Posts Tagged 'Success'



EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 2

THE KEY OF SUCCESS

(IN THE LORD’S WORK)

Ezra 6:14

So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia.

This verse may be taken to be the key to success, insofar as the remnant was concerned. Servants and maids, masters and mistresses, priests and laymen, in all close to 50,000 exiles eventually accepted the offer of Cyrus to leave their captivity and journey from Babylon to Jerusalem.

It was a long and perilous trek through sometimes hostile, always unfriendly terrain, yet this remnant considered themselves blessed to be able to return home and engage in the work of rebuilding. Really, these people were involved in the greatest work of all: the work of the Lord.

God’s work takes many forms; sometimes it may be in the form of preaching a sermon or teaching a Bible class. Other times the work of Lord may look a lot like physical labor, like laying brick upon brick . The Lord’s work is doing whatever He tells you to do in order to fulfill His will and purpose(s) for your life. For this remnant, God’s will was for them to rebuild the City of David. This they did with great joy.

1. The work, 1:3

Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.

The primary task of the remnant was not to rebuild their homes, although in time they would. The house they were commissioned to build was for the honor of Yahweh; it was to be a testimony to His Holy Name. This was to be God’s House, it was His will, and yet it was Cyrus’ command. Sometimes God’s work may not look like God’s work to you; it may come from unexpected sources or be prompted by unlikely circumstances.

But if you are a believer, it is your solemn duty to do the work God has commissioned you to do, in whatever form it may take. God’s work for you may take a surprising form, but if it is to His glory, do it. God’s work for you may be not be what you expect, but it it is His will, then pour your heart and soul into it. God’s work for you may be the very last thing you think you are capable of doing, but if it honors the Lord, then put your hand to that plow and don’t look back. Every believer should be engaged in building a house of testimony for God.

2. The beginning, 3:3

And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening.

Notice the very first thing they they worked on: the altar. This work began in “the seventh month” (3:1), one of the most sacred months of the Jewish year. The first day of this month, Tishri, is Rosh Hashanah, the “new year.” Ten days after that is the Day of Atonement, then the Feast of Tabernacles. So you can see, Tishri was an important month; the perfect month to start a great work for God!

During their 70 year sojourn in Babylon, the Jews had no way to worship as they should; there was no temple, no altar. Instead, they were surrounded by dozens of Babylonian temples to a variety of deities. No wonder the people, as soon as they were set free, went straight for the altar to repair it.

The altar is the only acceptable place for God’s work to begin, whatever it may be. The altar must be given its true place in the house of God’s Church if it is to be built up and established. What is the altar of God’s Church? It’s not the doctrines of man. It’s not a church constitution or a book of denominational polity. The altar of the Church is the altar of Cross, and the Cross must be the basis of any work we do for God. All our work must be built upon the Cross, not upon our wisdom or talents or ideas and goals. Any attempted work for God is in vain and will come to nothing if it is not built on the Cross of Christ.

Notice what the people did once the they repaired the altar. They did not hold a “grand opening” or congratulate each other for a job well done. They immediately held a great worship service. This worship service was not some carefully crafted and orchestrated liturgical event, it was a spontaneous outburst of praise to God because the people were filled with joy and thanksgiving. The Church can take a lesson from this faithful remnant, because this is the kind of worship that results from when God’s people work His will.

3. The enemies, 4:1, 2

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

You can be sure that what happened to the remnant when they began to rebuild the House of God and when they offered God shouts of praise and worship will happen to any believer who decides to live a life wholly dedicated to God.

Never forget Peter’s warning:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

It’s not a question of “if you attract the enemy” it’s “when will he notice you!” The Devil always sets his sights on Christians who are on fire and sold out to Jesus Christ. He has absolutely no interest in “the 75% majority” of Christians who are lazy and lukewarm; he has them right where he wants them and they pose no threat to him or his plans because they never attempt to do anything for God. But if you are a worker; if you are producer for the Kingdom of Heaven, you can be sure that it is just a matter of time before the enemy comes prowling around you.

The remnant stirred up the enemies all around them they worked for God and they came, professing to be their friends and people who loved God as they they did. God’s enemies are nothing if not slick and deceptive. And if you are not alert and if you don’t exercise some God-given discernment, you will be taken in and you will be devoured and spit back out, useless for God.

