Waiting on God's Timing

Let me ask you a question about your prayers. I’m sure everybody here prays to God, and there are many forms of prayer. Let’s list some kinds of prayers –

  • Thanksgiving. We pray to give thanks to God. Everything comes from God; material possessions, intellect, outward appearance, everything, and we give thanks for every blessing.
  • Praise. We pray to praise our Father in heaven, to tell God how great He is.
  • Worship. We pray to worship our Father and to submit to his authority, we recognize His power and His love for us.
  • Confession. We pray to confess our failures and those specific things God calls us to do that we know we aren’t doing.
  • Spiritual Warfare. We pray in the battle against evil, to destroy what the devil has been doing. The battle belongs to the Lord, but He uses our prayers as weapons.
  • Listening. We pray for God to speak to us. Often we are quiet or in meditation on God’s word. We listen patiently for God to make His will known to us. If we are always talking, we’re not listening.
  • Intercession. We pray for others, we ask for God’s will to be done in the lives of those ill, those in need, those that are lost.
  • Petition. We pray to God for specific things we want. God knows we want them before we ask, but God wants us to ask for them. If everything comes from God, then it is only right we ask our Maker for what we want and what we need.

God answers prayers. I know and I have confidence and faith in God because God has answered specific and personal prayers in my life. God answered them in the way only God can, with a miracle. Some of them are obvious – the restoration of my marriage to Diane is a miracle from God. Some of them are personal and confidential and perhaps harder to explain, but I know God is and has been at work and it brings me peace and joy to know He is in control.

Does God always answer prayers? Who here has prayed for something specific but God has not delivered? Why hasn’t God answered these prayers?

Some unanswered prayers are easy to understand. If I pray for that rude guy that just cut me off in traffic to have a horrible accident, that’s not a prayer God will answer. God does not answer prayers that are contrary to His will. He doesn’t answer prayers if we have unrepentant sin in our life, sin that we either deny or justify that it’s ok somehow. If I pray for a yacht to float from Caribbean port to port so I can party, that’s not a prayer God will answer. God does not answer selfish prayers with improper motives. God also does not answer prayers if we do not have faith that He will answer them. And God doesn’t answer prayers if we are inconsistent and we give up and stop praying, we are to persevere in our prayers.

But what if you feel you’re fulfilling God’s will, you have confessed your sin, you’re praying unselfishly for God’s will to be done, and you know that what you’re praying for is God’s will, but God still hasn’t answered? Who here has an unbelieving family member or friend that hasn’t accepted Christ? A prayer for a child that is suffering from illness or cancer. A prayer for a righteous person to survive an accident to continue to do God’s work? Isn’t it God’s will that somebody should find Christ? Isn’t it God’s will that a godly person survive to spread His word? Who here has prayed for something that should be pleasing to God, but God hasn’t answered?

That’s what we’re going to study today. Let’s turn to the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk, as we all know, is a Wookie, the co-pilot of Han Solo. The half-brother of Chewbacca, I think. We all love Wookies, don’t we?

The book of Habakkuk is like a Psalm, and it was originally set to music. There are notations throughout to the director of music on how to play and how to pause. In several places you’ll see the word “selah.” Apparently this word doesn’t translate very well. It means pause here and pay attention. It’s used very much like the word “amen,” but it can also mean “forever.” It’s basically a pause in the music that says, that was important, stop and pray about it, amen.

Habakkuk prophesied around 608-605 BC, just after King Josiah of Judah, mentioned in 2 Kings 22. Josiah was a Godly king whose ambition was to destroy false idols and the worship of other gods in Judah. Josiah was killed by the Egyptians and was succeeded first by his son Jehoahaz who was toppled after 3 months by the Egyptians and replaced by Josiah’s second son Jehoiakim who was the exact opposite of his father. Jehoiakim reinstituted the worship of false idols, possibly as an effort to gain favor among the people instead of favor with the Lord. Jeremiah prophesied the people should turn from these wicked ways, and wrote the prophesy on a scroll, gave it to Baruch to deliver to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim reacted as you’d expect a non-believer to react; he burned the scroll. God told Jeremiah to make another scroll, and Jehoiakim threw Jeremiah into a muddy cistern, expecting to kill him. Obviously, Jehoiakim was not a lover of God’s word. Why oh why did I write the word “Jehoiakim” so many times, it’s impossible to pronounce. Under Jehoiakim, the worship of false idols continued, the Law of Moses was disregarded, and the covenant with God was ignored.

