clarified. Paul clarified it some more in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; the unbelieving wife or husband is sanctified through his or her spouse. So if your husband leaves the socks on the floor yet again, sending him back to Egypt is not an option, ok? Just want to be clear on that.

Ezra 10:12 says the whole assembly responded in a loud voice, “You are right, but not now, it’s raining!” They realized that unraveling the sin was going to take both time and accountability, so they spent several days appointing leaders for accountability and to investigate all the marriages in Jerusalem and to make proper arrangements to send the foreign women back to their pagan societies. And all of those guilty had their names written down here in Ezra 10:18 for us to see 2500 years later. Each of the men listed repented of their sin and offered sacrifices for their guilt. OK, now they all lived happily ever after, at least until we turn to the book of Nehemiah next month.

So let’s summarize what we’ve learned today. This is the type of person that God will put his hand on:

• One who is devoted to the Lord;
• One who studies the Word;
• One who obeys the Word;
• One who applies the Word in service to others.

This is what the hand of the Lord provides;
• Blessings
• Grace
• Success
• Courage
• Wisdom, guidance
• Protection

When sin is in our lives, we
• Are convicted
• Repent
• Pray
• Act

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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.

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”.

Pay Attention

For the rest of this year, our bible class will be deep into the Book of Hebrews. Most scholars believe the Book of Hebrews was written by Paul to the early Christians who had converted from Judaism, and we’ll find excellent instruction these next few months on what Christian living is all about. So, let’s dive right into it, shall we?

Who was, and is, Jesus? I kept studying this first paragraph of the book of Hebrews, trying to find a way to explain it, reword it, but this was written so beautifully 2000 years ago that I can only read it out loud, just the way it is. Paul is explaining to the Jews how superior faith in Christ is over anything previously offered in the Old Testament. Let’s read Hebrews 1:1-4.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

Wow. In these few verses, we are reminded that
— Jesus is God’s all-powerful son and the exact representation of God’s nature.
— Jesus sits at God’s right hand, a position of power, and is the heir of all things, seen and unseen.
— Jesus speaks for God.
— While God spoke to people through prophets in the past, Jesus is better than any prophet who has ever lived.
— God made the world through Jesus and Jesus is the Creator.
— Jesus sacrificed himself so that we may be made pure in front of God.
— Jesus is the only thing that never changes and will last forever.
— Jesus is better that any man who has ever lived.
— Jesus is a better sacrifice than man has ever known.
— Jesus is better than angels.

Is there anything better than Jesus? Chocolate maybe? No, Jesus is better than everything, including chocolate, including angels.

What are angels, anyway? Have you ever looked into what the bible says about angels? I always think of angels as these beautiful creatures, dressed in white, big old wings way out to here. If Jesus is better than angels, I wanted to know what he’s better than, so I hunted around to find out. I’m going to hop around the bible, no need to hop around with me, but let me know after class if you want these references.

