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The Challenge Ahead for Today's Church
Part Two

May 2014

            This month we will finish the discussion on what challenges lie ahead for the church.

We will continue to use for our scripture text the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  As we have discovered, Ezra and Nehemiah were one book in the Hebrew Bible, when put together these two books tell the story of the return of God’s people from seventy years of bondage and slavery while in exile in Babylon.  The time covered from the first chapter of Ezra to the last chapter of Nehemiah is approximately 100 years.  Both books begin in Persia (which represents God’s “Punishment due to sin”) and ending in Jerusalem (which represents God’s Promise of peace).  Both center on a devoted, prayerful man of God.  Both books are about reestablishing true spiritual worship along with the rebuilding of God’s House (which 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 worship.

            Last month we discussed two challenges faced by the saints in order to produce reformation and change. 

1.      Discovery.  We found that a man must discover through a revelation of God (Ezra 1:1-7, Nehemiah 1:1-11), the depth of his own depravity, and the blackness of the sin that surrounds him and God’s people.  Without this revelation there can be no humility and therefore there can be no dependence upon God, His power, mercy and forgiveness.  This revelation must, by the Spirit of God, must take 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 action must be taken before any man can be used by God.

2.      Decision.  Ask yourself why God would give you the burden for a certain ministry if you were not the one God wanted to use in it!  When God puts a burden on you for ministry, do what Isaiah did, he sought God and came to a true revelation of who God is and what He requires.   Once that discovery was realized he also came to a place where he saw his own need of cleansing.  Isaiah then repented for himself and his people and made a Decision for ministry, he said; "I'll go, Send me" (Isaiah 6:8)!  You cannot expect God’s direction until you take this same path and make the same decision and request that Isaiah did!

            Let us now look at the third challenge faced by Ezra and Nehemiah:

3.      DirectionEzra 1:6-11, Nehemiah 2:1-20

Ezra and Nehemiah cleansed themselves of their sin and the sins of their people by sacrificing sin and peace offerings to God.  This was done in order to allow them to hear God's direction.  They put themselves under the covering of constant corporate prayer which provided protection, information and guidance.  Then knowing the task at hand they went to the proper authorities to get authorization to accomplish what was necessary for the job ahead.  God had so worked in this situation that Cyrus the King of Persia gave God's people all the money, provision and authorization needed for the grueling 700 mile trip across the barren desert and to complete the work of rebuilding God’s house.  It was not until God's people arrived in Jerusalem that the job of rebuilding the temple was assessed and the people's potential and skills were factored in that a detailed and specific restoration plan was prepared and the work begun. 

Notice the order and actions taken.

  • Action 1 – First and foremost was the never ceasing fasting and prayer by God’s leader and the endless prayers from the leaders and their people
  • Action 2 -  Unlimited sacrificial offerings
  • Action 3 – Governmental authorization requested
  • Action 4 – Plans for the relocation established
  • Action 5 – Relocation prepared for
  • Action 6 – Observation and appraisal of the job ahead
  • Action 7 – Plans established for completing the work
  • Action 8 – Work carried out according to a specific, detailed plan in unity

            Have you ever been privy to observing the workings of a large choir, when they practice?  Each group of singers, the bases, tenors and the soprano’s all go into separate rooms in order to learn their specific part.  When each group has learned their part completely and accurately the director brings them all together to sing the song.  It is at this point that the choir director fine tunes them making it ready for performing.  All the parts of the music and all the singers now fit together in beautiful, joyous and harmonious sounds for all to enjoy.  This is how the temple work was organized.  All the people worked at an assigned job in one assigned place until all their work came together and the final fine tuning was done, completing the job (Nehemiah 3).

