This sermon is part of today’s Father’s Day Outdoor Service at Shade’s Mill Conservation Area, Cambridge, Ontario!
As we are surrounded by trees here at the hidden gem of Cambridge, Shades Mill Conversation Area, I want to talk about a different tree. This tree is an American Elm! Elm trees were under siege in North America due to a silent killer. Anybody here know the name of that silent killer? Dutch Elm disease! These majestic trees once lined city streets, but nearly 95% of all American Elm trees were wiped out by this fungus, which was a stowaway and illegal immigrant on a dark bark beetle on some logs imported from France in 1930. No wonder why one American Elm in Oklahoma City has become like those endangered species held in zoos and has been preserved at great cost. This particular Elm tree was originally a coveted tree because it was the only tree in a parking lot. What do we do with the only tree in a parking lot? We all race to park under it first because it provides shade for our vehicles so our cars aren’t ovens when we get off work. This one Elm that I want to focus on today eliminated some of the dusty heat of the Oklahoma sun.
But that all changed on April 19, 1995 when it was overwhelmed by heat and was almost chopped down in a single day. Does anybody know why? Shrapnel embedded in the tree from one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in the United States and forensic investigators took piece after piece of the tree as evidence against Timothy McVeigh – the unrepentant bomber who used a 4000 lb. explosive to kill 168 people and injure many others. Sometimes we wonder what would happen if trees could speak and the stories they would tell. This tree became a survivor and witness against evil. In fact, all of the feedback provided from the victims’ families to build a memorial agreed that this tree had to be rescued. For that reason, it was called the Survivor Tree.I have been to other memorial trees like the Forgotten Tree in Benin, West Africa, which was intended to make slaves forget Africa. However, the Survivor Tree stands in sharp contrast – it is a symbol of overcoming.
I think fathers can identify with the Survivor Tree. We are meant to provide shade and protection for those who run to us, but often we live lives alone and cannot provide shade for those who want and need our time. And we have taken the heat and hostility of those bent on evil and who threaten our family. Fathers have become fair game and made to look like fools in our society. And this hostility leaves us with little left after being repeatedly chopped at by life.
I am not having a pity party today, but confessing that I feel more like a failure for these formative years of child-raising. I haven’t provided enough protection and time for all of my children who want and more importantly, need my protective shade. I have favoured and spoiled those under my shade at the neglect of others. My driven-ness without the delight and discipline has over-emphasized performance. Some of my paternal perfectionism has made it extra-challenging for my children, especially with God’s sever mercies in the form of learning challenges. I am so thankful for God’s grace, which is greater than my sin. These parental appreciation days of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day often have a dark side of guilt and regret, but I love the fact that God works so powerfully through guilt. What the devil uses as condemnation, God uses as conviction to show us our need for the perfect Heavenly Father and His Saviour Son Jesus Christ.
What I am reminding myself today, and you as well, is that there is hope! Psalm 1 acts as a teacher’s pointer to God’s grace personified in Christ. You see, we find blessing if we don’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners and sit in the seat of scoffers, but instead delight ourselves in the law of the Lord. I know of no children who delight in laws and say to their parents, “Thank you for giving me rules, Mom & Dad.” However, God’s rules not only protect us from hurting ourselves, but also act as a mirror to show us our shortcomings. When we meditate on the law of the Lord all the time – day and night – it shows us our need for Christ. He becomes like a river of never-ending living water that we can draw life from and then bear fruit. We can be like the Survivor Tree in Oklahoma City. You see an arborist was hired to nurse the Survivor Tree back from near death. The arborist dug up the hard asphalt around the tree. Seeds were taken and seedlings have grown. The tree is now thriving and reproducing. This arborist reminds us of Christ. He digs up our hard hearts and makes us righteous, thriving and reproducing.
Why? Because He died on the ultimate Survivor Tree! The cruel cross had the shrapnel of nails and the blood of Jesus stained on it. This ultimate Survivor’s Tree was the greatest witness of evil and yet because of Jesus dying on this tree, we have not only been saved and survived but can thrive. And now we fathers, and all of us, can become scarred memorials of the life of Christ bearing fruit once again. The limits of our protection and the damage done against us by silent, deadly evil forces can be recovered. If you feel guilt as a father or guilt as a son or daughter today, you can find life and hope once again in Jesus Christ. Jesus took the deadly explosion of our sin and has come back to life so you and I can survive judgment. The Christian Faith is marked by grace and an opportunity to move forward. Delight yourself in God’s Word and find shade under God’s ultimate Survivor’s Tree – the Cross of Jesus Christ and you will be blessed.
Source: https://oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org/about/press-room/survivor-tree/. Accessed June 10, 2019.
This sermon can be listened to or watched at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
When was the last time you fasted? Some of you are thinking that this is one of the easiest questions I have ever asked you. You fasted last night! You fasted when you slept and then when you woke up, you broke your fast by having breakfast. So in a sense, we fast every night while we sleep. However, I am talking about a longer fast than 4-8 hours. When was the last time you fasted? You might question whether you are called to fast. Well, did you know that Jesus expects us to fast? Jesus declared Matthew 6:16, “And when you fast …” Notice, Jesus did not say “If you fast,” but “when you fast.” Now, if you cannot fast from food because of a medical condition, then fast from something other than food. This is why I encourage you to check with your doctor first about your health before you fast. The spiritual disciplines are never meant to harm our bodies unlike some in the Early Church taught and even encouraged asceticism, which was a practice of extreme self-denial and austerity. Go slow at first and maybe just skip a meal and then work your way up to a 24 hour fast where you stop eating after supper one day and then miss breakfast and lunch the next day breaking the fast with supper. The point is that Jesus expects us to fast!
Now some of us think fasting is just for the super Christians or when you are really desperate. Today, we are going to learn about fasting in the good times and not just in the bad times. Fasting is normal. It should be a regular part of our relationship with Christ and not to get God’s stuff. In fact, we should fast for all sorts of things. In Ezra 8:21-23, we are going to learn how to fast before going on a journey. Have you thought about fasting before going on vacation? And I am not just saying this so you lose some weight and make room for gorging yourselves while away. Fast before journeying!
We are also going to learn how to fast before a major assignment. Have you got a project coming up or a ministry assignment? Have you thought about fasting and not just so you skip meals to have more time to work on the project. You see, as I have taught you before from my friend Dr. Rick Cryder, “Fasting is Feasting on Christ.”Jesus declares He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35)! He sustains us! Scot McKnight corrects our thinking when he writes in his book entitled Fasting, “Fasting along with our prayer requests is not some kind of magic bullet to ensure the answer we want. Fasting doesn’t reinforce the crumbling walls of our prayers like a flying buttress, nor it is a manipulative device. We fast because a condition arises that leads us to desire something deeply. We fast because our plea is so intense that in the midst of our sacred desire eating seems sacrilegious.”As another teacher has said, “Fasting helps you separate what you want from what you need. Hungry people are desperate people.”You are probably not desperate enough if you are turning to food for comfort or stress-relief, which I have done so too much in my life. So it begs the question, Are you desperate? In fact, I take great encouragement that we can have it all like we do here in North America and yet still be desperate for what is really needed – that deep close connection to Jesus! Let’s read Ezra 8:21-23 to find out how to become desperate for God in every area of our life! Read Ezra 8:21-23!
I need to recap what has happened so far because if we don’t understand the background, we will not understand the significance of what Ezra did and what we are also to do. So Ezra is a Jew born and raised in Babylon during the Jewish exile there. Why were the Jews exiled in Babylon? Take 10 seconds and tell the person next to you why the Jews were exiled to Babylon. The Jews were in exile because they cheated on God. It is around 450 B.C. at the time of writing in Ezra 8 and the first wave of exiles have already returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt a lot of the temple in Jerusalem. Ezra is now leading a second wave of exiles to Babylon and not only has permission from King Artaxerxes to leave captivity and make sacrifices to God on the King’s behalf. In fact, this is the second Persian king, the first being Darius, who has given the returning exiles permission to return and intercede for the King (Ezra 6:10). And it gets even better! The king actually promised to provide for Ezra and his fellow Jews. Ezra 7:20 declares, “And whatever else is required for the house of your God, which it falls to you to provide, you may provide it out of the king’s treasury.”
