Statement of Faith Current Teaching Teaching Index
The Challenge Ahead for Today’s Church
Part One

April 2014

            Our studies for the last three months have centered on what is ahead for today's Church. We have seen that God wants to reestablish a church just like the one He established in the first century A. D (Ref. Book of Acts).  One that is unified, active, productive, strong and healthy and evangelistic in nature, one that will change the world and not be changed by the world.  This assembly will not be deterred by the devil or any unholy, unnatural scandal set against it.  God will however use these evil devises to keep His church pure, strong, viable and alive.  He will also reestablish all the administrative offices (Ref. Ephesians 4:11) in order to give direction and develop unity in the body just like what is described in Ephesians 4:1-16.

            This type of world changing church can only surface once unity within the Body of Christ becomes reality.  This unity must be centered and built on Jesus Christ the Chief Cornerstone.  He is the only one that can hold all things together under the stress and pressure Satan will present.  There will not be, and cannot be any division whatsoever in this church.  We must put away any and all prejudices no matter what the cost and remain grounded in Christ the Chief Cornerstone.  This is the church Christ will come for, "a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27).

            Over the next two months we will discuss the challenge ahead for this changing Church.  What steps will be needed to transform God's people back into an active, unified, and evangelistic, world changing Church?  We will use for our model the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. 

            Originally Ezra and Nehemiah was one book in the Hebrew Bible, when put together these two books tell the story of the return of God’s people from a period of seventy years of bondage and exile in Babylon.  The time period covered from the first chapter of Ezra to the last chapter of Nehemiah is approximately 100 years.  Both books begin in Persia (Persia represents God’s “Punishment”) and end in Jerusalem (Jerusalem represents God’s Promise).  Both books center on devoted and prayerful men of God.  Both books speak about reestablishing true spiritual worship along with the rebuilding of God’s House (which spiritually represents God’s Church; the Body of Christ).  Both books contain a long prayer of humiliation and confession, each found in the ninth chapter.  Finally, both end with the purification of God’s people, and the reestablishment of true spiritual worship.

            Ezra was a priest and a scribe.  It is said of him that he had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord and to teaching its precepts in Israel (Ref. Ezra 7:10).  He instituted synagogue worship that is the parent to our form of worship today and being assisted by the great synagogue in Jerusalem of which he was president, developed the Canon of Old Testament Scripture.  Ezra carefully studied God's Word.  He put his understanding of God's Word into practice.  He faithfully taught the Word of God to others.  Ezra was instrumental in bringing God's people back to repentance, true worship and a respect for God's Word. Today, our Christian leaders need to be more like Ezra, by boldly proclaiming God's Word and by calling God's people back to repentance and holy living while honoring God's Word above all else.

            Ezra after beginning the work in Jerusalem returned back to Babylon for some years after which he returned to Jerusalem.  Upon his return he discovered that the worship of Jehovah which he had instituted had deteriorated into paganism, with unholy, deceitful and evil men occupying places of privilege in the Church.  Although the people had not returned to idolatry, they had intermarried with the people of the land and had returned to the same pagan practices that had caused their exile in the first place; their leaders being the worst offenders (Ref. Ezra 9:1-4).

            Ezra after seeing their transgressions rent his cloths, and pulled out his hair in grief!  Then he did what a true man of God should do, he fell on his face and prayed a grief stricken prayer of confession.  A crowd hearing their leaders grief stricken prayer gathered (Ezra 9-10) and spent many hours praying and confessing their sins.   Once the people saw how their sin affected the man of God, God was able to give His people a real revelation of the depth of their sin.  God’s people acknowledged their sin and Ezra led them into a sacred covenant with God.

            Ezra continued teaching the precepts of God for thirteen years before Nehemiah a civil governor under King Artaxerxes of Persia, was burdened of God to reestablish the work on the temple in Jerusalem.  Ezra had brought a revival of Scriptural study and godly worship, under Nehemiah however, we saw ordained and directed godly action.   

            To have been made ruler of Jerusalem by Artaxerxes, Nehemiah must have been a Jewish patriot, a man of sufficient character and importance and of superior intelligence.  Nehemiah is first seen in the court of the Persians in Shushan their capital.  He having a burden for his people inquired of their well being.  Once informed of their deplorable condition and the horrific state of God's temple, Nehemiah like Ezra, fell on his face prayed and fasted.  Nehemiah's prayer lasted nearly four months, (from Chisleu - Nehemiah 1:1 to Nisan – Nehemiah 2:1 which is our November through March), before he felt it was the right time to present his petition before the King. 