            In the New Testament we see the same thing.  The Saints of God are likened to a human body with all parts working together for the health and well being of the whole (Ref. 1st Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4).  The work of God can only be accomplished and unity established when we put away our pride and acknowledge that the “I” must decrease and the “WE” must increase.  The apostle Paul brought this point out in Philippians 2:3-5; Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.  Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.  Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”  

            A Biblical example of the need a unified purpose in order to accomplish the seeming impossible is the "Tower of Babel" found in Genesis 11.  Verse 1 tells us that the whole earth was unified in one speech.   Verse 2 says they all agreed upon a homeland.  Verse 3-4 says that they all agreed upon a plan to build a city and a tower.  They all agreed upon the material needed for the task.  They all agreed to use bricks and mortar and proceeded to build the city and its tower.  They also agreed with the purpose in doing so.  The purpose was:

1.      To make a name for themselves

2.      They did not want to be scattered abroad over all the earth. 

            Brethren understand that their reasons for building the tower are not the point of this example, but the way they accomplished it is.  They all agreed on the purpose, a vision on how to accomplish it, a plan to achieve it and the will to put aside any disunity and work together until the vision was accomplished.  Verse 6 gives us the crux of this example.  "And the LORD said, 'Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.'"  Notice the limitations God put on them due to their unified purpose?  There was no limit! It would be unlimited; nothing would be withheld from them.  This is what God is trying to establish today in our churches.  We must all come together with a single purpose (salvation for a lost and dying world), a vision of how to accomplish it (re-establishing the fivefold ministry in all churches), establishing a plan to achieve our purpose (putting away of personal glorification and personal desires for the greater good) and agreeing upon the merchandise and tools (Gifts of the Spirit) needed to accomplish God's goal.

            Let us examine one more lesson.  Ezra without Nehemiah did not complete God’s call to rebuild the temple and reestablish true worship.  Nehemiah could not have completed it without the preparatory work of Ezra.  Ezra’s burden was to establish true worship while the temple was being built.  Nehemiah’s burden was to build the temple while Ezra's burden was to establish true worship.  Ezra nor Nehemiah could complete both, neither one alone was equipped to accomplish both jobs.  Ezra for example tried, but miserably failed.  It was not until Nehemiah was called to take over the rebuilding of the temple that Ezra was free to accomplish that which he was so well equipped to do.  Separately neither man completed the job God wanted accomplished.  Ask yourself; what good is a house of worship without true worship?  It was both men working together that completed the job God wanted accomplished.  We as Christians should recognize this pattern from the New Testament, Jesus did not send His disciples out alone, He sent His disciples out two by two (Mark 6:7).  

            There is much wisdom in sending men out in this manner.  Our Lord knew the wisdom of having “a religious friend,” to aid one another by mutual counsel while sustaining and comforting one another in their persecutions and trials.  This "religious friend" needs to be one of equal knowledge and abilities (Ref. 2nd Corinthians 6:14) so that they can be a burden bearer a confidant and helper whenever the need arrived.  Every Christian, and especially every Christian minister, needs such a friend, and should seek someone to whom he can unburden himself, someone with whom he can share his feelings, hopes, dreams and especially his prayers.

            Ephesians 4 also speaks of "unified partnership."   The apostle Paul exhorts the Ephesian church to walk worthy of their vocation, and to live in peace and unity.  With this as a backdrop and the foundation of the chapter, Paul explains that God has distributed to the Church a variety of gifts, and instituted a variety of offices, all for the building up and perfecting of the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:7-13).   Paul continues by teaching us the necessity of being well instructed and steady in Divine things (Ephesians 4:14).  He goes on to teach us how the Body of Christ (the church) is constituted (Ref. Ephesians 4:15-16).  All these instructions are based on "unified partnership" within the Body of Christ.  Without the word, worship, fellowship and prayer, all founded in unity, the direction and plan God has for the Body of Christ cannot and will not be accomplished.

4.      Defeating Deceptions:   The Forth action which must be taken to produce an active and viable church is inevitable and unavoidable.  Whenever we hunger and thirst after God's righteousness with a heart sold out to do His will and His work the devil will be, battling to derail our efforts. Do not think yourself immune to his deceptions.  Jesus had to face them before His public ministry started (Refer Matthew 4).  If Jesus was not immune to the devil’s attacks, what makes you think you are?  Once we make the decision to sell out to Christ we must be ready for the greatest battle of our lives.  A battle that can only be fought through the wisdom and strength of God!  For it is only through God that we can see through his deceptions and defeat him.  "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (38) For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, (39) nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:37-39).           