Furthermore, Ezra not only had permission and provision, he had people. As we learned last week, Ezra had a missing Levite problem (8:15). The Levites were crucial to worship because they were the only ones who could help the Jews from other tribes make sacrifices. However, God even provided for the Levites to join the journey after Ezra sent for them at Casiphia. So Ezra had all the permission, provision and people he needed to return to Jerusalem, so what does he do next? Pack up and head out! No, Ezra calls for a fast! This is really important for us to understand, even especially if we want to live the desperate and dependent life upon Christ: when you have everything, seek God as if you have nothing.I’ll say that again because when you seemingly have everything, seek God as if you have nothing. As Ecclesiastes 1, written by King Solomon, who had all the money, power, pleasure and knowledge one who ever hope to have, said everything under the sun is meaningless. This means that we must find our meaning above the sun in the Lord God. All that we and this world strives to own will not last. We must start to see that our everything is Christ alone. I’ll put it this way, as if we were all in a track and field race. God’s superhighway of blessing and life does not have signs with it that say, “Ready, set, go!” No, God calls us, especially when we have everything, to obey this sign, “Ready, set, kneel!” We must kneel to God in heaven at all times – in the bad and good times. When you have everything, seek God as if you have nothing.
Isn’t this what we see in Ezra 8:21, “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before God, to seek from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children and all our goods”? The Jews humbled themselves first and then they fasted and prayed before journeying. For all of us who believe in reading the signs from God, we would just go ahead because it would seem that all of our circumstances are favourably lining up. Who needs to pray when you have everything? But this is not how Ezra felt nor did he presume upon God. When you have everything, seek God as if you have nothing. He prayed for travelling mercies. You know, I grew up always having my parents pray before we left for family vacation. We sat there in the car asking God to watch over us. Lori and I have continued this same practice our whole married life but I never had a Bible verse for this practice until studying this passage. It is important to pray for safety in our travels. There are drunk drivers and now there are drivers out there texting and some smoking weed while on the road. How much more do we need to pray before we turn on the ignition and not just for vacation? How about praying before your daily commute? The roads are scary places.
But it wasn’t just for safety that Ezra was praying. Ezra prayed for the faith of the next generation. Look at verse 21 again, Ezra and his fellow Jews sought the Lord for “our children” (lit. “the weak”).If you have travelled with children, you know that many fights occur while in close confinements. You are trapped in a car together. So fasting and praying before you go on a journey may bring peace to your family. But I think that Ezra prayed for the children because he didn’t want to miss the opportunity to teach the next generation to trust in God. We know from Ezra 7:10 that Ezra was faithful to study, obey and teach the Law, so I am sure that he did this with his own family. He would have wanted to follow Deuteronomy 6:4-7, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”Fasting and praying in the good times is a way to disciple your family. Remember this truth this summer. “Faith in God and His power over the Jews’ enemies clearly radiates from these verses. Faith in God is an adventure.”Teach your kids that faith in God is the best adventure they could ever have and when you have everything, seek God as if you have nothing.
Not only will we trust God for safety and for discipleship, but also protection. Remember, Ezra already had the permission, provision and people. Yes, King Artaxerxes had promised protection in Ezra 7:26, “Whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed on him, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of his goods or for imprisonment.” And yet, Ezra knew the heart of humans. People still disobey kings and rulers because if they disobeyed the ultimate Ruler, the Lord God, human despots can be disobeyed. This is why Ezra says in Ezra 8:22, “For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him and the power of His wrath is against all who forsake Him.’” Ezra had put God’s name on the line with the king. And so “thems fighting words.”
We often forget the spiritual battle we are in and that according to Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”Jentezen Franklin in describing Jesus’ 40 day fast and fight with the devil in the wilderness says, “Anytime you fast, it is a hunger strike against hell.”And listen to Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, the largest mission organization in the world, “I believe the power of fasting as it relates to prayer is the spiritual atomic bomb that our Lord gives us to destroy the stronghold of evil and usher in a great revival and spiritual harvest around the world.” No wonder our first step should be to fast and pray. We fight not with weapons the world uses such as our fists, words and guns, but with our knees, the Word of God and the gospel.
So far, I have talked a lot about fasting and not much about prayer, but check out Ezra 8:23 how prayer accompanies fasting, “So we fasted and implored our God for this, and He listened to our entreaty.”You see as Dan Southerland reminds us, “When you fast, you give up something in order to do more of something else. Fasting is adding more time and energy to spend in prayer. In fact, fasting is as serious form of prayer as we have.”I believe this was best demonstrated by Jesus when He fasted on the Cross for those horrible six hours refusing drink even though He was parched (John 19:28).
So what should we do before we rebuild? Fast and pray! And this is despite all the money and plans in place. We need to seek God. I am calling for at least a mini-fast. Today, I am going to ask you before you go and eat that you pray around the building. Our Leadership Team has done this before but never as a whole church at least since I have been here. So what I am going to ask you to do is to take a Prayze walk both inside and outside as much as you are able to and to pray this prayer: Lord, please bring glory to Yourself here by…
Walk together as families! Walk together with your small groups. Walk together with your friends or ministry partners. And if God reveals anything to you please let our Elders (David Pinkerton, Steve Limmer, Adrian Hoyte, Ross Morrell) one of the Pastors and Build Team (Darryl Brush, Ed Hodgins, Tara Hoyte or Stu Lang) know. We will then test those things before the Lord. When you go on the prayer walk, please respect our Plan to Protect and do not go into rooms occupied with our children. Let’s fast and pray! Remember when you have everything, seek God as if you have nothing!
“I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked God for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given infirmity that I do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might endure all things.
I got nothing that I asked for – but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.”
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
Who’s missing?Is there anybody missing in your life? It could be somebody who has gone AWOL (Absence With Out Leave) or it could be somebody who is missing from an important event in your life, be it at work or play. They have missed a major assignment or a major family function such as a vacation or reunion. I don’t know if it’s because I am entering a different season of life but I am noticing less of my family at home and especially around the dinner table. My daughter Jessie graduates from high school here in a few weeks and will be up at camp this summer working as a housekeeper. Jessie and one of my sons Noah are away at our church’s youth retreat this week. My other son is chasing his baseball dreams. Other children are trying to win Victory Royales on Fortnite. Lori is a busy and productive woman pursuing her Master’s degree. And those are just a few of things that make our household be on the go constantly. I often find myself when I am at home doing household chores by myself. This is part of maturing, but I miss the missing. Those who are ahead of me in life would probably say that it only gets worse when your family fully moves out. Is that correct?
And yet, there are others of us that are missing people in profoundly deeper ways. Some of those missing have gone home to be with Jesus or are on the run from God or are missing because they are sick or had to leave because that was where the jobs were. I recall being in Moldova in 2016, visiting the Fords, one of our global partners, and they told me that with 70% unemployment in the country, many of the families are split up to find employment elsewhere in Europe. In fact, some families will get legally “divorced” because they went abroad to work illegally and then they were forced to return to Moldova. The women divorce to go back to their maiden names and then try to emigrate again.
People may be missing from our lives for a laundry list of reasons and this message is not intended for you to air out your dirty laundry, but it is an opportunity to seek the missing. This is what we discover Ezra did in Ezra 8:15-20. He sought the missing. Who was missing in Ezra’s time? The ministers! Let’s read Ezra 8:15-20 to know how to pursue the missing and make them ministers of the Gospel! Read Ezra 8:15-20!
This morning I want to walk us through Ezra 8:15-20 to discover who’s missing, then learn how to seek them and finally how to keep them from going missing again. I’ll say that again in hopefully a more memorable way! We are going to learn how to discover, seek and retain the missing and make them ministers of God. Before I do that though just to give you some background, Ezra is presenting a history of how his fellow Jews were exiled in Babylon after cheating on God. God was essentially the first member of the #MeToo movement as He was inappropriately advanced for favours (though not sexual favours). God has been harassed for people’s pleasure and attempts have been made to take advantage of Him and His beauty and power from the beginning of human history. I don’t say this to minimize those who have suffered from abuse, but to encourage you that God can relate. God’s people, the Jews, were not loyal to God, so finally God sent them into exile to Babylon for 70 years. However, as we prayed this past Wednesday night at our Prayer Encounter, God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 145:8) God promised to bring His people back to the Promised Land after those 70 years of exile. The Book of Ezra has been a study of God’s faithfulness to rebuild His work and people. And by chapter 8 we see that Ezra is part of the second wave of returnees – a testimony to God’s faithfulness.