The prophet Habakkuk, a contemporary of Jeremiah, watched these events unfold and openly questioned God. “God, what the heck are you doing?” I’m paraphrasing, let’s look at Habakkuk 1:2-3

How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.

There’s a lot of impatience in Habakkuk’s prayer. This is Habakkuk’s first of two complaints against God. God, how long must I endure this? Habakkuk looks at the country of Judah and sees what the worship of false idols has brought. The people were defying God. Habakkuk says, “Where are you, Lord?” There is violence against innocent people. Harassment, abuse, physical cruelty. Did not our covenant God promise to protect His people? Well? Why does God not save?

Habakkuk’s complaint continues with, “why do you make *me* look at” all this? Habakkuk says, I am a man of God, I am serving you, yet I have to tolerate God’s inaction. God, why do you make me go through all this.

Violence and cruelty and destruction and strife and conflict and all sorts of godless living still abound today. Jessie Davis, the woman who is 9 months pregnant and suddenly disappeared this week, home in shambles and furniture overturned, leaving her 2 year old son at home. The two year old told investigators, “Mommy was crying. Mommy broke the table. Mommy’s in the rug.” It’s Gay Pride week, a celebration and a flaunting of disrespecting and disobeying God’s commands against sexual immorality. The murder trial in the news this week of Ashley Benton who killed an MS-13 gang member last June. Daily the news is full of celebration of sinful activities and the violence people do to each other. Where is God? It’s the same question Habakkuk asked. Where are you Lord, and why do I, a righteous person, have to look at this?

God answers Habakkuk. Of course God is in control, and God’s will be done. Let’s see how God answers Habakkuk’s complaint, Habakkuk 1:5-6 –

Look at the nations and watch””
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.

I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwelling places not their own.

God says “watch” and “be amazed.” God is in control, and in ways you would not believe. God is raising up the Babylonians (or Chaldeans, the names are used interchangeably), a ruthless, godless people to come and crush Judah. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzer would conquer Judah and carry prisoners away to Babylonia. The Chaldeans are described in verses 6-9 as ruthless, impetuous, feared, dreaded, a law unto themselves, promoting their own honor, swift as leopards, flying like vultures, and they gather prisoners like sand.

Hey, hey, good news. The people of Judah may have turned to ways of wickedness, the Lord says, but don’t worry, God has it all under control. He is raising up a wicked, godless army to crush Judah.

I can understand why the Lord would tell Habakkuk to be utterly amazed. Habakkuk’s prayer will be answered in his lifetime, but not the way Habakkuk anticipates. I can appreciate that Habakkuk feels God’s fix is making the situation worse, not better, by sending an invading army.

This leads Habakkuk to his second complaint. He acknowledges God has a plan. He says in verse 12 that, yes, God has a plan, a remnant will live, justice will indeed be given to the idol worshipers of Judah. But Habakkuk accuses God of being contrary to His own nature. Let’s look at verse 13.

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrong.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

Habakkuk says God cannot tolerate sin, cannot look upon evil. So why is he looking on the Chaldeans with favor? Why is God tolerating the treacherous Chaldeans? If Judah is bad, how could it possibly be God’s plan to allow even more evil to destroy it? Doesn’t evil win? I think Habakkuk thinks he’s trapped God in hypocrisy because he says he’s going to pull up a chair and wait to see what God says about this. Habakkuk 2:1 –

I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Yup, gonna sit right here, Lord, until I get an answer I can give to the people. I think it’s interesting where he chose to sit. On the ramparts, or the lookout tower, where one would wait for invading armies. Like the Babylonians.

The Lord answered this complain, too. In Habakkuk 2:2, the Lord says, “Write this down.” In Habbakuk 2:3, the Lord says,

For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come and will not delay.

The Lord tells Habakkuk that he has to wait. The revelation awaits an appointed time, and it’s not time yet. It will not prove false; God’s perfect justice will come. Though it linger, wait for it. The Lord says his justice will come at the time of His choosing; while Habakkuk is impatient, the Lord’s timing is perfect.