— Angels guide us. In Genesis 24:40, Abraham’s servant was sent to Laban’s family. An angel was sent with him to make his journey a success. And in Acts 8:26, an angel appears to Philip and tells him to go down from Jerusalem to Gaza.
— Angels announce God’s message. In Luke 2:9-10, an angel announces the birth of our savior, and then in verse 13 a whole company of angels appears, praising God.
— Angels celebrate. In Luke 15:10, Jesus says there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
— Angels pray for us. In Zechariah 1:12, an angel prays to God for mercy for Jerusalem.
— When God passes judgment, he uses angels to deliver His wrath. In 2 Kings 19:35, a single angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. We think of angels as using flaming swords to deliver God’s wrath, but in Acts 12:23, and angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness who was then consumed with worms and died. Yuck.
— Angels protect Christians, like guardian angels. Psalm 34:7, “the angel of the Lord guards all those who fear Him, and He rescues them.” And at the moment of our death, our angels carry us to God’s presence as in Luke 16:22.
— Children have their own angels. Matthew 18:10, Jesus is telling us to treat children well, for in Heaven, their angels are always in the presence of God.
— Churches have their own angels. So some angels protect individuals, other angels protect groups. The book of Revelation tells us that there is an angel for each of the Asia Minor churches. It’s comforting to know we have a Second Baptist angel. I thought about calling the switchboard and asking to speak to him, but he’s probably really busy and I thought it better not to interrupt him.
— Some angels look like people. In Acts 12:5-17, an angel of the Lord leads Peter out of prison, his guardian angel perhaps. When he arrives at Mary’s house, they mistake Peter for an angel. In Hebrew 13:2, we are told to entertain strangers because sometimes we are entertaining angels and we don’t even know it.
— Sometimes they don’t look like people. In Daniel 10:5-6, the angel had arms and legs that resembled polished metal and precious stones and a face like lightning. In Ezekiel 10, the cherubim, a type of angel, had eyes all over their bodies, including their hands, back, and wings, and each had four faces: an ox, a human face, a lion, and an eagle.
— Angels can be terrifying. In Luke 2:9 when the angel appeared to the shepherds at the birth of Christ, they were terrified. In fact, when an angel appears, his first words are usually, “Fear not.” In Matthew 28:2-4, the angel that rolled back the stone from Jesus’ tomb resembled lightning with clothes as white as snow., and the guards that saw him were so afraid they shook and became like dead men.
— There are different types of angels. The most powerful is the archangel. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the rapture begins when the Lord Himself comes down out of heaven with a loud command, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God. I don’t know how many archangels there are; the bible only mentions Michael the archangel by name. The only other angel mentioned by name is Gabriel, so he may be an archangel. The book of Revelation describes 7 angels with 7 trumpets who stand before God, and these are probably archangels. And although the bible doesn’t specifically say so, most scholars believe that Lucifer was an archangel that turned to the dark side.
— There are seraphim angels, guardians of God’s court, according to the vision Isaiah had in Isaiah 6:1-2. These angels each had 6 wings, 2 to cover their faces, 2 to cover their feet, and with 2 they were flying.
— A cherubim angel in Genesis 3:24 stands at the east side of the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword guarding the way to the Tree of Life. Those cute little pictures of children with wings and cute chubby faces are probably not accurate pictures of cherubim, unless the children get flaming swords to play with.
— Angels sometimes have wings, like the vision Isaiah had. In Daniel 9:21, the angel Gabriel came to Daniel in swift flight. Other angels most definitely did not have wings, like in Genesis 28:12 where Jacob sees angels climbing a stairway from the earth to heaven.

So let’s look back at Hebrews – you forgot we were studying Hebrews, didn’t you? – and pick up where we left off. In Hebrews 1:5 –

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Why compare Jesus to angels? How important are angels and why is it important to understand that Jesus is not an angel? The Old Testament tells us that angels are the most powerful and wondrous creatures in heaven except for God. These angels are continually in God’s presence. But angels are God’s servants, called to specific duties by God for specific purposes, and they see and hear God’s commands directly. We don’t hear God’s commands the same way; we are called to walk by faith. And we do not become angels after death; angels are a completely separate creation by God for His purpose. We will have access to God’s presence like the archangels do, but we don’t become angels.

We are not to worship angels; in fact, in Colossians 2:18, we are warned not to be tricked into worshipping angels. The angels themselves specifically tell us not to worship them; in Revelations 22:8-9, John falls down at the feet of the angel that was showing John the revelation, and the angel goes, Woah! Not one of the three woes in Revelation, but a woah! The angel said, “Do not worship me! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” As awesome as angels are, angels are God’s servants, and angels serve Christians. Christians in turn serve Jesus.

Hebrews 1:14 reminds us that angels are ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. A lot of people believe that they have a guardian angel just sitting around waiting to jump in and help, but this verse makes it clear that angels help those who will inherit salvation. Jesus is superior to any other heavenly spirit, the angels minister to Him. Jesus is greater than angels.

Why is it important to know who Jesus is, what Jesus’ role in the heavens is, and why Jesus is so great? Because if we don’t realize how great Jesus is, greater than anything we could possibly know, something else might look better. Something like –

— Money – our love of our job and the stuff we can buy with it.
— Power – the thrill we get if we can push somebody around.
— Popularity – self-idolation, exalting ourselves to be somebody.
— Fun – partying, playing, vegging out in front of the tube.
— Even love of our spouse or our family. We are in danger of letting something else replace Jesus as most important if we don’t remind ourselves our important Jesus really is.

So why is this important? What does it mean to me?