It is here that we examine Ezra 8:15 as Ezra is still in Babylon about to make the journey home, which he had never been to before. Maybe you are a second-generation immigrant and have never been to the country of your parents’ or grandparents’ origin. Your skin colour may allow you to look like everybody else in your family’s country of origin, but being an ex-patriot means you come back with a totally different culture and most likely values. So what do you do? You find people who can help you, especially family connections! What does Ezra do first? Look at verse 15, “I gathered them(all the heads of the father’s households as listed in verses 1-14) to the river that runs to Ahava, and there we camped three days.” Anybody plan to go camping this summer? One of the things you have to do first if you go camping is take stock of what and whom you have. You have to know who is coming and what you need to bring. We used to camp as a family until I overdid it and killed Lori’s camping spirit by camping for 6 weeks on a trip from here to California. Long journeys can be killers. Ezra had a long journey too and needed to prepare. He stopped at a river because rivers always stop you in your tracks. You have to decide how you are going to cross. This is why rivers are places of reflection and consecration such as when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River the first time after leaving Egypt as described in Joshua 3. Notice what Ezra discovered, “As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the sons of Levi.” What is the big deal about that? It’s massive! The problem is that though the temple in Jerusalem has been rebuilt, there are not enough ministers to help the people sacrifice and worship. There were not enough Levites. They were missing! And having a Levite shortage is a big problem when the Levites were the only ones who could help you make atonement for your sins. It is sad to me to drive by some buildings in our city and see them vacant. However, it would pale in comparison to seeing a place of worship vacant because there were no ministers to help people get reconnected to God. Tragically, this is exactly what is happening here in our country with CBC reporting 1/3 (9000 of the 27,000) of all church buildings will close within the next decade.What should be done? The best thing to do is to gather people to pray, which is what Ezra did in verse 21-23 and what we are trying to do on Wednesday nights here at Temple with our Prayer Encounters. Come out at 6:30 PM this Wednesday!
Back to Ezra 8, do you see the predicament Ezra was in? “Since the list included the names of their ancestors, Ezra could ascertain whether they were of pure Jewish ancestry.”And this was before Ancestry DNA. Yet, the people took careful records. Even today I have met Levites, one of them plays on my son’s baseball team. According to one study, there are about 500,000 – 600,000 Levites living in the world today, with 12,000 living in Canada.You need to know who you are and whom you have around you. After prayer, the first step in making ministers of God is always to discover who is missing.You want to know who you have and don’t have. This was always the case when I came to a new church. I wanted to get to know the people and their gifts. Sad to say, many people have walked through the doors of churches including ours, never to return. This is why our Elders are trying to track you. We need to actually take the next step and call if you are missing – not to be nosy, but for you to know we care and have to give an account for your souls. Isn’t that what Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”
Ezra would have had a hard time giving an account for the Levites’ souls because they were missing. Where were they? We don’t know specifically, but we can surmise that they had grown accustom to Babylonian living. God had the told the exiles in Jeremiah 29:7, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”It may have been the Levites had been praying too hard. I’m joking! But what isn’t funny is the Levites were more comfortable in Babylon than in Jerusalem and even though the Bible does not describe what the Levites were doing, we can know with certainty that they were not doing what God had ultimately called them to do, which was to function as His priests for His people in Jerusalem. Check out Numbers 18:1 (NIV) to see their specific calling, “The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your family are to bear the responsibility for offences connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offences connected with the priesthood.”Even if some of the Levites were acting as temple servants at the place called Casiphia as Ezra 8:17 describes that was only to be temporary. It reminds us that we can’t just serve and do the right things, but we must be in the right place as well. Right service, wrong place won’t produce lasting fruit. Are you in the right place of service that God has called you? The Levites were serving in Casiphia, which is very north of Jerusalem in Syria. You can see on this map (map). Ezra would have started his journey at Suza, the capital of Persia in modern day Iran, where King Artaxerxes gave his decree. He stopped at the River Ahava, “a canal of the Euphrates”in modern-day Iraq, but then had to hunt for Levites who were over in modern day Syria, which was nowhere close to Jerusalem. My friends, are you really comfortable in your Babylon? You have been a blessing to your neighbours, school, and workplaces, but you have become so integrated with them that you are not serving in the church?
Ezra was concerned, which is why he took the next step in making ministers of God; he sought them! He sent “men of insight” (Ezra 8:16) to Iddo, who happened to be the grandfather of the prophet Zechariah as we read in Zechariah 1:1. Ezra wanted Iddo to use his influence to “send ministers for the house of our God” in Jerusalem. Though we don’t need Levites in Jerusalem today because there is no temple built for them yet; that same call of God is still ringing. We need ministers for the house of our God. These include both vocational and non-vocational ministers. In order to make ministers of God, we must discover who is missing and seek them. Is this not what Jesus commanded us to pray in Luke 10:2, “Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest”?Discovering and seeking ministers of God requires prayer. This is why I encourage you with every fibre in my being to come this Wednesday to our Prayer Encounter as we pray for more gospel workers.
However, I would be remiss if I failed to ask us all something. Are you ready for the question? Here is the soul-crushing truth bomb and question: ARE YOU MISSING? If you are missing, you are missing out! Yesterday, I saw bumper sticker on a car of a dog owner who apparently owns a rescued dog from a previous difficult home. On the sticker there was an outline of a dog’s paw with the word, “Who’s rescued who?” The dog owner had felt that the dog had rescued him from a life of loneliness. If you are missing, you are missing out and we all suffer! (c.f. 1 Corinthians 12:26) The best piece of advice I could give you is what I heard at church last Sunday in Rochester, NY, “Join someone already serving.” Find somebody you love that is already serving and ask him or her if you could help them. Of course, you will have to have the leader of that ministry involved and you still need to follow our procedures and practices such as our Plan to Protect if serving minors or the vulnerable, but make sure you are serving with people you have an affinity with. Relationships make you rejoice and remain in ministry. Maybe it is your family or small group? Serving together with somebody you love makes ministry more joyful and the time fly by. I have that with my Family, Staff and Elders. That is the final step in pursuing the missing. After, you have discovered and sought the missing; you need to retain them. I have found retention in ministry is caused by the devotion to God’s Word and bolstered by serving together with those you love.
You see if we discover and seek and pray for ministers of God, don’t you think God will provide? He did in Ezra’s day as we read in Ezra 8:18, “And by the good hand of our God on us, they brought us a man of discretion.” If God did that for Ezra, He can and will do it for us. We have many opportunities for you to serve. Discover, seek and be discreet. It is this discretion that will help us retain the missing because discretion comes from God’s Word as we study, obey and teach it. God’s Word will motivate you to serve.
But before you do, you need to know why you should serve? It isn’t because there are shoes to fill and people to help to be right with God through Jesus. Nope! And it isn’t because you may be serving in the wrong place! And it isn’t to find joy, purpose and fulfillment even though all those things may be true. It isn’t so that your name will be written down and remembered long after you are, like the men listed in Ezra 8:16-20. We don’t serve because of significance or legacy or even because our friends are serving! We serve because we have been served. The ultimate reason why you serve is because the good hand of our God is on you as evidenced when He brought us a man of discretion in the form of Jesus Christ. He as the “Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) He gave His life for my ransom and for your ransom. He gave His life for the missing when you and I were missing.
No wonder our response should be to surrender all by discovering, seeking and retaining the missing and making them ministers of God. You see, there is a spiritual Amber Alert today. Our phones now warn us when a kid is missing or kidnapped. God is giving us an Amber Alert that He has kids missing and we need to join Jesus to go and seek them. This will need keeping our eyes open for the missing. It will mean seek them out. And it will mean discipling and serving alongside them. Jesus will us surrender all to find the missing!
Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/losing-churches-canada-1.5046812. Accessed May 30, 2019.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levite. Accessed May 30, 2019.
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
What would you like the Lord to put in your heart? Often we are asking God to do things for us. As Daniel Henderson says, “We seek God’s hand before we seek His face. However, if we seek His face, He will be glad to open His hand.” A dog seeks his master’s face before His hand. My dog does not come his bowl in his mouth as soon as I arrive home. He sniffs my face first. We certainly are better than dogs in seeking God. So please pray with me by finishing this statement: Blessed are you, Lord, who has put into my heart…Pray!