            It is important to know your enemy in order to fight more effectively.  Let me give you an example of this important fact taken from General Norman Schwarzkopf's Post "Desert Storm" Interview.  He was asked by a reporter how they were able to defeat Sodom Husain's forces so quickly and with such a low casualty count.  His answer was, "I had studied the Iraqis in great detail in their battles against the Iranians. I knew what their strengths and weaknesses were. I also knew the forces I had under my command, and I knew what their strengths and weaknesses were. I adopted a campaign plan that capitalized on using our strengths against their weaknesses - and avoided their strengths, and avoided our weaknesses. That's a pretty good strategy for any kind of business you're in."

So with that in mind let us look at Intel God provides on the devil.

In John 8:44 Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees.  After telling them that they are like their father the devil, Jesus describes him.  "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it."

  Ephesians 2:2 "in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience…"

  1st Peter 5:8 "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour."

  Ephesians 6:13-14a "Therefore, take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (14) Stand therefore"

  James 4:7 "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you."

  James 4:10 "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."

   Notice also some titles given to the devil by God in the Scriptures.  These are but a few.

  • Accuser of the brethren - Revelation 12:10
  • Angel of the Abyss - Revelation 9:11
  • Father of all lies - John 8:44
  • Angel of light - 2nd Corinthians11:14
  • Evil One - Matthew 13:19
  • God of this world - 2nd Corinthians 4:4
  • Ruler of darkness - Ephesians 6:12
  • Ruler of the demons - Matthew 12:24
  • Tempter - Matthew 4:3
  • Deceiver of all nations - Revelation 20:3

            An adversary of this nature is one in which we cannot stand against or have any hope in defeating without the wisdom, power and direction of God.  Without it we will be mislead, by false opinions and directions.  Remember he can appear to us with deceptive appearances, which can easily be mistaken for one of God's messengers.  All his deceptions are a misapplication of the established facts used by God to communicate truth.  We are told that the devil is not only a liar but a great one; one who is capable of deceiving nations in fact he is called the father of all lies (Refer John 8:44).  It is only when "God will cast the devil into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more" (Revelation 20:3) that our war with the devil will end and no more will we have to be concerned with his lies and deceptions.

            So how do we fight against this kind of enemy and have any chance of winning?   The answer is found in Ephesians 6:10-12.  “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” We would all like to believe that the devil is somewhere far away and we can just shoot the Word of God at him and he will go away.  But that is not what Ephesians 6:10-12 says.  It says that "we must 'wrestle' against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."  Wrestling denotes close personal hands on contact, personal grappling with the enemy!  Wrestling also employs the use of pressure tactics that when used properly make any action offensively or defensively almost impossible.  How many of us have felt the use of these pressure tactics when a decision for the Lord has to be made?  I dare say all of us have!

            Ezra and Nehemiah faced this type of personal and corporate attack.  In Ezra 4 we see that Ezra faced the problem of discouragement.  The people of the land were discouraging the people of Judah in order to make them stop building.  The people of the land also hired counselors to frustrate their divine purpose.  The rulers even got together and wrote a letter to Artaxerxes King of Persia.  The letter was filled with false accusations against the inhabitants of Judea and Jerusalem.  These lies and deceptions were directed at stopping the temple from being built. And it did, until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia, which was approximately seven years later.

            Then the governor of the land came and tried to get them to stop by requesting authorization (Ezra 5).  Another letter was written this time to King Darius asking for confirmation of the authorization that was given to the Jews to build the temple.  Darius made a search and returned a letter commanding them to let the Jews continue without interference.

            Ezra however, was not alone in facing severe opposition.  When Nehemiah came to Jerusalem he also faced the same severe and life threatening opposition.  First it was the Samaritans, who ridiculed them when that did not work they hindered them by threatening the workers if they did not stop the work.  The Jews had to keep armed guards on watch night and day.  Their contempt for the work turned to anger forcing Nehemiah to divide the men into two groups, one keeping watch with weapons in hand while the other worked.