I sympathize with Habakkuk; I don’t know how many times I have been impatient with God. God, do this now. I was doing some research to see how Christian-friendly the new “Evan Almighty” movie is. I enjoyed the Bruce Almighty movie, and Evan Almighty looks to be just as fun but even more family-friendly. I can’t give away the spoilers because I haven’t seen the movie, but there’s apparently one scene where Evan is telling God about Evan’s plans to become a US Senator. God laughs and says, “*your* plans?” I’m like that sometimes. A lot of times, actually. Even if I feel that what I’m doing is within God’s will, that’s not the same thing as actually doing God’s will. And God may have different plans, but I get impatient with my “God, do this now” attitude.

There was an intriguing passage in a book I recently read, “The Organic God.” Sometimes people struggle to find what God’s will is. They attempt one thing, and then give up. God didn’t bless that. For example, somebody might start a ministry for, I dunno, left-handed Ethiopians. And the ministry flounders, and they say, “what’s a matter with you, God? Don’t you love left-handed Ethiopians, too? Isn’t ministering to left-handed Ethiopians something that you should bless? God, do this now!” The book points out that God’s will is not our will, and it may make more sense to simply participate in a successful ministry that God has already blessed.

So Habakkuk is impatient, sitting on his ramparts, and the Lord God says, “Patience. I do My Will at My perfect Timing.”

And what about Habakkuk’s complaint that he’s trapped God in a hypocrisy? That since God can’t look upon evil, it doesn’t make sense for God to correct the sin of Judah by raising up even more evil to crush it? God addresses that in Habbakkuk 2:4 –

See, he is puffed up;
his desires are not upright””
but the righteous will live by his faith

This is the heart of God’s message to Habakkuk. God contrasts the Chaldeans with God’s chosen people. The Chaldeans are “puffed up” with inflated egos. The Hebrew word is “aphal” which means “to swell” and implies as though the swelling comes from a tumor. The ego of a person without God appoints himself as God, choosing what he wants to do, deciding himself what is right and wrong. The tumor of his ego grows, inflates, pushes out any room for God. He becomes swollen with pride and arrogance. And “his desires are not upright” – his desires are without integrity. God is referring to the inner character of a person who lives selfishly and how it affects their outward behavior. A person who has no respect for God lives selfishly at the expense of everyone and everything. The Chaldeans were like this – unbridled selfishness, violence, wickedness. But also people within Judah were like this – also unbridled selfishness, violence, wickedness. From God’s viewpoint, it doesn’t appear to be much difference. Would it make sense, then, for God to use evil to crush evil?

How does God expect somebody like Habakkuk to live? God says, “the righteous will live by his faith.” This is a contrast to how God describes the unrighteous who are full of themselves, swelled up and selfish. The righteous people live by faith and trust in God. It’s not enough to say you trust in God, the righteous will put this trust into their daily lives. The phrase here implies a steadfastness, an unwavering trust that the Lord will fulfill all promises, even if we cannot see the big picture. That the way we live, day by day, and moment by moment, trusts that the Lord’s justice and mercy are perfect.

The apostle Paul expounds on this in Romans 1:16-17 and how righteous people that seek God ought to live.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

In trusting in the Lord, Paul says that he trusts in God’s power to save everyone who believes in Jesus. God has the will and the power to offer eternal salvation. With this trust in the power of God, Paul has no shame of the gospel, the Good News of Jesus. And in living with this trust in God to fulfill His promises, we live by a faith in something we cannot truly comprehend and cannot truly see. When we place our trust in the Lord to do the right thing, we must place all of our trust.

So let’s go back to those unanswered prayers we talked about. How many here have an unanswered prayer? Is there an unanswered prayer anybody would like to share?

When we think of these unanswered prayers, have we studied and prayed and meditated on what God’s will is? Then we should know that God’s will is perfect and God will fulfill His promises, even if the timing is not what we expect, or even if we cannot see what God is up to. What is our responsibility as Christians? To place our trust in Him, to live our lives faithful to His teachings. It is not our responsibility to do God’s work for Him, just to do the work He calls us to do. We trust in God to do the right thing, and we live our lives as He would have us live.