These enemies of the Jews offered to help them, but of course, their intent was really to destroy them. The child of God will always be destroyed when get in bed with the Devil. You cannot do the work of God with the Devil’s tools. Their work of restoration was a great success and they attracted their enemies. Thank God there were some men of God who had discernment and could see through they schemes of the enemy.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14—15)

When it comes to living and working for the Lord, there can be no compromise! And how the Devil hates believers who know how to stand up to him and stand their ground for Christ. The Devil never lets up his attacks, by the way.

Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. (verses 4, 5)

But the one thing the enemies got wrong was this: they set out to frustrate “their plans.” Rebuilding and restoring the Temple and Jerusalem was never “their plans,” they were God’s plans, and the Devil can never frustrate the plans of God. He will always prevail.

4. Temporary interruption, 4:24

Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Sometimes, the enemy may win the battle, but he will never win the war! Just as in Ezra’s day, any apparent victory Satan may win is short lived. However, a careful reading of the text tells us just how and why the Lord’s work stopped: it was stopped by a lie. The enemies of the Jews lied about them, lied about their motives, and the king who was allowing the Jews to do their work was duped by all the lies.

Now, put yourself in the place of that faithful remnant. For two generations they had lived in exile. Finally, by the grace and providence of God, they were allowed to return home and rebuild His house, His city, and their lives. For a time, they had success, and they praised God, gave Him the glory and the credit, and all of a sudden, they had to stop the work all because of a lie. How do you suppose these people felt? Had they misinterpreted God’s will? Was God’s Word now untrustworthy? Did His providence mean nothing at all? Was it all a bad joke?

These are questions every single believer asks himself when he hits the proverbial brick wall and can’t seem to go around it or over it. It’s the old story of the human condition: life is never easy. Indeed, a true believer can be living according to the Word of God, doing just as he should be doing to fulfill God’s will for him and still experience seeming defeat at the hands of Satan. When that happens, you probably feel like Job. You definitely feel like the faithful remnant.

But winning a battle is not the same thing as winning the war.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

5. A renewed effort, 5:1, 2

Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

In the face of certain defeat, what did the remnant do? They preached they Word of God and got right back to work. Another revival broke out. When God’s people listen to His Word and trust His Word, they will always move ahead. The trouble with so many so-called Christians today is that they would rather trust what they see and hear, instead of trusting in the Lord. But notice, in this bad and confusing time, the prophets—the preachers—stood up and boldly started proclaiming God’s Word. They didn’t let circumstances stop them. There is a great need today for preachers to stand up and preach the Word of God, not their own ideas. When God’s work comes to an apparent standstill, it’s the Word of God, proclaimed loudly and clearly, that gets the discouraged workers going again. Cheer leading, and other worldly methods of encouragement won’t do it. The only thing that get a discouraged child of God up and working again is a big dose the Word.

This faithful remnant needed to be reminded of that which they knew: Yahweh had saved them out of Babylon so they could serve Him in Jerusalem. It’s hard to remember things like that when circumstances are against you. God bless the prophets and preachers who don’t berate and beat up their flock when the flock strays a bit!

Haggai and Zechariah preached the Word, and it was not preached in vain. Darius, the king who had been duped, saw the light and “providentially” found the decree made by Cyrus that set the Jews free. He immediately set things right by sending a letter to those liars who were trying to stifle the people of God:

Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site. (6:7)

Thanks to the faithful prophets, we read this:

So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. (6:14)

Even though we are “more than conquerors,” we are still subject to the foibles of all people. We get frustrated in our work for God. We get discouraged. We get “weary in our well-doing.” The cure for our weakness is a clearer understanding of God’s will and God’s Word. It’s a greater appreciation for God’s grace and His purposes in our lives, both as individuals and as the Body of Christ. It’s a whole-hearted devotion and commitment to those purposes no matter what.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

STUDIES IN ACTS, Part 8

A 1920s religious revival at Fairmont Baptist Church in Covington, AL

Acts 11:19—26

After the martyrdom of Stephen, evangelism among the population in Jerusalem came to screeching halt. In God’s providence, the Christians who were forced to leave Jerusalem brought the Good News to the people in Palestine. Wherever they went, these Christians shared the Gospel and caused the Church to grow. God took an awful event, the death of Stephen, and the subsequent persecution of some members of the Jerusalem church, and turned it into a golden opportunity to enlarge the church through the mission work of the persecuted Christians. These wonderful Greek-speaking Jews who fell in love with Jesus through His teachings returned to their homelands, proclaiming the Gospel to their people.