            Nehemiah realized that his work consisted of two extremely difficult tasks.  The first was to rebuild God’s temple which had laid waste since its destruction seventy years earlier (Nehemiah 1-7).  The second task was to restore the people’s proper adherence to the Law and their love for Jehovah God (Nehemiah 8-13).  No easy task to say the least.  Take note, despite the enormous difficulties facing him Nehemiah after praying for the relief of his countrymen, he did not sit idly by and say, “Let God see to his own work, for I have too much to do.”  No, Nehemiah proceeded to calculate what was needed to accomplish the work and what he needed to do to acquire it (Ref. Nehemiah two).  Our prayers must be followed by serious effort.  If we take the first step God will give us the strength to endure the journey.

            Nehemiah being completely satisfied that the work he was burdened to do was commissioned by the Lord, proceeded to prepare for and fulfill all his plans.  The temple wall was completed in fifty two days, and true sacrificial worship was established within approximately eighteen months.  Nehemiah stayed and governed his people for approximately twelve years, returned to Persia for five years then returned once again to Jerusalem to govern.

            Once Nehemiah returned he found that the people had returned to false worship, and appalling practices He found that they were being ruled by false, unauthorized and unqualified church leaders, who ruled according to their own agendas.  Nehemiah seeing these deplorable actions and blasphemous priestly appointments physically cleansed the temple of all the unholy practices and self ordained ungodly leaders.  Then he proceeded to reestablish, train and ordain a Godly priesthood and proper worship under the leadership of Ezra. 

            Nehemiah lived a life of ease, luxury and security in Shushan.  He was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, a position of extreme high honor.  It would have been very easy for Nehemiah, who being in a position of familiarity with the king, to forget his people and his past.  But he did not!  God gave Nehemiah the burden for God's temple and God's people.  God called Nehemiah to be a reformer.  Once this burden was established and the call revealed, Nehemiah traded his life of ease, luxury and security for one of toil, danger and heartbreak in the service of his God.  Are we willing to do the same?  For we have all been called to be witnesses, reformers and ministers of reconciliation (cf. Acts 1:8; 2nd Corinthians 5:18-19; Hebrews 2:17).

            This type of person no one appreciates in fact they are more often despised and shunned.  However, that did not stop Nehemiah, for Nehemiah was a devote man who knew how to pray, a man without a spot or blemish on his character, a man who was a humble, fearless, steadfast in his convictions and courageous.  In every case of true restoration, revival or change this is the type of man God will seek out and use. 

            There are five challenges that must be faced before reformation can be completed. 

  1. Discovery

  2. Decision                                    

  3. Direction                                               

  4. Defeat Deceptions                                            

  5. Dedication

            The first one is;

  1. DiscoveryEzra 1:1-7, Nehemiah 1:1-11
    1. The burden revealed
    2. The burden accepted
    3. The burden expressed

  Action 1 – Repentance - personal and corporate

  Action 1 – Prayer – Night and day for his people and the job at hand

  Action 2 – Fasting – Night and day for his people and the job at hand

 

            Man must first discover through a revelation of God, the depth of his depravity, and the blackness of the sin that surrounds him and God’s people.  This revelation must, by the Spirit of God, burden us to the point that we do what all true man and women of God do, fall on our faces and pray a grief stricken prayer of confession and repentance for ourselves and our people. 

            This exact same revelation was seen by Isaiah.  All Isaiah could cry out once it was revealed was; "Doom! It's Doomsday! I'm as good as dead! Every word I've ever spoken is tainted - blasphemous even! And the people I live with talk the same way, using words that corrupt and desecrate" (Isaiah 6:5a – The message Bible)!  Do we understand the impact on Isaiah's heart?  This is a man of God who for many years served the living God in such a manner as to be brought up to heaven, saw the Lord on his throne in God's very throne room.  His prayer sounds nothing like the arrogant and demanding words coming out of Christian mouths today.  Too often we are taught about how sinless we are and how as Christians we cannot sin.  Why, because the atonement has made us perfect and sinless.  Therefore, as Christians we have the right to demand of God what we want without much or any thought of what He might want for us.  Then we are told to claim it, because that is faith.  Then God because we close our prayers with the phrase "in Jesus' name," must give us our desires. 