Throughout the Old Testament, God was constantly telling Israel to wake up and pay attention. God leads them out of Egypt, away from Pharaoh, parts the Red Sea, provides manna in the desert, and Israel is like, yeah, but what have you done for me lately? The Old Testament is a history lesson of God’s patience with Israel while God was telling Israel over and over again to listen and obey. God is telling us the same thing today. Wake up. Listen. Obey. Pay attention to what? Let’s look at Hebrews 2:1-4:

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

We are warned that as Christians we should be careful not to drift away from God. The actual word for “drift away” is the Greek “pararrhueo” and it’s a passive verb. It means it slips away from us, it slips my mind. We don’t actually drift away; it drifts away from us. It’s like we’re sitting on a river bank, and floating in the water is a message in a bottle containing God’s salvation. We watch the bottle bobbing up and down, we’re focused on it. We’re not going to let salvation pass us by. We’re going to… ooh, look, a bird. Birds are pretty. It’s getting late in the season, shouldn’t that bird be heading south for the winter? Perhaps this type of bird… hey, where did the bottle go?

What’s in this bottle? What is it’s message? Salvation, the Word of God. Instructions on how to have a personal relationship with the almighty Jesus Christ – and he’s almighty, we just studied that, pay attention. Instructions on how we are to love one another and how that love glorifies our Lord.

If we drift away, we’re told exactly what we’re missing.

Verse 2, the message spoken by angels was binding. The word of God is binding upon us. It is the Word of God that explains what salvation is, how to obtain it. The bible is not just a guidebook, it is the Word of God that explains how you will spend eternity. It’s binding, it’s unalterable. Like it or not, this is the way it is. There aren’t any special rules like collecting all that money if you land on “Free Parking” in the game of Monopoly. God has made the rules and given us the rulebook, and this is how our lives are played.

Also verse 2, every violation and disobedience received its just punishment. Can you see how our puny efforts at living a righteous life cannot obtain salvation? God cannot allow anything but perfection into Heaven, and we are not perfect. We’re not even close. When I taught the 3rd graders, I used the example of a chocolate milkshake. A perfect chocolate milkshake that we really, really wanted. Your mouth is watering as you watch this milkshake being made. First, the vanilla ice cream, two scoops. A cup of milk. A tablespoon of vanilla, then a huge bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup just squeezed into the blender. A handful of chocolate chips tossed in. And just before the blender starts up, the soda hop tosses in a cockroach. What’s wrong with this milkshake? Compared to all that good stuff, it’s a tiny little bug. That one tiny little bug, though, makes the entire milkshake unacceptable. Our lives, even if do our best to live a perfect life, will fall short of perfection, and God will not tolerate imperfection in Heaven. But the blood of Jesus is a perfect sacrifice acceptable to God, a just punishment for our violations and disobedience. The bible is unalterable and with consequences for our actions and inactions.

Verse 3, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? The salvation is offered to us, but not forced upon us. We’re free to choose or ignore this gift. It is an inescapable truth to the saved.

Also verse 3, This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord. God didn’t make this word subtle. He became flesh and come and told us of this plan of salvation with his own human lips. Spoken by the Lord Himself.

Verse 4, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. The Lord’s message was confirmed by the apostles who heard Him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles. Authenticated at the time with miracles to make sure we knew it was the Lord speaking. And gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. This gift of salvation is continually given to us by the Holy Spirit.

What could possibly go wrong?

We can drift away. A few weeks ago I passed along some advice not to be a Polish hotel. Perhaps we can’t remember why we’re not supposed to be a Polish hotel, but being told not to be a Polish hotel sure sounds familiar. This week I want to talk about not being a French airport. I was finishing my business trip to Europe and Diane was accompanying me. I’d spend the day in a conference room, Diane would spend the day touring Paris, and at night she’d show me the pictures so I’d know what a great time I had. Every day or two, though, we’d pack everything up and move again. After 19 days of living out of a suitcase, we were sort of tired of all the moving around, especially when we’d return to a hotel that we’d already been to before but now we had a different room. This looks familiar, maybe we’re on the 5th floor. Was it the hallway to the left or right? We were ready to come home.

We get to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, wait in line for an hour among all the pushy shoving people, check in our luggage, wait in line through passport control, then another line for security where we took off our shoes and our belts and soon we’ll be taking off our pants, no doubt. With 20 minutes to go before boarding, we make it to the business class lounge. Ahhh.

The flight information board tells us the status of all the flights. Some are “now boarding,” some are “expected on time,” some are “delayed.” We plop down in some comfortable chairs where we can watch the monitors, and after 20 minutes we hear an announcement that our flight to Houston has been delayed for at least 20 minutes. We grab a newspaper – I don’t know what it said, it was in French – and a cappuccino, and chill. And wait.