On this Victoria Day weekend, it is time to let our spirits soar with praise for what desires God has put in our hearts. I think one of the great things that God can put in our hearts is His steadfast love and faithfulness assuring our salvation. Queen Victoria actually struggled with that assurance. According to the Bible Distributorstract from Ottery St. Mary Reformed Church, “After attending a service in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Queen Victoria asked her Chaplain, ‘Can one be absolutely sure in this life of eternal safety?’ But sadly the Chaplain knew of no way to be certain. The ‘Court News’ published these remarks and so they became widely circulated through the land. Moved by what he read in a copy that he happened to come across, a quiet and unassuming evangelist by the name of John Townsend began to think and pray about answering her himself. Finally he sent the following letter to the Queen: ‘To her Gracious Majesty, our beloved Queen Victoria, from one of her most humble subjects, With trembling hands, but heartfelt love, and because I know that we can be absolutely sure now of our eternal life in the Home that Jesus went to prepare, may I ask your Gracious Majesty to read the following passages from Scripture – John 3:16 and Romans 10:9-10?” Read John 3:16 and Romans 10:9-10 (Please note how John Townsend just asked Queen Victoria to read Scripture and he let God’s Word do the work!) Townsend goes onto write, “These passages prove that there is full assurance of salvation by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ for those who believe and accept His finished work. I sign myself, your servant for Jesus’ sake, John Townsend.’ John Townsend told others about his letter to the Queen. Many prayers from many hearts went up to God. In about two weeks time, he received a modest-looking envelope in which was the following letter: ‘To John Townsend: Your letter of recent date I received and in reply would state that I have carefully and prayerfully read the portions of Scripture referred to. I believe in the finished work of Christ for me, and trust by God’s grace to meet you in that Home of which said, ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ (signed) Victoria Guelph” Some years later the Queen was visiting the tenants of one of the Royal Estates, and an old lady nervously came up to her, curtseyed, and said, trembling, ‘Your Majesty, will I see you in Heaven one day?’ Victoria smiled and replied, ‘By the all-availing blood of Jesus, you most certainly shall, my dear! I have His Word on it!’”
We may not give much thought to Queen Victoria, who was born 200 years ago this coming Friday, May 24, other than we are glad we can have a holiday weekend in May to plant our gardens or go to the cottage for the first time this summer, but today we can be thankful for her beyond her famous personal morality. It may be her the testimony I just read that changes your life today as she points to the all-availing blood of Jesus assured by His Word that saves you. It is God’s love and faithfulness that will give you great courage today and will help you pursue beautifying His work.
This is what we discover in Ezra 7:27-28 when we read Ezra’s prayer after receiving a letter from King Artaxerxes! Most of us, when receiving a letter from the government don’t pray, unless it’s a prayer asking God to rescue us from the Canada Revenue Agency. In contrast, Ezra’s prayer is one of praise upon receiving the King’s letter, much in the same way, I’m sure John Townsend praised God upon receiving Queen Victoria’s letter. I am convinced that if we spend more time praising God than pursuing His answers, it would make a radical difference in our lives and world. As one of my former professors, Calvin Miller, once said, “Too often, we go into God’s presence with a list of pleas, trying to talk God into granting our desire. But this kind of praying makes us ‘one big mouth’ and God ‘one big ear’. But when we pray the Scriptures, it makes God the voice and leaves us the ear. In short, God gets His turn at getting a word in edgewise.”I don’t want to be a big mouth! Instead, I want to hear God’s voice in my life. How about you? Do you want to hear God’s voice in your life today? Let’s read Ezra 7:27-28 to hear God’s voice today! Read Ezra 7:27-28!
This passage could be summarized as God’s steadfast love produces beauty and courage. But let’s make that more personal and actionable: Praise God for His steadfast love and you will find beauty, courage and influence!If I was a betting man, and I’m not, I would guess that you are looking for one of those characteristics in your life – beauty, courage or influence and possibly all three. Beauty is a pursuit that many of us take this weekend and we go out in creation to enjoy it. You should have seen how God painted the eastern sky a beautiful red, orange and pink and hung a full golden moon in the western sky this morning at sunrise. It was glorious. What could beat that? You non-rooster-types, would say a beautiful sunset beats that so we don’t have to get up early! Or what can surpass hearing the haunting call of a loon on the lake at dusk? Beauty is one of the transcendentals that remind us that we are not here by accident but God created us. This creation is here for us to enjoy and more importantly, to praise God for.
We pursue beauty, but we also pursue courage, especially when we get bad news from the doctor regarding our loved ones impending short future here on earth or we face a challenging situation. I have been greatly helped this week by just praising God. The truths of His Word have given me much courage. Psalm 119:73-80 was of particular help to me this week.
We also pursue courage, especially when we get bad news from the doctor regarding our loved ones impending short future here on earth or we face a challenging situation. I have been greatly helped this week by just praising God. The truths of His Word have given me much courage.
We not only pursue beauty and courage, but also influence whether it is seeking that promotion at work or just getting our kids to mind in church or for them to help out and get the hamburgers off the countertop so that we can grill them on the BBQ. Praise God for His steadfast love and you will find beauty, courage and influence.
Let’s see how this was true for Ezra. Notice Ezra 7:27 closely as I break Ezra’s prayer down phrase by phrase, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers.” This is actually a peculiar prayer if you think about it. Ezra and his fellow Jews are returning from exile in Babylon for the past 70 years, actually 150 years for Ezra, since he was the second wave of returning exiles. And what does Ezra call God? The God of our fathers. What is the problem with that? Who were the ones that put Ezra and his generation into exile in wicked Babylon? Their fathers! Their fathers had sinned greatly and put their sons and daughters in their present predicament! They cheated on God time and time again, even selling off their city and Worship Centre. Yet, Ezra calls God blessed and ties Him to his forefathers. Here is a lesson we need to desperately learn in our culture. You may have had horrible examples in your family of how not to live and not to have faith in God, but God can still be praised.Ezra looked past his fathers’ failures and didn’t live in bitterness. Instead, he praised God for his present rescue and provision. I have to believe that there is somebody today who is stuck in the past and not moving forward with God in worshipping Him because of their upbringing and all the baggage they are carrying. It is time to drop your bags and praise God for what He is doing right now in your life. You cannot hang onto those bags and lift your holy hands in praise to God (1 Tim. 2:8) God will take a load of your mind and heart. Jesus promised in Matthew 11:28 for all who labour and are heavy laden to come to Him and He will give them rest. It isn’t the holiday tomorrow that will give you ultimate rest, it’s Jesus! Praise God for His steadfast love and you will find beauty, courage and influence!
Then notice, the next phrase in Ezra 7:27, “Who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king.” What is the “this” that Ezra is referring to? In the context, it is the letter that Ezra received from King Artaxerxes that we have studied these past few weeks, which promised all the money and protection Ezra and his colleagues needed to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. My friends, think of the most difficult person in your life right now. Somebody who has opposed you! That was King Artaxerxes in Ezra’s life! And Artaxerxes went from a hindrance to a help in Ezra’s life. If God did that in Ezra’s day, could He not do it today in your life? As one Bible scholar puts it, “As God from ancient times has influenced foreign kings to do His will, He now influences the Persian King to grant favourable conditions for the adornment of the temple.”And I would add God can still “grant favourable conditions for the adornment” of temples. What good thing could God put into the heart of the most difficult person in your life?
One of things that I have been asking for God to put into people’s hearts is beauty. Recall a few weeks ago on Easter weekend that theme we used from the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, who proclaimed in his novel The Idiot, “The Church has lost the truth, is losing its goodness and has forgotten beauty, but beauty is what will save the world.” I am asking that God would use wonder and beauty to attract people back to Himself so we can proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and this will result in good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). And unapologetically, I am praying that it will also cause us to beautify the house of the Lord. Certainly, this includes your prayers, service and gifts for The Master’s Plan 4.0 and our Big Reach Sunday on June 9, where I hope we can top the $10.1 million mark, which is less than $35,000 away. The Lord can do this through us! It is only $100/person! But beautifying God’s house goes way beyond that because the New Testament teaches that God’s house is now the church, the people of God indwelt by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 3:16). I want God to make you and I so beautiful in your character that it is attractive to a stale and stinking world. I want you and I so pure – overcoming promiscuity and pornography and anger and greed and all that wars against intimacy with God. This goes beyond anything the plastic surgeon’s knife could do. I pray and dream of the day when our suffering in these weak and decrepit bodies becomes so attractive to our neighbours that they want Jesus and His Spirit who lives inside us. You see, God actually did an innerbeautifying work in Artaxerxes before He ever did an outer beautifying work of His temple. God cares first and foremost about people’s hearts – your heart! God will delay and stop His work and wait to get people’s hearts right first! This is why it is so important that you praise God for His steadfast love and you will find beauty, courage and influence! God’s love will change your heart and those around you!