The selfishness in me rebels against this. The selfish ego and pride tells me, “well, if God isn’t going to do what I want Him to do, then I don’t have to do what He wants me to do.” That is not living by faith. Living by faith says, “well, even if I can’t see what God is doing, I trust Him and I will live the way He wants me to.” No ifs, no buts. Just trust and faith and living by His word.

The rest of Habakkuk 2 is the Lord’s recognition that the Chaldeans are indeed wicked and that the Lord is not blessing them just because he’s raising them up. Unrighteous living is eventually judged by God. For some, God’s justice comes in this lifetime. For others, God’s justice comes in eternity. But God’s justice is perfect and is always done. To those who would challenge God, He says in Habakkuk 2:20,

But the LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.”

In other words, God is in control and always has been, so sit down and shut up.

Habakkuk must have been awed by the Lord’s response. I think he may have recognized a little of the Chaldean in himself. By having the audacity to challenge the Lord and questioning whether the Lord is really in control or whether the Lord was a hypocrite, Habakkuk must have realized that he was not truly living in faith. Habakkuk was the hypocrite if he claims to be righteous but questions the Lord.

Habakkuk 3 is his prayer to the Lord. Habakkuk praises and worships the Lord in verse 2,

LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

Habakkuk goes on to acknowledge the Lord’s power, the Lord’s will, and that the Lord will crush evil when the time is right. The right time was coming; within 70 years of Habakkuk’s prophecy the Babylonians were conquered by Cyrus and the Persians. And by verse 16, Habakkuk responds to God.

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.

Verse 18-19 –

yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

How do we live in faith? Do we challenge God to do what He promises? Or does our heart pound, and our lips quiver, and our legs tremble in recognition of God’s sovereignty? Do we wait patiently and expectantly for God to do His will in His time? Do we rejoice in the Lord and remain joyful that our sins are forgiven? Do we take strength in the Lord? The unanswered prayers we have are not unanswered. God hears our prayers. Trust in the Lord, He will always do what is right when it is the perfect time. In the meantime, you have control over your actions. Live in faith, do what God calls you to do without making excuses.

The righteous live by faith.

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Pride and the Lord God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have loved you,” says the LORD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seizing New Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 29:10

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Now* we can begin the book of Ezra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exercise Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 10:22-25:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s conclude with Hebrews 10:35-39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David didn’t shrink back. David answered,

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

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

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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Trusting in God's Promise

I taught my first bible lesson to adults today. It was sort of scary; I’m used to teaching 3rd graders for bible study where the most complex scriptural question is, “Mr. Mike, can I go to the restroom?” The opportunity arose to teach this week came up and (gulp) I took the bait. It’s been something I’ve been wanting to do, but there’s something intimidating about teaching bible study to 140 Christians for a half hour. I don’t know why.

The lesson was on how fear can keep up from God’s promises. Soon I marveled at the irony of God’s plan – here I am, answering the call to teach, and I’m a little fearful of the experience, and the lesson I’m going to teach is why fear is a bad thing when it comes to faith. God certainly has a sense of humor.

Once upon a time, I used to skydive. Made around 500 jumps, in fact. I remember that first day, heading out to the drop zone to get my training. The instructors spent 8 hours with me and a few others that day, teaching about how the equipment works, how to operate it, when to operate it, how to recover from a parachute malfunction, and so on. It was an intense course that taught a lot in a short period of time. Then we met our jumpmasters, received a last minute briefing, then climbed in the airplane for the ride to altitude, about 2-1/2 miles up.

As the plane lifts off, there’s a short period where a fear of heights sets in, just above the treetop level. As the ride continues, though, you can no longer make out the individual trees, and that fear fades. It doesn’t look high to you, it just looks… distant.

But when that airplane door opens and the instructor tells you it’s time to jump, there’s a new fear. Many people do not jump at this point. They freeze, paralyzed. What are they afraid of? I’ll tell you what they’re afraid of – they’re afraid the promises made to them earlier that day aren’t true. The equipment won’t work, the training was faulty, and this is generally a very stupid idea. A lack of faith.
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