After 20 minutes, I ask a flight attendant, are they boarding? No sir, not yet, we’ll make an announcement.

After another 20 minutes, I ask again. Are they boarding? No sir, it shouldn’t be too much longer.

After another 20 minutes, I hear an announcement. “Last call for Mr. and Mrs. Meyer.” Yup, they’d been boarding our flight for 40 minutes, and we were the last ones. The flight information board never changed, and it still says “expected on time.” Not only that, we were in the lounge at the far end of the terminal, and our gate was at the other end, so we had a hike to get there. We almost missed our flight, just sitting there, casually enjoying a cappuccino. Our flight almost left without us. It almost drifted away from us.

How could we possibly let salvation drift away from us? It’s such a great gift, how could we let it get away?

We don’t pay attention to what God is telling us. We get complacent. What we’re doing is “good enough.” Then, a little less is “good enough.” Then doing nothing at all is “good enough.” We miss the mark. That’s what sin is – it’s an archery term for “missing the mark,” missing the target. We don’t have to consciously commit a sin, we can simply neglect our spiritual faith.

Neglect is a subtle destroyer. You don’t have to go on a wild spending binge to destroy your finances; you can destroy your finances just by not paying attention. Forget to pay bills, forget where you left that credit card. Leave your wallet at a restaurant – by the way, lunch today is at Café Express. You can destroy the lives of your children just by ignoring them, leaving them to fend for themselves, neglect to give them wisdom and guidance. I know a set of parents from my office who don’t want to teach their children to be Christian. Sure, they’ll teach them about Jesus, but they’ll teach them other stuff, too, and let their children decide on their own. Listen, if parents don’t teach their children, the world will teach them worldly values. They’ll get their morals from Desperate Housewives reruns. If you don’t want your children to grow up to be adulterers, swindlers, thieves, embezzlers, crooks, then you’d better teach them right from wrong. Don’t neglect them.

Who here thinks their marriage will thrive or even survive if you neglect your spouse? Forget your spouse’s birthday or your anniversary, forget to call if you’re coming home late, forget you’re married when you meet somebody handsome. Your marriage will not survive on neglect, it requires a living, active presence, paying attention to your spouse’s needs.

You can lose your relationship with Christ if you neglect Him. Stop reading your bible, stop praying, stop attending church, stop serving others or never start in the first place. Casual Christians become Christian Casualties. There are a lot of Christians believe that all you have to do is go to church every week, or at least at Christmas and Easter, and you get to go to heaven. There are a lot of Christians who believe that going to church is preparation for accepting Christ in their lives and the day they accept Christ is the pinnacle of their faith. The joy they felt that day they accepted Christ, why, how could it get any better than that? But the day you accept Christ is not the peak, it’s the beginning. It’s the day you begin a wonderful, lifelong journey into spiritual maturity. How do we grow? We pay attention. God calls us to prayer, to study, to serve, to share, and to love. We grow in Christ and this sanctification, this purification is a wonderful gift.

And why does it matter? Let me tell you a story about a man, let’s call him Henry. Henry never intended to die in a sinful state. He just never got around to taking care of spiritual things like he did physical things. He was always busy with work or busy with family or busy fixing up that car. It’s not that Henry didn’t believe in God, of course he did. He learned in Sunday school growing up all about God. He believed in Jesus, and when Easter and Christmas came around, he was moved by the stories of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection just like everybody else. Henry just never made the effort to accept Jesus personally and to accept the sacrifice that Jesus provided.

Henry went to church now and then, attended almost every midnight Christmas Eve service. And when things got rough in his life, Henry spent extra weekends at church. And Henry even went to a Christian concert and was so moved he almost accepted the invitation to give his life to Jesus, but he was with some buddies and he thought it looked awkward. Now is just not a good time. Larry heard God calling, he just never quite accepted the call. Larry was a very moral person, but somehow he felt that giving everything to Jesus was just too steep, Larry had his pleasures and he was afraid Jesus would take them away.

And then one day, Larry was dead. And he stood alone before the throne of God, and God said, “Away from me, I never knew you.”

And Larry protested. “But Lord, I always believed you existed. I tried to be as good as I could, and I helped people often, and I tried not to hurt people. I’m faithful to my wife, and I never cheat on my taxes. I know a lot of bible verses. Lord, I want to be with you.”

