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What is it about nice people that attract total idiots?Nice people are martyrs. Idiots are evangelists.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sunday Message- are you welcome to help?

This week I was stumbling through Ezra- a book that many preachers use to show us the right way to do things in the name of Christ.  They key on one particular verse- 7:10, "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. "  But today, I'm going to use Ezra to make you question the way you do things.

At the beginning of Chapter Four, you find that a group called in v4 "the people of the land" show up wanting to help.  A little background here:  This is occurring after the captivity in Babylon, when Cyrus the Persian gave Ezra and the people of Judah permission to go back home after 75 years and rebuild the Temple of God.  The "people of the land" are descendents of the conquered peoples that Esarhaddon of Assyria settled there after removing the ten tribes of the Kingdom of Israel into obscurity.  And they came with what may have seemed a neighborly request:

Ezr 4:2  then they drew near to Zerubbabel, and to the heads of fathers' houses, and said unto them, Let us build with you; for we seek your God, as ye do; and we sacrifice unto him since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assyria, who brought us up hither. 

And the leaders of the Jews, Zerubbabel and Jeshua, turned them down flat.  The Jews ALONE would build the Temple, and they would not help in any way.  Which I thought curious at first, as they had already taken material help from the pagan Cyrus once, and would take help again from the Kings of Persia twice more.  What made the "people of the land" different?  Was it their desire to do actual labor?  So I looked into it and found more elemental reasons than that- and they apply to US, when WE want to help in the Church, to help examine our motives and our actions.

First was their intentions.  Due to the way the pages fall in my Bible, I didn't immediately see v1-

Ezr 4:1  Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity were building a temple unto Jehovah, the God of Israel; 

A ha, they were Adversaries, some versions translate that enemies.  And when they were turned down, they soon showed their true colors:

Ezr 4:4  Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, 
Ezr 4:5  and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. 

Now, it doesn't take an active opponent of God to cause this kind of problem. I have seen- and been- the person that puts in the roadblock to progress, whether through lack of understanding, need to control, or just plain cantankerous temperament  If you aren't pulling all the same way, then either there better have been a problem with the direction- or there will be.

In addition, there are a ton of false councillors out there.  People love to insert Joel Osteen here- and from what I have read, he would definitely fit- but anyone who isn't following the Gospel to the letter is just as guilty.  There are lots of people in mainstream Christianity with excuses not to follow the Word of God- the Church Fathers/Prophets know better, the Bible was put together by men (the most easily disputed lie), the Bible is out of date (#2 on that list), and so on.

Second, these people didn't worship from the heart.  Go back to the crucial chapter of their origin, II Kings 17.  These were people who came with all their old gods- Succoth Benoth, Nergal, Ashima, Nibhaz, Tartak, Adrammelech, and Anammelech, the Bible names them.  But their old gods left them prey to lions and other wild beasts in the area; so they petitioned Esarhaddon to send them priests of Israel (whom, I might add, hadn't followed Temple worship in two centuries) to show them "the rituals of the God of the land."  

Thus it was that, 150 years later, they came to Zerubbabel and said, "we seek your God, as ye do; and we sacrifice unto him", they were wrong on so many fronts.  And there are two main ways they were wrong.  First, they still thought of God as "Your God"; just another cosmic deity who required spiritual rent for living on his land.  Second, they equated ritual with worship; as the Tao teaches, ritual is the dead husk of true faith.  So they were coming to pay mere lip service to a God that was number two or three on their list.  I seriously doubt I need to explain the applications here.

Third, they weren't blood.  One of the reasons I struggle through Ezra and Nehemiah, despite the interesting plotline, is the interminable lists of genealogy contained therein.  But these have a purpose and that is this:  They knew who was a Jew and who wasn't.  And if you couldn't prove it, you were out. (See Ezra 2:59-60.)  And the "people of the land" were NEVER Jews.

And still today, you have to be of the Blood- the blood of Christ Jesus.  If you are not covered by His blood, you are wasting your time in church.  You are wasting your time on the building committee, the Bible study, the vacation Bible school, or even your own private devotionals.  And Jesus will refuse you just as surely as Zerubbabel did them.  It isn't enough to say, "But I went to church, I served the poor, I got baptized or confirmed" or whatever.  If you are not at the point where you SINCERELY name Jesus "MY God," instead of "your god", you're just one of the people of the land.

And when you DO accept Him, then comes the NEXT stage- you can't be the one looking for reasons this ain't right or that sermon's wrong.  You have to submit to the will of Christ, and do as He says.  No one will get to heaven saying, "Lord, You could do this better."  Believe me, it don't work that way.

And finally, it has to be more than ritual.  WHY do you go to church?  What do you take home from it?  Do you go home and then "pass your children through the fire"?  You might escape the "lion" that way, but you won't escape the Judge.


  1. Chris:
    Now that is a lot to take in.
    I've never spent time in the book of Ezra. but I confess, it's now on my short list.
    As to the "rituals"...I've been to my share of Catholic service (including high mass), and you will find rituals there.
    (still, they are beautiful in their own right).
    As to who was a Jew. I had always thought that ALL people had descended from the original 12 tribes OF Israel.
    I suppose it's correct to say all men were descendants of Adam and Eve.
    That clears it up for me.

    Excellent post and lots to ponder.
    Stay safe up there, brother

    1. All people alive now come from Noah's descendants. The Jewish people descended from Noah's son Shem, who according to Jewish legend was a mentor to Abram (Abraham), who was a great-something-grandson. The twelve tribes divided into 10 and 2 with Solomon's death, and the ten that made up the kingdom of Israel disappeared from Biblical and secular history after Israel fell to Esarhaddon.

      We might or might not be of that line; depends on whether our ancestor was Shem, Ham, or Japheth.

      The Jews that came back were of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, with a handful of Levites thrown in. Jesus was a Judahite; Paul a Benjaminite.

      And I agree, ritual CAN be beautiful- IF connected to the meaning behind it. Hezekiah ended up breaking Moses' bronze serpent because people forgot the meaning and worshipped the object. To me, both Catholic and Orthodox ceremonies travel dangerously close to this.

  2. Very nice. I think that it's worth noting that in the OT, people were held to the letter of the law. In the NT, we are held to the spirit of the law, which is different.

    You make a nice treatment of the subject. Thank you for the post.

    1. I have always thought of the Bible as being split into what some call dispensations. First, with Adam, we get to be RIGHT THERE with God- and we blew it. Then we get the chance to prove we could do it on our own- leading to the Flood. Third try, God gives us the bottom line rules to do it ourselves- yep, blew that. Then He has Jesus die for us, so all we have to do is have faith in Him- yep, blowing that. Finally, it will be Jesus RIGHT THERE with us... and at the end of the millenium, some of us even blow that. God making the point over and over that we CANNOT do without Him.