This section of Acts tells of two movements of the Early church along the Mediterranean Sea. The first was northward from Jerusalem to Antioch in Syria. The Gospel was freely preached and widely embraced in that city. The other movement was southward from Antioch to Jerusalem. The first carried the message of salvation to those in the north, the second carried material blessings from the new converts in Antioch to the the needy believers in Jerusalem.

In the history of Christianity, no other city of the Roman empire, save Jerusalem, played as large a part in the life and fortunes of the Church as Antioch, in Syria. This city was the birthplace of of foreign missions and the home base for Paul’s outreach to the eastern half of the Empire. It was the first place where believers in Jesus Christ were called “Christians.”

Unfortunately, Antioch was was also where the first schism threatened to split the infant church: should these Gentile-Christians submit to certain aspects of the Law, including circumcision.

Antioch also produced some of the greatest thinkers in the church, including Barnabas and Paul in the first century, Ignatius and Theophilus in the second century, Lucian, Theodore, Chrysostom, and many others throughout the third and fourth centuries.

1. Revival

(1) Its origin, verse 19

…the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed…

The Jewish establishment in Jerusalem thought Stephen’s death and their subsequent persecution of some members of “the church” would quash the enthusiasm of the followers of Jesus. They thought wrong! The unregenerate mind always thinks wrong when it comes to thinking about God:

Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee… (Psalm 76:10a, KJV)

The opponents of Christ may scheme ways to kill the Church, but it was Jesus who spoke those unchanging words of victory:

I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

God always works this way; whenever the Enemy thinks he has the upper hand, God takes that negative and turns it into a positive. He did it for Paul many time;, for example:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12)

So God took what seemed like a terrible tragedy—the death of Stephen—and turned it into the event that changed the direction the Church was going in. This singularly negative event was the best thing that could have happened to the church in Jerusalem, for it got them out of their pews and onto their feet, carrying the Good News wherever they went.

(2) How it happened, verses 20, 21

Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

There were two things these missionaries had going for them: the Word of God and the Lord’s hand. In other words, these evangelists not only proclaimed the Good News (the Word of God), but there was divine power behind their words (the Lord’s hand).

God’s Word is not like any other written word. No book has the power behind it that God’s Word has. Paul expressed a similar sentiment in 1 Thessalonians 1:5—

…our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.

It’s not the words of the preacher, it’s the Word of God he’s preaching that works with the hand of the Lord. We preach Jesus, and the hand of the Lord works wonders.

For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:9)

A preacher may preach a well-crafted sermon, but if the Word is not in it, there will be no power behind it. A preacher may may preach his opinion energetically, but if his opinion is not grounded in the Word, it’s all bluster that amounts to nothing. A preacher may preach great and soaring doctrines of the Church, but if those doctrines are devoid of the Word of God, he is nothing but noise coming from behind the pulpit. We are laborers with God when we work with God.

(3) The result, verse 21b

…a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

Thanks to the work of these once-persecuted believers from Jerusalem, Antioch soon became the leading center of Christianity. This really is a verse of triumph. Luke, who himself was a Gentile-Christian, may have been on of the early converts.

From verse 19, we get the impression that the initial ministry of the Jewish-Christians among the Jews and Greeks took place in the synagogues of Antioch. But it didn’t take long before this revival broke out of the synagogues, spread throughout the city and beyond, and finally news of it reached Jerusalem. The church leaders in Jerusalem, all of whom were Jewish-Christian, were now faced with a dilemma: what to do with this influx of Gentile believers.