            As a result of this patronizing and error filled teaching our hearts are lifted up and we strut around with pride, arrogance and a confidence that is an affront to God.  We then stand before this Holy Omniscient God and lift up prayers that demonstrate this misplaced self confidence, all along ignoring the fact that God knows every good and evil thing within us.  We think that there is no evil in us for it has all been washed away while the truth is hidden due to our eyes that cannot and will not see.  "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" (1st Corinthians 13:12).  "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults (13) Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous (Hebrew word - zade' meaning arrogant, proud, insolent) sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great (Hebrew word - rab meaning abundant) transgression" (Psalm 19:12-13).  "If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand" (Psalm 130:3)?  "The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him. (8)  A king who sits on the throne of judgment scatters all evil with his eyes. (9) Who can say, "I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin" (Proverbs 20:7-9)?  Finally read what the great Apostle Paul had to say about himself.  "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (25) I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" (Romans 7:24-25).  Ask yourself, if the Apostle Paul thought of himself as a wretched man, a man that pleaded with God to deliver him from death (sin) how can we stand before God and petition him with such arrogance as to expect Him to just open the flood gates of blessing and hold nothing back.  Is it any wonder that are prayers so often go unanswered and so many of our churches lack the power and the gifts promised to a holy generation of royal priests.  Brethren, no matter how long it takes and how much it hurts God’s people must discover how deep their sin runs, then they must turn from it, before any restoration or change can begin.

            Let us hear what some our great spiritual fathers have said about repentance and contrition.

  • "Equally in the Christian life, to stumble and fall and then to flounder in the dust is sin, certainly. It calls for repentance and it needs God's forgiveness. For it is not necessary for me to walk with the Lord like that, hiding behind the excuse that "I must fall once in a while; it is inevitable!"  (Watchmen Nee)

  • "God's people often erroneously think that they need a contrite spirit only at the time they repent and believe in the Lord or whenever they subsequently fall into sin. We should know, however, that God wishes us to keep our spirit in a state of contrition at all times. We ought never to sin; yet we always should have sorrow for sin. The presence of God is felt in such a spirit." (Watchmen Nee)

  • "A believer puts on the sackcloth of contrition, for having put off the garment of perfection. As the sugar loaf is dissolved, and weeps itself way, when dipped in wine; so do our hearts melt under a sense of divine love."  (William Secker)

  • Our prayers have stains in them, our faith is mixed with unbelief, our repentance is not as tender as it should be and our communion is distant and interrupted. We cannot pray without sinning, and there is filth even in our tears. For repentance is as much a mark of a Christian, as faith is. A very little sin, as the world calls it, is a very great sin to a true Christian. (Charles Spurgeon)

            In every ordained move of God we see the same pattern; God would either, through His servants the prophets or through His Word, bring a conviction upon His people.  That conviction brings divine revelation of the depth of man’s sin and the burden for restoration.  These revelations would then cause God’s people to repent in dust and ashes.  Then a God empowered cleansing of His people, their families, homes, and nation would take place.  It is only after all this is completed that the blessings of God would fall, and restoration would begin.  Blessings like freedom, safety, prosperity, protection, and healing and most of all the presence of God was felt everywhere.  The ungodly nations that surrounded God’s people would come to know Him through His blessings, protection and presence that He bestowed upon them (Read Leviticus 26).

            Today; when one receives a burden from God often times in our zeal to see it accomplished we skip the steps of fasting, prayer, and contrition which prepare us for the necessary work.  We go right to asking for directions!  But that is not the case demonstrated by Ezra and Nehemiah!  When the bourdon was received, the prayer of repentance for themselves and their nation along with fasting began and then came the prayer for the Father's specific directions.  In Nehemiah’s case, he prayed for the intervening of our Heavenly Father so that he could petition the king to send him to Jerusalem with a commission to rebuild its wall, and grant him that which was necessary for the job ahead.  

            Did you notice the order of steps taken by Nehemiah?  First received the burden; He then prayed that God would grant him the strength and wisdom to do the job.  He did not pray for someone else to do it. He listed all the needed supplies and started the physical preparations.  Today's Christians for the most part, go and tell a Pastor or church leader their burden.  Then pray asking God to send someone do the work and for God to give that person the directions needed to accomplish it.  This method successfully eliminates us from taking on any responsibility or further action.  Nehemiah on the other hand, understood the fact that if God gave him the burden, God required him to do the work!

            This brings us to the second challenge, the “Decision.”

  1. Decision - There are only two to choose from
    1. I will stay where I am. I am somewhat safe and satisfied. Someone else will do it.
    2. I will risk everything on God’s requirement.

            Any pastor will be glad to tell you how often a congregational member has come to them and suggested that he (the Pastor) start a ministry that the member feels is necessary.  Then this same congregational member will, once told to start it himself, will retreat and say something like, Oh, I am not able or called to do that!  Or, I am not a minister!  Knowing all along he was expecting the pastor to do the work not him.  (Refer Moses' arguments with God about going to Egypt to set God's people free - Exodus 3:10-4:18).