And the Lord said, “I . . . never . . . knew . . . you.”

God wants us to come home with Him. God wants us closer to him. God wants us to choose Him. How do we do that? Seek. Seem Him actively. Seek and ye shall find Him. We can’t just sit and wait, we have to seek, or salvation will just drift away from us.

As a final though this week, I want you to remember that your salvation requires active participation from you, to seek, to pray, to learn, to serve. As a parting thought, I want to leave you with those words from the great prophet Simon and Garfunkle.

God only knows, God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man
We’re working our jobs, collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away

Slip sliding away, slip sliding away
You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away.

May God bless each and every one of you this week.

The Meaning of Life

We started a new bible class today, and I am blessed to teach adults this year every 2-3 weeks. Not that I wasn’t blessed teaching 3rd graders last year, but teaching married adults will be infinitely more challenging. I look forward to what God teaches me this year.

Anyway, I’m going to try to share my notes each time, so here’s this week’s lesson:
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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?

Accountability

Yesterday I taught my second bible study to adults. Last time I taught, I rewrote the whole thing as an essay here on Chasing the Wind but that was a lot of work. I think this time I’ll stick to posting the outline, notes, and scripture. Especially since halfway through I deviated from my notes in a big way, so it’s possible a lot of the notes have nothing to do with what I said. 😛

I. Introduction to Isaiah 18

Today’s lesson is very specific and addressed to only certain people. Let’s turn to Isaiah 18:3-5:

All you people of the world,
you who live on the earth,

Who in here falls in this group, raise your hand? Everybody but Ken, good.

when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it,
and when a trumpet sounds, you will hear it.

God is saying here that his message is unmistakable. Armies at the time would raise a banner and sound a trumpet to get the attention of the troops. God is speaking to his people, those that belong to Him.

This is what the LORD says to me:
“I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place, like shimmering heat in the sunshine,
like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”

God will remain quiet and watch and observe, but he is everywhere, watching and observing. When you’re driving down the highway and the heat is shimmering in the distance, God is there, waiting. And a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest like a sudden rainstorm is hurtful and can destroy a crop. When God is through watching disobedience, his punishment will be severe.

For, before the harvest, when the blossom is gone
and the flower becomes a ripening grape,
he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives,
and cut down and take away the spreading branches.

When God’s punishment comes, He will prune unproductive vines. Vines that produce no fruit but absorb water and nutrients are harmful to the rest of the crop, and God will prune those that are not productive.

So in Isaiah we see that God is waiting and watching and ready to prune those branches that are not producing fruit, ready to render His perfect judgment. God hates sin. I hope that’s not a surprise to anybody here, but God hates sin.

II. Overcoming Sinfulness

So, is there sin in your life? And is God watching you? Just asking that question makes me feel uncomfortable. Of course there is, there is in my life, too.

Romans 3:23, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Each and every one of us. And if God hates sin, and we are the sinners He’s watching like a simmering heat, what do we do? After receiving the Holy Spirit and confessing the Christ is Lord, the Christian begins a process of sanctification.

Sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit makes us more like Christ in all that we do, think, and desire.

In other words, we become better at overcoming sinfulness. But how does this happen? Is there something like a sanctification tanning salon where sanctification rays beam down on us?

The Bible tells us about 4 main ways of overcoming sinfulness.

1. The Holy Spirit

Galatians 5:16-25Holy Spirit
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

How is one filled with the Holy Spirit? First of all, it is of God’s choosing. In the Old Testament, He selected individuals and specific incidents to fill individuals He chose to accomplish a work that He wanted done.

  • Genesis 41:38 says that when Pharaoh chose Joseph, he said, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
  • In Exodus 31:3, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts.’
  • Numbers 24:2, “When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him and he uttered his oracle.”
  • 1 Samuel 10:10, “the Spirit of God came upon [Saul] in power, and he joined in their prophesying.”

Let’s look in the New Testament:

  • Ephesians 5:17-18, Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
  • Colossians 3:16, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

I believe that if you fill yourselves with the Word of God, then God will you with the Holy Spirit. That brings us to the next method of overcoming sin.