            Then opposition arose from within the ranks.  Some of the Jews became tired and complained that there was so much rubbish that the walls could not be built.  All this rubble had to be removed in a thick canvas pad on the carrier’s back; there were neither wheelbarrows nor carts to carry the material.  Then, the complaint arose that the rich were demanding usury that the poor were unable to pay.  Again the enemies tried this time by deceit and deception (the hiring of false prophets) to get Nehemiah away from the temple, but Nehemiah prayed and again God foiled his enemy.  Each time the enemy came against Nehemiah to stop him from completing the work Nehemiah’s answer to that attack was prayer. 

  When Tobiah the Amorite wanted to come and break down the newly forming walls, Nehemiah prayed - Nehemiah 4:4-5, 9.

  Before Nehemiah solved the problem of the rich demanding usury that the poor were unable to pay, and he refused to be associated with the practices of the former governor, Nehemiah prayed - Nehemiah 5:19

  When Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of their enemies, heard that the wall was being completed, and that there was no breach left therein, they set a deadly trap for Nehemiah in the house of the Lord.  Before he fell into this deception - Nehemiah prayed - Nehemiah 6:14

  After the completion of the temple and God’s law was read to all the people, Nehemiah prayed - Nehemiah 9:6-38

  After Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem after a short leave in Babylon, he saw the temple forsaken and unauthorized priests working in the temple, Nehemiah prayed - Nehemiah 13:14

  Finally once all things were worked out and pure temple worship was established, Nehemiah ended his book with, that’s right, a prayer – Nehemiah 13:31 

            You want to know how to defeat the plans of the enemy, PRAY!!!  Then do what is good, that which God requires of thee.  "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" (Micah 6:8)? 

5.      Dedication:   The Fifth action is Dedication.  What is Dedication?  It is a narrow discipline of consecration is what the Hebrew word "chănûkkâh" means.   According to Webster’s Dictionary, Dedication is; the act of consecrating to a divine Being, or to a sacred use, often with a religious ceremony; a ritual performance attended with religious reverence; or the act of devoting or giving to.

            The 652 people that returned to Jerusalem knew the hardships, the dangers, and the arduous work ahead.  These people gave up everything and endure the demanding journey ahead.  A journey filled with all kinds of dangers and the tremendous fear of the unknown.  They packed up their wives their children and all their possessions in order to relocate 700 miles across the desert to a place only familiar in their memories.  They were about to attempt the almost impossible task of rebuilding a city and its temple, renewing true worship and reestablish a God fearing nation. 

            Once they overcame the relocation (the journey across the desert) and came to the city where God dwelt, the realization of the total destruction of their city and temple hit them.  Despair attacked them when they thought of the massive amount of work that would be required to accomplish the rebuilding.  No doubt the enemy was telling them that it could not be done.   Now on top of all this they also had to face a physical enemy that surrounded them on all sides and greatly outnumbered them.  On the North was Sanballat the Governor of Samaria, on the East, Tobiah the ruler of the Amorites.  To the South was Geshon the King of Arabia and to the West were the Ashdodites which are also known as the Philistines. 

            Look at some of the trials they had to endure.  Then observe how they overcame them.

                         The Weapon Used.                                                               The Defense Used.

  1.       Ridicule                      Neh. 2:19, 4:1-3            1.       Confidence                                         Neh. 2:20

  2.       Wrath                         Neh. 4:3                        2.       Prayer                                                  Neh. 4:4-5

  3.       Contempt                   Neh. 4:3                        3.       Hard Work/ Steadfastness                  Neh. 4:6

  4.       Threats                       Neh. 4:7-8                     4.       Prayer and Alertness                           Neh. 4:9

  5.       Discouragement          Neh. 4:10-23                 5.       Courage                                               Neh. 4:13-15

  6.       Greed                         Neh. 5:1-5                     6.       Self sacrifice                                       Neh. 5:6-14 