Isn’t this what we directly find in verse 28 from Ezra? He declares, “And who extended to me His steadfast love before the king and his counsellors and before all the king’s mighty officers.” This is not the usual portrayal of how you conquer kings and mighty warriors. Let’s think about two of the most popular things in the world today – the video game Fortniteand the TV series Game of Thrones. On Fortnite, you win a victory royale by collecting all the weapons you can and killing all of your opponents. And if you do so without mercy, you have “thirsted” your opponents. And then there are the violent attacks of one kingdom over another in Game of Thrones, which I haven’t watched because I couldn’t handle the sex, nudity and violence. But notice in our story, Ezra uses no weapons to overcome Artaxerxes. Or at least no worldly weapon! It was actually God’s steadfast love that was given to Ezra. Do you and I have access to that same steadfast love of God? Absolutely! God’s steadfast love will make you an overcomer!
And God’s steadfast love will give us beauty and courage. Notice what Ezra states in verse 28, “I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was on me.” Ezra had courage because God’s hand was on him. We learned about God’s hand being on Ezra a few weeks ago when studying Ezra 7:1-10.To review, God’s hand was upon Ezra because he was faithful to his calling and was skilled in studying God’s law. Ezra believed God and His Word. He became convinced that he belonged to God and God belonged to him. Did you catch the pronoun Ezra uses in Ezra 7:28? Remember, I have taught you to pay attention to pronouns. Ezra says, the Lord MY God was on me. Ezra believed that he belonged to God.
And out of this courage, Ezra became very attractive and influential. This is how chapter 7 concludes, “and I gathered leading men from Israel to go with me.” Ezra knew that he couldn’t go alone and more importantly, he knew he wasn’t alone. God was with him! You see, if you want to be a leader that lasts. That changes a nation! That changes the heart of the king and overwhelms a whole court and military council! That has people still talking nearly 2500 years later. Praise God for His steadfast love and you will find beauty, courage and influence. God is better than any school leadership workshop or MBA program you could attend or enrol in. God will be the leader in your life and others will follow you as you follow Him.
How do we know this? Ultimately, it goes beyond Ezra’s example. You see, God did something better than He did in Ezra’s day when He put a thing in the king’s heart. God actually gave us the king’s heart, His heart, when in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son came to earth. Jesus demonstrated His ultimate steadfast love before kings and counsellors and mighty officers when He remained silent and they eventually killed Him. How does that sound like something better than Ezra? Well, Jesus took courage because God’s hand was ultimately upon Him when God raised Him from the dead. And because of that victory, Jesus is gathering people to follow Him. Is Jesus gathering you to follow Him?That is what God wants to put into your heart today!
Source: http://www.otteryreformed.freeola.net/victoria.htmAccessed May 16, 2019.
Edwin Kuun, youngest son of Jacobus and Maria Kuun, known to friends as “Ed,” went home to be with the Lord on April 29, 2019 at the age of 55. A steadfast follower of Christ, Ed will forever be remembered by his family as a loving husband to Sian; a devoted father to Talya and Abigail; a supportive father-in-law to Matthew; and a caring friend to many. Ed be sorely missed by his brother Rene and his wife Pat, sister Wendy and her husband Sean, as well as their families.
Ed was a great caregiver, generous, welcoming, a leader, selfless, a strong Christian, kind, lived with 3 women and a female dog. He was patient man as demonstrated when he took a photo and entitled it, “A bird on the wire.” Ed gave Matt golf tips. And Ed finished well. He forgot his first anniversary, but made sure that for his 30thanniversary, even though he was bedridden, he did something special for Sian.
There once was a player for the Dallas Cowboys whose nick name was Ed “Too Tall” Jones. Ed Kuun was tall too, but not too tall, though it was rather frustrating when you played volleyball against him. One could not get the ball past those long arms of his.
Ed was the epitome of a gentle giant. When asking his family to describe him, they said, “Ed, wasn’t about the big moments, but the little moments.” That emphasis on faithfulness showcases tenderness and gentleness. What made Ed so gentle? Ed was gentle because he followed his gentle Saviour Jesus Christ. Jesus was the son of David. You may recall that David was famous for killing a wicked giant, unlike Ed, by the name of Goliath who taunted the armies of Israel. The Israelites had forgotten that God had wiped out a whole nation of giants when His people entered the Promised Land and David reminded them of God’s power and strength. When Jesus came to earth He did even better than David. Jesus killed the ultimate giants we face of sin and death and has given us a better Promised Land – a new heaven and new earth to live forever with Jesus. Jesus did this by rising from the grave. This is what we read in John 11:25-26, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?‘”
Ed did! It is this resurrected Jesus that Ed lived for and still lives for. The happiest day I personally remember with Ed was when his girls surrendered to God’s invitation and made their faith public by being baptized. Ed waited for Sian to be baptized for 10 years. As I said, Ed was a gentle giant.
I often visited Ed when he was sick. It was such an honor to journey with him and actually watch Ed live out 1 Peter 4:1 (NIV), “Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.” Ed actually became stronger in his spirit as he became weaker in his body. He ran an amazing race and finished strong at the end. It was a gift from God because unlike some who die unexpectedly, he had time with his family to communicate his love and more importantly, God’s love. Did you experience God’s love through Ed?
It was during this time that I would ask Ed what questions he had or lessons he was learning. Would you like to know what he asked? I don’t think it was too private. Many of you know that the cancer caused him to have a stroke and he lost a lot of his communication ability toward the end. You need to know this especially hard because Ed was a man who was very precise in his communication. In fact, when he called to tell me he had cancer, he actually word-smithed the notification that went out on our email prayer chain. I don’t recall anybody in my 23 year pastoral ministry doing that before. So that stroke was very humbling and frustrating for Ed. If you have anybody in your life who is not good at expressing themselves with words, maybe even from a mental or physical disability, you understand. However, this trial brought out the best in Ed and his family. It forced a deeper way of communicating between him and his family. He would just look at his wife and daughters and they would interpret for him. One day he asked me in jumbled words, which I got better at understanding as time went on, “Am I going to be able to speak in heaven?” What is the answer? A resounding yes! Our tongues in heaven will be loosed for only good. Ed is now speaking like he has never spoken before proclaiming the greatness of our God. Why do I know this? Because as we read from Isaiah 53:7 the innocent Jesus remained silent when He was accused so He could take our penalty for our sins. Jesus was crucified on a cross so that if we believe in Him we should not perish as John 3:16 says but have eternal life. We have been given a new life and will receive a new body to live in the new heavens and new earth because Jesus rose from the dead. Here is the fuller promise of God in Romans 10:6-11, “But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because,if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified(meaning declared righteous by God), and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
When Ed walked into heaven on Monday, he did not need to be ashamed. Why? Because Ed was a good man and never sinned? No! Ed was a sinner like me and like you. Jesus was not ashamed of him because Ed trusted in Jesus alone for salvation! Before Ed ever got to use his new mind and new voice, I imagine Jesus spoke on Monday. When we see Jesus on His throne we are actually silent standing before the Lord (Romans 3:19). Do you want to know what Jesus said about Ed? Two things! The first was Jesus saying, “I know Him. He is one of mine.” Jesus knowing you intimately as His friend is even more important than you knowing Christ (Matthew 7:21-23). We understand this scene in heaven with Ed and Jesus from Jesus’ promise in Matthew 10:32-33,“So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven.”Do you want Jesus to acknowledge you before God the Father like He did for Ed? Where Jesus points at you and says, “I know him! I know her! They’re mine!”
The second thing that Jesus said this time directly to Ed and not just His Father and the angels, “Well, done good and(successful servant, no)faithful servant, enter the joy of your Master.” (Matthew 25:21) After coming to a saving faith in Christ our job is to be faithful and obedient to Christ. Ed was! I know Sian you worried that Ed didn’t get to enjoy retirement. Actually, he is enjoying the best retirement ever with Jesus.
Now Ed left us with some other words that he told me: 1) “What really matters is to keep family the main thing;” and 2) “We need to think of others.” That was the heart of Jesus in Ed. Today, do you want to become part of God’s forever family – to keep your forever family the main thing? Simply, confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead! Then live a life like Jesus who thought of others first – like you and me. Ed did and he has no regrets! He has met his Maker, Creator, Saviour and Lord! Ed believed in Christ alone! Will you?