2. The Word of God, the Bible

The Word
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that God has given us His Word to equip us for every good work. It teaches us how to live and what to believe, when we have chosen wrong paths, and helps us get back on the right path.
And as Hebrews 4:12 shares, the Word of God is living and powerful and is able to penetrate to our hearts to root out the deepest hypocrasies.
The bible is a resource that we often treat carelessly. We carry our Bibles to church, read a chapter during bible study, but the Word of God is so much more powerful than just a tool. The Word of God becomes active in our lives when we memorize it and when we meditate on it.
We have some sort of eating disorder when it comes to reading the Word. We either snack on it but never filling ourselves, or we gorge on it for a day and starve ourselves for the rest of the week.
Do you memorize scipture when you come across passages the Holy Spirit impresses upon you? The Bible is the tool that the Spirit uses in our lives and the lives of thers.. In Ephesians 6:17, we are to take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.

3. Prayer

Prayer
Like carrying our bibles around, we don’t use prayer to the fullest extent. In times of trouble or in stress, do we always go to the Lord in prayer first before we attempt to solve things on our own?
God has given us wonderful promises if we pray. Matthew 7:7-11, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.”
In the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8, Jesus says that if at first you don’t get the response from God, just keep praying. And if you still don’t get the response you want, just keep praying.
And in 1 John 5:14-15, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

4. Others

Our 4th method of overcoming sin is the Church, and specifically small groups, 1 on 1, personal relationships. God wants us to depend on others and for others to depend on us.

Worries kill
Oops.
Church
In Matthew 10:1, when Jesus sent His disciples out to spread the Good News among the lost sheep of Israel, He sent them out two by two. In the missionary journeys in Acts, they did not go out one at a time, but in groups of two or more. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there in their midst. In Hebrews 10:24-25, we are to spur one another on, to encourage one another in love and good works. This doesn’t always mean a gentle encouragement. Have you ever ridden a horse? When you want to spur the horse on, would you consider that a “gentle encouragement?”
We are also told to confess our faults to one another. James 5:16, Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. We are not expected to walk through this world all alone. Confess to each other, we are told.
In Proverbs 27:17, we are told that as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. We become better Christians when we learn to lean on each other.

IV. Accountability

1. What is Accountability?

Did you notice that our instructions for relationships with other Christians is not just passive? We don’t just hang around each other, we admonish each other, we teach each other, we confess our sins to each other, we encourage each other. These instructions are active.

Coming to church to worship is excellent, of course, but we also should come to church to fellowship in an active way with other Christians and encourage the sanctification process in each other. Some have found brothers or sisters in Christ who get together to share how they are doing in their Christian walk, how they may have struggled, and commit to pray for each other. They hold each other accountable in applying God’s Word to their relationships. Let’s review what the bible says about this.

We already talked about Hebrews 10:24 (to spur one another on), James 5:16 (confess your sins and pray for each other), and Proverbs 27:17 (iron sharpens iron). Are there any other verses that tell us we are accountable to each other?

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:

If they fall down, they can help each other up.
But pity those who fall and have no one to help them up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Have you ever tried to move from one apartment to another by yourself? It’s hard to live half of a dresser. But two people lifting half a dresser each can give “good return for their labor.”

When I was in the Boy Scouts, they told us that if someone was suffering from hypothermia, say, if they fell in a lake of ice, then two people should share a sleeping bag. The heat from one person could save the other.

And have you ever seen a movie where the good guys, against overwhelming odds, stand back to back to defend themselves?

And after a verse like this – two have good return for their labor, two can help each other up, two, two, two – why does it say a cord of three strands? I like to think of that third strand as God binding us all together.

Galatians 6:1-2Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

There are two specific instructions here – if your brother or sister is in sin, bring them back to the attention of God’s Word. If your accountability friend has done something contrary to the Bible, you are called to confront him gently, forgive him, and comfort him. But make sure your primary influence is strong Christians so that you, too, don’t get caught up in the same sin. No one is above temptation.

Philippians 2:3-4
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Value others obove yourself. Not equal; above.

John 13:34-35
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I’m of the opinion when God tells us something more than once, it’s important. The pages of the Bible are filled with stories of people leaning on others for growth and personal and spiritual development. Deep connections help people overcome their struggles and see what they cannot see on their own. Examples are

  • Moses and Aaron (Exodus)
  • David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18-20).
  • Paul and Barnabas
  • Paul and Titus, Silas, and Timothy (Acts 11-14; 2 Cor. 2:12).
  • And of course Jesus had His twelve disciples with a special attachment to Peter, James, and John.