2. Barnabas pays a visit

(1) What he was, verse 22

News of this reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

With the salvation of the Samaritans, the conversion of some Gentiles in Caesarea, and now all these new believers in Antioch, the folks back in Jerusalem were concerned that maybe the church was growing too fast and that things may have been getting out of control. In response to the Antioch revival, the Jerusalem church sent a delegation to Antioch to check it out. The man they chose was Barnabas, a Jew from Cyprus, who had an outstanding reputation in the church and appeared to be an all-around good guy. He certainly was a man with a generous spirit:

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:36—37)

He was the perfect man for the job. He must have been extremely friendly and outgoing since he garnered the nickname “Son of Encouragement.” The future of the church depended on what this man would report back. As a result of Barnabas’ response to the revival, it was enabled to continue, with many finding Christ as a result.

(2) What he saw, verse 23a

When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done…

Barnabas was amazed at the grace of God when he saw, not only all the new believers, but also the harmony that existed between Jew and Gentiles within the one Antiochean church. This was a breakthrough of momentous proportions. A man’s inward character determines what he sees. A Roman philosopher cold only see in this religious revival a “vile superstition.” Barnabas saw the manifested grace of God. The proud Athenians saw only their many gods, but Paul saw an entire city given over to the sin of idolatry. Some things can only be “spiritually discerned,” and God’s grace is one of them. Because Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith (verse 24), he recognized immediately God was at work; he didn’t need anybody to tell him. Do you recognize God at work? Can you see the grace of God manifested in a person or situation? If you are full of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to discern the things of God.

(3) What he felt and what he did, verse 23b

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
…he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

Barnabas certainly live up to his nickname! He immediately began to encourage these new believers in their new faith. Bighearted Barnabas was so sold-out to Jesus that he was “glad” to see anybody serving the Lord, Jew or Gentile! Instead of looking for faults and criticizing this new movement, he gave it his stamp of approval and blessing.

3. Barnabas gets some help

Barnabas was the right man in the right place. He related well to the people living in and around Antioch. He was bilingual, familiar with Greek culture, and may well have been a businessman familiar with that culture of Antioch. But Barnabas needed some help; he couldn’t do it all by himself. While Barnabas was a mighty encourager, the believers needed more than just encouragement. This cosmopolitan, Greek-speaking metropolis needed the talents of an intellectual giant as well as a Spirit-filled encourager.

It had been some ten or more years since Saul, now known as Paul, found the Lord on the road to Damascus, and this was the man Barnabas sought out. We have no record of what Paul did during the intervening years, between the time he left Jerusalem (see Acts 9:20) and when Barnabas found him in Tarsus. From Galatians 1:21—24, we can be sure that Paul was not idle during those years; he continued to preach and minister for Christ in and around his hometown of Tarsus. It is likely during these years that the apostle received the “five lashings” he wrote about in 2 Corinthians 11:24, along with the other afflictions he enumerated in 2 Corinthians 11:23—27. Some scholars think that it was during these years in Tarsus that he began to experience the “loss of all things” for the sake of Christ, maybe even the loss of his family (Philippians 3:8).

Barnabas seemed to always have a “soft spot” for this one-time persecutor of the church. He came to Paul’s support when others doubted his conversion (Acts 9:27) and he recognized that Paul had a ministry among the Gentiles. Together, they worked in Antioch for about a year. These two men, different as night and day in one way, were extremely effective ministers and became lifelong partners in the great work of the Gospel.

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

While there were many converts in and around Antioch, some in the city were not impressed with the work of Barnabas and Paul, and nicknamed this growing group of Jewish and Gentile believers “Christians.” The Greek word, Christianoi, means literally “Christ followers” or “those who belong to Christ,” was a term of derision.

Conclusion

Why are you called a Christian? Originally not a complimentary term, it was used of people who identified completely with Jesus Christ because they patterned their daily lives after His and His teachings. Unfortunately, for many so-called Christians today, that description applies to them only on Sunday. During the other six days of the week, many so-Christians seem to set aside that nickname, living not for Christ, but for their careers, for money, for their families, destroying their marriages with unChrist-like attitudes, ruining their bodies through chemical dependence, and using language that is not glorifying to God in any way.

So, the question, “Why are you called a Christian?” is an intensely personal and important one to consider. It may make you blush. You may not know how to answer it. Zacharius Ursinus answered that question like this in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Question: But why art thou called a Christian?

Answer: Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am a partaker of his anointing; that so I may confess his name, and present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him: and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life and afterwards I reign with him eternally, over all creatures.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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