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
Who are you working for? Let’s stop and pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal our true motivations. Pray!
So are you working for your parents that they would commend whether you are working hard at school or at a job? Are you working for your boss’ or teacher’s praise? Are you working for your family to provide for them such as helping them out with college bills? Maybe you are working to get married? Why do you do what you do?
Maybe you are working for yourself? Maybe you are working to achieve some financial goals such as early retirement or a cottage on the lake or vacation travels? Who are you working for? Maybe it just feels like you are working for the bank trying to pay off that mortgage or the credit card companies to pay off that loan? Who are you working for?
There was a man named Ezra who got a memo, a letter from his boss. If Ezra was living today, he would have received an email. However, this letter wasn’t just from his boss, but also his king. It is one thing to receive a letter from a boss who can terminate you and it is another to receive a letter from a king who can exterminate you. Let’s read this letter from the king to Ezra to remind ourselves who we really work for. We find the letter in Ezra 7:11-24. It is really important to understand for whom we really work because so many of us are setting our sights too low. We think we are working for a company, for a scholarship or even our family. And it shows because the pay out is paltry when we don’t get them to reward us with what we expected, especially those closest to us. We will put in the effort to meet expectations or worse, we may hate our jobs or classes so much that we are ready to quit. We have forgotten who we really work for. The letter from King Artaxerxes to Ezra will recalibrate us to the person we should really be working for. My prayer for us today is that we would study, obey and teach God’s Word so that we become learned in matters of the commandments of the Lord and learn who we are really working for. Read Ezra 7:11-24!
After reading this letter, it would appear that Artaxerxes is dictating to Ezra what to do. Amazingly, this dictation to an immigrant with no status is from Artaxerxes, a Persian pagan king and one who continued to enslave God’s people. Artaxerxes’s dictation was to carry out instructions about rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. This would be like the leader of ISIS, Al-Baghdadi, who reappeared on video this week after a five year hiatus in hiding, saying to his followers that all the people he terrorized in Syria should go back to their homes and all the resources ISIS took should be returned in order to build churches of Jesus Christ. You have to remember as this chart shows, Artaxerxes was one the Persian Kings who oppressed God’s people, the Jews. The kings in red are our focus this morning!
Artaxerxes was not a kind man. He was a murderer growing up in a culture and family of violence! I know that we have been experiencing more violence and murders in our community and this is disturbing, but it pales in comparison to ancient Persia. You see, “Artaxerxes was probably born in the reign of his grandfather Darius I, to the emperor’s son and heir, Xerxes I. In 465 BC, Xerxes I, who was the husband of Queen Esther, was murdered by Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard and the most powerful official in the Persian court with the help of a eunuch, Aspamitres. Greek historians give contradicting accounts of events. According to Ctesias, Artabanus then accused the Crown Prince Darius, Xerxes’s eldest son, of the murder and persuaded Artaxerxes, to avenge the patricide by killing Darius. But according to Aristotle, Artabanus killed Darius first and then killed Xerxes. After Artaxerxes discovered the murder, he killed Artabanus and his sons.”All this to say, Artaxerxes was not somebody you messed with. When you grow up with all your caregivers killing each other, it makes you have trust issues. Sure, he was the son of Ahaseurus who gave great power to the Jews due to his marriage to Queen Esther and this probably made Artaxerxes friendly to the Jews, but as we already studied in Ezra 4:23, it was this king who stopped the work on the temple in the first place and by force, “Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease.” So Artaxerxes’ decree to start rebuilding the temple again was amazing after he had forcefully stopped the work beforehand.
This is akin to your difficult boss having a change of heart and becoming a benevolent boss or even better, think of a pro-abortion politician who starts working at a Crisis Pregnancy Centre trying to help women choose life rather than end it. You would think that there would have been a radical transformation. Ezra might have been tempted to think that he was now working for Artaxerxes and you and I might be thinking that we are working for our immediate supervisor. No, we serve at the pleasure of a higher authority, the King of kings.
How do I know this? Four reasons from Ezra 7:11-24 – The King of kings’ commands, commission, provision and protection! We serve at the pleasure of the King of kings because of His commands, His commission, His provision and His protection!Look at Ezra 7:11-24 closer. Verse 11 says, ‘This is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, a man learned in the matters of the commandments of the Lord and his statutes for Israel.” Take note of the phrase “commandments of the Lord.” Then notice verse 12, “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven. Peace.” Did you catch that emphasis on this being the Law of the God of heaven? Finally, we get to verse 13 where Artaxerxes declares, “And now I make a decree that anyone of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you.” We serve at the pleasure of the King of Kings because God’s law comes before any manmade law.That is the first thing to remember today – who you work for – Jesus Christ. Remember, the law of God comes before any manmade decree. Today, you may be facing a choice between following some decree or dictate that a fellow human has made over that which contradicts God’s law. Don’t do it! Obey God before man! God’s law comes first! Don’t compromise your convictions. Serve at the pleasure of the King of kings! Serve at the pleasure of the King of kings because of His commands!They are always good and bring you back to God and His blessings just as the exiled Jews returned to God and worshipped Him in Jerusalem.
But we don’t just serve at the pleasure of the King of kings because of His commands, but also because of His commission. Ezra 7:14 records Artaxerxes statement, “For you are sent by the king and his seven counsellors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the Law of your God, which is in your hand.” Again at first glance it appears Artaxerxes is calling the shots and sending Ezra back to Judah, but even Artaxerxes admits that this was according to the Law of God. What was that law? The prophet Jeremiah gave it in 605 B.C., around 150 years earlier, in Jeremiah 29:11-14, “11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”This is an awesome promise. God was keeping His Word and sending Ezra and his companions back from the land of exile and they sought God and He was found by them. Please remember that God’s plans are good for you – to give you a future and a hope. And He is the one that sends you. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone through hard times and had to do difficult things and say hard truths: visiting people in jail, confronting sin, walking people through the valley of the shadow of death, and having what felt like all hell against me. What got me through? Knowing that I serve at the pleasure of the King of kings who commissions me. He was the One who sent me and He even went with me. Jesus is so amazing. Remember when Jesus sent out His brand new disciples and then makes this outlandish statement in Luke 10:3, “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”How could any good shepherd send out precious little lambs and plunk them down in the middle of a pack of wolves? That’s crazy… unless the good shepherd went with them.And this is true for Ezra and the second wave of returning Jewish exiles. The King of kings went with them. Maybe you are fearful of the journey? Maybe you are fearful of the destination? You do not need to fear because the King will go with you. He sent you! We serve at the pleasure of the King of kings because of His commission.
By now, you should understand that Artaxerxes was just a mouthpiece of God. But he became more! Artaxerxes also became a hand of God. Look at verses 15-20, “15 and also to carry the silver and gold that the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16 with all the silver and gold that you shall find in the whole province of Babylonia, and with the freewill offerings of the people and the priests, vowed willingly for the house of their God that is in Jerusalem. 17 With this money, then, you shall with all diligence buy bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, and you shall offer them on the altar of the house of your God that is in Jerusalem.18 Whatever seems good to you and your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do, according to the will of your God. 19 The vessels that have been given you for the service of the house of your God, you shall deliver before the God of Jerusalem. 20 And whatever else is required for the house of your God, which it falls to you to provide, you may provide it out of the king’s treasury.”Wow! The Persian king and his court seem so generous and benevolent. They are offering up silver and gold, bulls, rams and lambs and not just from their own money and livestock, but also from anything that the returning Jews find in all of Babylonia to be used in this rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. “This meant that Ezra had a free hand to demand what he needed.”It is a reminder that we serve at the pleasure of the King of kings because of His provision. Only God could make such a decree! Friends, some of you are really struggling to see how you are going to make it financially. Are you worse off than an exiled priest and scribe and his companions? And yet, God provided for them. One of the great assurances of God’s provision as well as protection is in verse 19, “The vessels that have been given you for the service of the house of your God, you shall deliver before the God of Jerusalem.” Bible Scholar Derek Kidner explains, “These vessels may have been some, which had been overlooked when the captured vessels were restored by Cyrus as recorded in Ezra 1:7.”Think about that! God protected His worship utensils from His own people who hocked them when enemy armies threatened them because the Israelites were committing idolatry. This is akin to selling your wedding ring to your lover as a bribe not to tell your spouse and your spouse intercepts the ring, hides it in your lover’s house and then gives it back to you after you repented. But it gets even better, God even protected the things that the pagans lost. To use our metaphor again, imagine your engagement ring was also lost in your lover’s house and worse, the diamond was missing from the ring. However, your spouse sneaks into your lover’s house, finds both the ring and diamond and gives it back to you as a symbol of their love. That is how audaciously gracious and good God is! No wonder we serve at the pleasure of the King of kings.