We see through these examples of strong biblical people that accountability is not for just for those who are weak or needy. Accountability is for those whose faith is strong and who want to be stronger.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, we read that Christians are all part of the same body of Christ. Some of us are a foot – I think I may be a thumb. Separately the parts of the body cannot survive. We all need each other.

2. How do we have good accountability?

What keeps accountability from being effective? We are an abundant source of pride, we want to be the best we can be, even to the point of lying to ourselves and others. As I said earlier, we are all sinners. We want to appear the best that we can be, and we focus on our performance and behavior. Admitting we mess up is hard to do. In order for accountability to be effective, we must be honest.

What happens when a Christian brother or sister stumbles? Do we gently restore them to the church as we are called to do? We tend to shoot the wounded. If we’re afraid of being shot, we don’t show that we are wounded. We must be gentle with each other.

Active listening is essential. James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” I think we do the opposite – slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry.

Caring for each other is essential. 1 John 4:21 says, “And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” Our attitude is very important. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and tender to one another. Forgive each other, just as God forgave you because of what Christ has done.” We should “speak the truth in love” as Ephesians 4:15 says.

Small groups are better, it gives everybody a chance to participate. Mixed groups are not better. The dynamics of men and women are complicated, and they struggle with different sets of issues. Men struggle with football. I can’t think of anything else they struggle with. No, actually they struggle with lust, pornography, idolatry to work, or laziness. Women might struggle with eating disorders, intimacy in relationships, gossip, envy, or jealousy.

The Tuesday night group I participate in is invaluable to me. We’ve been studying together for 6 months and we’ve worked ourselves to the state where we can trust each other and share our troubles. For me the best part is being able to share my concerns for the week, what’s most important to me, and have a group of strong Christian men that can offer support and advice.

And also I have a wife of accountability. This morning I ran an errand to the pharmacy, and when I got back, Diane asked me if she could fix me a piece of toast. “Um, no thanks,” I said.

“Did you eat while you were out?,” she asked.

“Mmmhmmm.”

“What? A donut?”

“Um…. no.”

“Then what?”

“Um…. I had…. um… breakfast.”

My accountability partner is helping me eat healthy, which the Egg McMuffin probably wasn’t as healthy as that granola bread stuff. You can try this method, but Diane will be very busy if you do.

A non-judgmental attitude is another essential element. If we have any scripture memorized, it is probably “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Matthew 7:1-3, Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? The concern here is that if we’re having an affair and accuse a brother of lust, we need to remove our own plank first. But why do we look at this judgement as something bad? Why wouldn’t we want our brother to hold us to a higher standard?

3. Discussion Questions

A good friend invites you for a cup of coffee. “Friend, I’ve been struggling with a particular sin over the past couple months. I don’t think I can shake it on my own. Would you hold me accountable in my fight against this sin?“

  • Does this make you feel uncomfortable? Why?
  • Let’s reverse the role. What prevents you from asking another to hold you accountable?

4. Bad Accountability

Remember we are to spur one another, but we are to do it in love. Here’s a fictional news article we do not want to read about in the newspaper (adapted from an article at Larknews.com):

Headline: Houston. Accountability groups classified as gangs.

Noting a rise in accountability-group-related violence, Houston police are keeping a close eye on church-based men’s groups.

Houston police chief Harold Hurtt says, “Gang violence has dropped, but Christian accountability group violence is up sharply.”

Houston is the home of the “radical accountability” movement, where breakfast meetings have been been turned into gang-style networks. Instead of applying peer pressure to prod one another to wholesome lifestyles, these groups have started “hazing and harassing” non-compliant members, police say.

One Second Baptist man, who quit his accountability group and is now in police protective custody, says his former accountability group pounced on him after he broke a promise to his wife. “I told her I’d take her to a bed and breakfast in the Hill Country, but I went to play golf instead,” he says. “On Monday morning, the guys in my group were waiting for me in the parking lot at my workplace with brass knuckles and family-edition Bibles. They worked me over pretty good, and said they’d pray for me.”

Sociologists say accountability groups are following a predictable path into increasingly aggressive behavior, says a sociologist from the University of Texas. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing accountability drive-by shootings in the near future.”

Accountability is not about confrontation. We may at times need to be confronted, but accountability is more about challenging one another to grow in Christ.

Let me leave you with this final thought if you are on the receiving end of a Christian rebuking:

Proverbs 25:12
Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.

If your brother or sister cares enough about you to rebuke you in a loving and caring way, then you truly have a treasure.