  7.       Extortion                     Neh. 5:9-10                   7.       Unselfishness                                      Neh. 5:14-19

  8.       Compromise               Neh. 6:1-2                     8.       Commitment                                       Neh. 6:3

  9.       Slander                       Neh. 6:4-7                     9.       Strength of mind                                 Neh. 6:8

10.       Treachery                   Neh. 6:10                    10.       Conviction to the work                       Neh. 6:11-13

            These dedicated nation builders faced many seen and unseen, spiritual, physical and emotional hardships.  They also faced unbelievable odds, but did not flinch or give up.  No compromise – No surrender.  Ezra, Nehemiah and the people knew what and how much their call included and who was in charge.  God and you make an undefeatable majority!

            In the New Testament we see the same call to Dedication.  Jesus tells us that we must take up our cross (a symbol of sacrifice and death) and follow Him.  If we don’t, He says we are not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:38, Luke 14:27).  We are told also that we will, as His disciples, be hated of all men.  We must endure this hatred to the end, for if we do we shall be saved (Matthew 10:22).  Jesus commands us to love Him more than our fathers and mothers.  If we do not we are not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37, Luke 14:26).  Also in the Luke 14 Jesus gives two parables regarding the cost of discipleship.  In verses 28-30 He speaks of building a tower and not considering the entire cost of it before it is started.  And in verses 31-32 He speaks of a king who wants to make war against his neighbor and does not take into account the odds stacked against him.  He finishes these parables by plainly stating His point in verse 33.  "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple."  Brethren the command is clear – everything save Christ must go!

            This dedication requires us to follow Christ and our calling, to understand and recognize the cost of being His disciple and giving everything to that purpose.  Good Christians are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13); and this salt is good and of great use; by their instructions and examples they season all they converse with.  This good salt keeps men from putrefying, by giving them eternal life and making all who believe seasoning for the world to experience.

            Understand that he who merely makes a profession of religion, and who maintains the same relation to piety that the Pharisees did to good salt, are useless in the church and will be rejected in the judgment. “Real” piety, true religion, is of vast value in the world.  It keeps it pure, and saves it from corruption, as salt does meat; but a mere “profession” of religion is fit for nothing.  It does no good.  It is a mere annoyance, and all who profess such are fit only to be cast out and rejected (cf. Job 8:13, 36:13; Matthew 7:22-23, 8:12, 23:30, 25:30; Revelation 3:16).

         There is one last danger that should be brought to light before closing.  That is the danger of short sightedness.  Our call to the ministry is boundless, because our God is boundless; He has no beginning and no end.  Christians can only go as far in the work of God as they want.  Ezra and Nehemiah both knew their calling.  They allowed God to use them as He saw fit.  They understood that they were about to attempt an almost impossible task of rebuilding God's city and God's temple.  By doing so, they would renew true worship and reestablish a God fearing nation.  These men could have said “no!”  But they did not!  These men were nothing out of the ordinary physically, but they were extraordinary in their prayer life, their obedience and their dedication to the work God had called them.    

         When they heard the call of God they proceeded to pray in order to discover the state of sin that they and their people dwelt.  By doing this they discovered why the burden was received.  They prayed a grief stricken prayer of repentance for themselves and their people.  Once this was completed they took the second step, they made a decision; "I'll go. Send me!"  Once a decision was made to do God's will they began to fast and pray for God’s directions.  God answered their prayers and gave them the direction, protection and guidance needed for the work.

That is when the war started.  Be assured that Satan will attack anyone who has made a decision to do God’s will.  Satan does this by deceptions, and lies.  Their job now was to defeat those Deceptions.  Ezra and Nehemiah knew what to do in the face of those deceptions.  They used all of God’s wisdom, which was given to them in prayer, they walked in unity and in uprightness but most of all they continually prayed asking God to oversee their lives and bless them accordingly.  Lastly they dedicated themselves to God and to finishing the work no matter what came against them.  They knew that if they gave their lives up and followed the precepts of God they would prevail and have an everlasting reward.  AND SO THEY DID!

         Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

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