Are you convinced yet who your work for? If not, I want to remind you that you serve at the pleasure of the King of kings not only because of His commands, and commission and provision, but also His protection. Look at verses 21-23 to see what I am talking about, “21 And I, Artaxerxes the king, make a decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, requires of you, let it be done with all diligence, 22 up to 100 talents of silver, 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. 23 Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest His wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons. 24 We also notify you that it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll on anyone of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or other servants of this house of God.” Artaxerxes essentially created the first clergy allowance. He protected Ezra and his fellow priests from any financial repercussions and retaliations. The Persian Revenue Agency wasn’t coming after them with an audit!
It is a good reminder! We serve at the pleasure of the King of kings because of His command, His commission, His provision and His protection. But there is also one more reason why we work for and please the King of kings. You see, He is the only One who could stop God’s wrath. Verse 23, our memory verse for the month of May, declares Artaxerxes wanted sacrifices and prayers to go up on behalf of him and his sons. In fact, this sets precedence for what we are told by the Apostle Paul later on to do in 1 Timothy 2:1-2making “supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for all people, for kings and for all who are in high possessions that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Pause here for second. I want you to pray by finishing this phrase, “Because You are the King of kings and You put authorities over us, we pray for name of a government officialthat they would …”
And yet we can pray these prayers, just like Ezra did for Artaxerxes, only because Jesus took the wrath of God upon Himself. Romans 5:9declares this precious and saving truth, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God?” We serve at the pleasure of the King of kings because He died for us. He took the wrath of God that should have been aimed at us, of which we could not forebear and He placed it on Himself. He loved us that much!
And now, He wants us to remember. One of the reasons why we should have Communion frequently is to remember who we are working for. And lest you think that in working for the King of king you are earning your keep, repent of that thinking now. You are kept by King Jesus! It is all because of His extravagant grace. I love that Artaxerxes decreed that 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of oil and salt along with 100 baths of wines were to be provided for with all diligence. And remember I am a non-drinking Baptist preacher. Why do I love it? Because it points to this table – the table of the King. Wheat, oil and salt are used to make bread. I love bread and it was lavish. 100 cors of wheat is equivalent to 22,000 liters of wheat, 100 baths of oil and wine was 2200 liters of oil and wine respectively. Jesus used wine and bread to demonstrate to His disciples that His body would be broken and His blood would be poured out for us. Artaterxes was benevolent; Jesus was extravagant in His provision. He gave His very self.
So are you serving at His pleasure because you have received His grace? If so, you are welcome to join us at His table. If not, what is keeping you from believing in this King of kings?Do you understand what this bread and cup symbolize? Last week we taught you that you need to study, obey and teach others God’s Word. You are to make disciples. So take 30 seconds and tell the person next to you what these elements symbolize and why you are taking them to eat and drink. We then are going to pray, then pass out the bread and then take it together. This will be followed by prayer, passing out the cup and then drinking together. At the end of eating, we are going to redeem an old phrase that Pastor Dan taught us on Good Friday, “To the king!”
Though the Achaemenid dynasty began in 705 B.C., the Persian Empire did not begin until Cyrus II or Cyrus the Great as he was called conquered the Babylonians. Cyrus was half-Persian and half-Median.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artaxerxes_I_of_Persia. Accessed May 2, 2019.
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
How do you get the hand of the Lord upon you?Do you want God’s hand on you? Now, when I ask this question, I don’t mean the Lord’s hand being like a police officer arresting you. Maybe God needs to stop you in your tracks and you need to freeze?The Apostle Paul had to freeze! He had been zealously persecuting the church because he thought he was serving God. Then the resurrected Christ showed up in a vision and explained to Paul that his zeal didn’t match up with knowledge. He was acting in ignorance, which is a great lesson for us all. We may be thinking we are doing something good and it will be pleasing to God when it is just the opposite. If you are critical of the Church and trying to bring it to account, you might be more opposed to Christ than for Him. Paul was! He was blinded by the vision of Christ. Think of the irony. Paul was blindly harming Christ’s Bride and he catches a vision of Christ and it blinds him physically but opens his spiritual eyes. He was told in Acts 13:11, “Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.”That blindness was actually a blessing. You can have the hand of the Lord upon you and experience suffering because God wants to teach and use you in mind-blowing ways. So don’t despise that suffering. However, when I asked, how do you get the hand of the Lord upon you? I was talking about the “hand of the Lord” as God’s favour and being filled with God’s Spirit. The Prophet Ezekiel is described as having the hand of the Lord upon Him (Ezekiel 1:3; 3:22). Jesus was described, even as a young child, with “the favour of God being upon Him.” (Luke 2:40) That is what I want – the gracious and favourable hand of the Lord being upon me. Do you? It is the difference maker between a productive and unproductive life.
Let’s find out how from Ezra 7:1-10. Ezra was a man who had the hand of the Lord upon him. In fact, “Ezra’s name means ‘the Lord has helped.’”What a great name for a son! Even though we have studied the first six chapters of Ezra, this is the first time we are introduced to Ezra himself. The first six chapters of Ezra recall the 60 years or so from the time the Jews returned from Babylon after being in exile for cheating on God to the time Ezra returned himself. Ezra is one of the leaders in a second wave of returnees. A new generation of returnees! I hope that today there would be a new wave of returnees, especially after Easter, who are returning to the work of God. Let’s read about how the hand of the Lord was upon Ezra and his secret to having God’s hand upon him. Read Ezra 7:1-10!
Today is going to be weighted toward teaching rather than preaching, but I don’t want you just to engage your mind. You need to engage your heart. To have the Spirit of the God working in your life with great freedom, your whole being – body, mind, soul and heart – needs to be engaged.
I want to start by introducing us to Ezra and then giving us the three ways we put ourselves into the position of God’s hand being upon us. I say it that way because I do not want to communicate that this is some type of formula or that if you live out these three ways that God is forced to put His favour upon you. I actually believe God’s hand was upon Ezra first and this stimulated the ways for the hand of the Lord to continue to be upon Him.
So why was God’s hand upon Ezra? He was faithful to his calling.Look what verses 1-5 say, “Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, son of Amariah, son of Meraioth, son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazor, son of Aaron, the chief priest.” This is the genealogy of Ezra. Some of his forefathers were famous. For example, Zadok was known because he was the priest during the reigns of King David and King Solomon. Phinehas was another well-known priest who was very zealous. He was best known for running a spear through an Israelite male leader and through a Midianite woman who were brazenly fornicating in the middle of the Israelite assembly as described in Numbers 25:1-13. And then there is Phinehas’ father Eleazor who was the third son of Aaron and who became high priest after his older brothers Nabab and Abihu offered up strange fire to the Lord and were killed. And finally, the start of the priestly line is mentioned and that is Aaron, the brother of Moses and the Israelite spokesperson to Pharaoh. The reason for mentioning all these names is that Ezra wants to make known that he belongs to a godly line of priests. He had a rich spiritual heritage. Anybody here have a rich spiritual heritage?You cannot rest in a godly heritage, but you should rejoice in it.
Ezra rejoiced in his heritage but he didn’t rest in it. He built upon it. And because Ezra built upon that heritage, “Ezra is regarded as a second Moses.”So how did Ezra build upon it? Verse 6 says, “He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given.” This verse is pregnant with meaning. First, Ezra was a scribe. A scribe was somebody who copied down the Scriptures so that the Scriptures would not be lost from generation to generation. There were no computer servers in those days so the scribes were meticulous in copying the Scriptures down, which is one of the reasons why we can trust the Bible’s accuracy to the original text. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered last century they showed how accurate the scribes’ copying was because they were consistent with other manuscripts. The bigger and best reason why we can trust the Bible’s accuracy is because if it is God’s Word, He is going to protect it and make it endure forever. (1 Peter 1:25; Isaiah 40:8)
So Ezra was a faithful scribe, but he was more because as we know in Jesus’ day, some of the chief priests and scribes were Jesus’ greatest mortal enemies. Verse 6 also goes on to describe that Ezra was “skilled in the law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given.” Two thingsI want you to notice from verse 6: 1) Ezra was skilled in God’s Law; and 2) God had given the law, which conveys that Ezra believed that God had given His Word. In other words, Ezra knew this was God’s Word and so He wanted to skilled in it. Sometimes, I try to explain to outsiders what the difference is between churches. This has happened most recently when a college was trying to find a church for a family member and listed all the churches in the surrounding vicinity. However, not any old church will do. And it isn’t about style and liturgy. A church must believe God gave His Word and that we should interpret it at face value and therefore, take it seriously. It is only a church that preaches the gospel and takes God’s Word seriously that will grow because that is where Jesus abides. May Temple always be such a church. We believe God wrote a book and we want to become skilled in studying, obeying and teaching it.