            Ask yourself why God would give you the burden for a certain ministry if you were not the one God wanted to do it!  When God puts a burden on you for a ministry, do what Isaiah did when he was given a burden for ministry.  Isaiah burden was that God expects vineyard fruit from those who enjoy vineyard privileges, not the mere leaves of profession, or the wild grapes of hypocritical performances in religion and Isaiah's people were guilty of this transgression (Ref. Isaiah 5).  After Isaiah received this revelation from God, God showed him his own need of cleansing, he then repented for himself and his people and then made the decision; "I'll go. Send me" (Isaiah 6:8)!  You cannot expect God’s direction until you take this same path and make the exact decision and request that Isaiah, Ezra and Nehemiah made. 

            OK, now that the decision is made and the request given, "Lord I'll go. Send me" what is next?  Ezra just like Nehemiah asked for help from God’s people.  "The hardest of all jobs is made exponentially less difficult when more help is acquired," this is a truism.  Unfortunately not many people volunteered to go with Nehemiah when the initial call went forth (Ezra 1:1-6).  Out of an entire nation that many scholars believe exceeded 200,000, only 775 volunteered to leave Babylon, with only 652 actually leaving (Ref. Nehemiah 7:10).  The reasons why 123 volunteers dropped out vary from sickness, death, while others simply changed their minds.  What about the rest of the 200,000 exiles?  Could it be that so many had gotten content being aliens in a foreign and wicked land that leaving was too much trouble and too great a change for them and their families.  Could they have thought that the risks and requirements were not worth the reward?  Could they have gotten content knowing God only in their memories and having no real hunger or thirst for more of Him?  Could they have become happy only knowing God from afar, living outside and looking on from afar?

          Ask yourself if this might be the problem with the Body of Christ today!  In the New Testament book of Revelation we see the reality of this lukewarm commitment to God.  Jesus speaking to the church at Laodicia saying "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. (16) So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth (Revelation 3:15-16).  In fact these Laodicians had thrown Jesus out of their lives, their homes and most importantly their places of worship (Ref. Revelation 3:20).  Notice where Jesus is standing, He is outside with the door shut knocking.  He was pleading with them to come in, to be part of their lives and to have fellowship with them but they would have no part of Him, they were content with that arrangement.  Jesus proceeded to give them an invitation "if anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me."  In many believers' lives and in many of our churches Jesus is still in the same place pleading to come in. 

            Could it be that we, like the 200,000 exiles and the church of Laodicia, do not think that God has enough to offer us for the risk and requirements He wants us to undertake?  This did not deter Nehemiah in the least.  He pressed onward despite the lack of encouragement and support, as we should.  Nehemiah recognize that there was that group of 652 that wanted to return and was prepared, organized and dedicated for the work ahead.  These people were willing to endure the hardships and dangers of the journey, and the rigors of the work.  They perhaps remembered the freedom, provision, and protection that came with being in harmony with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They no longer wanted to be aliens in a foreign land having to endure the ridicule, humiliation, and hardships that the label of "alien" placed upon them.  Or perhaps some just wanted the constant fellowship with the Almighty in the place God had placed His name.  Whatever the reason this extremely small percentage of helpers made probably the most difficult decision of their lives.  They would face the danger of the long journey and the arduous work ahead for the promise of fellowship with their God.

            Saints, we need to recall those times of harmony with God and the joys that it brought, before we face our next trial or our next call of obedience!  The saints that recalled the joys, blessing, and fellowship which the Father brought them, made that dramatic and difficult decision.  "Lord I'll go. Send me!"  They were to give up everything and endure the arduous journey filled with all kinds of dangers along with the fear of the unknown.  They were going to pack up their wives their children and all their possessions in order to relocate 700 miles across the desert to a place only familiar to them by the stories told them at night around the fire.  They were about to attempt the almost impossible task of rebuilding a city and its temple, renewing true worship and to reestablish a God fearing nation.  Does this not show their true faith in God?  These 652 believed that God was worth the risk, the requirements and the hard and dangerous work.  So they along with their families went forth on this long and arduous journey with total faith and trust in God.  Knowing that their enemies were all around preparing to destroy them, but being fully confident that God would preserve them and that one day God would reward them for their faithfulness.  We all know that faith without works is dead (James 2:20, 26) these 652 demonstrated their faith through their mighty works and were rewarded.

            Could this extremely small percentage of faithful believers be the reality of what of what Jesus was saying when He told us to "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. (14) Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Ref. Matthew 7:13-14).

            We will continue with this lesson next month by looking at the last three steps that lead to reformation and change, Direction, Defeating Deceptions and Dedication.  Until then may "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen."

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