Let me go back to the phrase “skilled in the Law of Moses.” That word skilled can mean, “versed.”“To be skilled means ‘rapid.’”Ezra would be able to quickly point to God’s Word for answers. Do you want to have instant answers in all matters of life? Study God’s Word! If the Bible does not speak to an issue specifically, it most likely does in principle.
Despite hostility to Christianity, people are still looking for answers.This was also true in Ezra’s day. Notice in verse 6 how Ezra not only had favour with God, the King of kings, but also with lesser kings such as King Artaxerxes, the king of Persia – “and the king granted him all that he asked.”Studying the Bible may put you before kings or other VIPs.What did Ezra ask for? Money? Power? Women? A vacation? No, Ezra asked that his fellow priests and especially the worship leaders be released and return to Jerusalem as verses 7-9 describe, “And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 8 And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him.”Notice that phrase again.I can’t help but think of our Worship Leader Kurtis, who has served us faithfully and this is his last day before he returns to his hometown of Welland. May God’s hand be upon you Kurtis and your lovely wife Shannon! There is nothing wrong with wanting to go home to serve your own people. Ezra wanted to go home and he wanted to increase the worship of God in his homeland. That is honouring to God.
And what did Ezra do when he got to his hometown. In fact, I think Ezra had been doing these three practices before he ever got home. You see, “It took 3 ½ months to reach their destination. It took longer because they avoided the desert due to the time of year, spring to mid-summer.”Verses 7-9 are “a little summary of the expedition, but give no hint of the initial disappointment and delay, the fasting and prayer and the dangers of such a journey.”Ezra had been relying on God and practicing His Word before he ever got a platform for ministry. Some of us think platform too quickly without putting the hard work of study into God’s Word. Seek God before the grandeur.
Ezra did! And the hand of the Lord his God was on him. How? Ezra made three practices that helped him reach out to God and receive God’s hand: 1) He studied God’s Word; 2) He obeyed God’s Word; and 3) He taught God’s Word. This comes directly from our memory verse this month in Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” How do you get the hand of the Lord upon you? Study, obey and teach God’s Word!
In the short time remaining, I want to teach you how to study, obey and teach God’s Word, but first I want to show you this video by Pastor Jim Leggett so that we can learn how he keeps his intimacy with the Lord: http://www.strategicrenewal.com/2012/04/10/jim-leggett-part-2/
Did you notice that S.O.A.P. strategy from Wayne Cordeiro?I learned that many years ago and have been practicing everyday ever since. I write the Scripture verses down that jump out at me as I read the Bible daily. Then I make Observations. I then make an Application and finally I write out a Prayer to God based on that Scripture. The S.O.A.P. strategy will help the Bride of Christ be cleansed by the washing of the Word (Ephesians 5:26). I would encourage you to come back tonight to our evening service and read a Scripture that God has used in your life. We expect you to be reading or listening to God’s Word everyday. This is one of the specific commitments our members make here when they sign their membership agreement. Why? Too often we rely on other’s study of God’s Word – well-known Bible Study authors and commentaries by pastors and theologians and we don’t try to study the Bible for ourselves. It would be like eating only what others have prepared, like takeout food or even mom’s home-cooked meals but never bothering to cook a meal for ourselves or even take the time to learn how. There is something so satisfying about sitting down to a meal that you have prepared with your own hands. You know exactly what went into that meal and I think you value it more. It is the same with God’s Word. You remember the truths from the Bible that you took the time to study and prepare for yourself. We here at Temple believe that with the right tools and knowledge you can all feast on nutritious meals from God’s Word. Try the S.O.A.P. Bible reading method to cleanse and fill you each day.
I don’t know if Ezra used this formula but what we do know is that “Ezra was a model reformer in that what he taught he first lived.”So permit me to quickly teach you how to Study God’s Word. I have copies of this basic study approach called B.A.S.E that I learned 25 years ago from Dr. Harry Shields at Moody Bible Institute. We hope to post a video of some teacher training I did a few years back with our teachers. This method has stuck with me. You don’t need to follow this exactly and there are other Bible Study methods, but find one that works and build upon it.
B.A.S.E. -The Basics of How to Study the Bible
The depth and method of studying the Bible varies. Some read the Bible devotionally, some study it topically, while others study it exegetically. Below is an approach to studying the Bible exegetically:
- PRAY!– Ask God to show you what His words mean and how it applies to your life!
- Background– This involves observation. One starts by asking these questions: a) Who wrote it? b) When did the author write it? c) To whom did he write it?
*All these questions can be found in a commentary, Study Bible or Bible Encyclopaedia. (They along with Exhaustive Concordances or Bible Atlas can be found in our church library.)
- Look at the context – read the surrounding verses before and after the passage to get a feel for what is going on.
- Look for key words such as “therefore” by asking, “What is it there for?”
- Repetition of words identifies their importance.
- Write down the characters and their importance.
- Write down what is going on in the text.
- Write down any questions you have from the passage. (Are the questions important to the meaning of the text or are they trivial?)
- Analysis– This involves interpretation. You start asking the tough questions
- What is the author trying to say?
- What is God saying about the passage’s particular subject?
- Are there other passages in the Bible that deal with this subject?(This is supplemental and can be found through an Exhaustive Concordance.)
- Summary– This involves evaluation.
- Look at commentaries to see if you missed anything or if others believe something totally different.
- Write a summary such as this (as an example I’ll use Ps. 117):
- What is the Subject? Why should all the nations praise the Lord?
- What is the Complement? God shows lovingkindness to us and His truth is forever.
- What is the Big Idea? We should praise the Lord because of His lovingkindness and His truth is forever.
*One formulates the Big Idea by bringing the subject and complement together.
- Execution– This involves application. I believe that this is the most important step.
- Memorize the verse or passage.
- Ask, “How does this apply to my life?” and then do it!
- My Personal Life – My School/Work Life – My Church Life
- My Family Life – My Community Life
Now that you have a BASE for the study of God’s Word and you are trying to execute or obey it with the strength of Christ, let me teach you quickly how to teach, which is something I learned over 25 years ago as well at Moody Bible Institute in my Introduction to Christian Education class. That is BOY-BOOK-BOY! I have since added an “S” for Son so the approach is BOY-BOOK-BOY-SON. You could use Girl-Book-Girl-Son if you want instead. The first Boy or Girl is when you introduce the topic generally to your audience. The Book is the transition to which book? The Bible! The second Boy is applying the Book to your specific audience. And then the Son is what I have added since coming to an understanding of a gospel orientation that all of Scripture points to Christ and the need for grace to actually live out the Scriptures.
So pick a topic and I will try to show you how BOY-BOOK-BOY-SON can work.
Now some of you say that you do not have the gift of teaching and are not teachers. In fact, James 3:1 warns, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”I believe that James is warning that many of you shouldn’t take the role of authoritative teacher in a church unless you are qualified in your character, called and gifted. It is also important if you are a small group leader or Next Chapter teacher or Sunday School teacher that you come to hear the messages to be fed and align with the church’s teaching position. Do you know you an extension of our pulpit ministry? In fact, I invite more of you to get involved by sending illustrations to me that you may think is helpful to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can become part of my sermon research team. In a sense you are to teach one another as Colossians 3:16commands, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” And we parents are supposed to teach our children in walk-along-talk-along discipleship as Deuteronomy 6:7, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise.”So we are called to teach at least those closest to us whether that be your family or small group.
My friends, do you want the hand of the Lord upon you? Study, Obey and Teach and in that order. This is what Christ did! Presumably He studied the Scriptures as a young Jewish boy (Luke 2:46), He certainly obeyed them (Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 5:8) and lived them out perfectly and He taught the Scriptures (John 13:13). In fact, without His study, obedience and teaching you and I would not be here today and we would not be saved. Do you see how critical it is to study, obey and teach God’s Word?In an ever-increasing Biblically illiterate society, we must trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey!