Summary: In Ezra’s day there was an issue, a problem, that needed resolution; Ezra dealt with it through confession and a covenant.
HOW WE SHOULD DEAL WITH PROBLEMS
WITHIN GOD’S HOLY COMMUNITY (The Church)
Ezra chapters 9 & 10
Pastor David E. Houchin
Delivered 2/25/07 at Church on the Esplanade
Last Sunday, as we entered Lent, Pastor Ed exhorted us to learn about three specific spiritual disciplines: Bible Study, Fasting and Prayer as means to experience the reality of God’s presence in our lives… This week, through God’s serendipity, we see an example of a man who practiced these disciplines and how they impacted his life.
Today we want to consider how we should deal with problems within God’s holy community. Within our context, this means within the church. Problems? In the Church? I hope I am not bursting any bubbles by telling you that as long as a church has people within it, the church will have problems….
In and of themselves, the existence of problems is not a bad thing…. How we handle problems can give either good outcomes – or bad outcomes.
Every problem has a purpose – usually it is give us the opportunity, the chance to choose, to become more like Christ. Sometimes we choose poorly. Sometimes we choose to honor Jesus. What makes the difference?
In the book of Ezra, there is an example of how Ezra and the people of the 5th century BC had a problem, and how they solved it. The NT (2 Tim 3:15-16, NLT) teaches us that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us our and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.” So, let’s turn to Ezra chapter 9 and see how this passage, written about a problem 2,500 years ago, can teach us today how we should deal with the problems we face within God’s holy community, the church, in our own 21st century.
I think it is useful, before we get to the problem, to understand a little of the background of a key player in our story – the man Ezra. We were introduced to Ezra in chapters 7 and 8 of the Bible book that bears his name. We find that he was a skilled scribe. We find that he was a man who practiced spiritual disciplines:
PRACTICING DISCIPLINES – Examples in the life of Ezra
Experiencing the “gracious hand” of God 7:9b,28; 8:18,31
• Ezra 7:10 _Study_ (2 Tim 2:15) obey – teach.
This is the proper order -- we need to be hearers of the word, and we need to be doers of the word. We need to be those who are busy making disciples as our Lord told us in Matthew 28 – “teaching them to obey all [His] commands”. Learn-live-lead – that is the proper order. It is the order Ezra built into his life. It is the order we need to practice in our own lives. It is the reason that Ezra experienced “the gracious hand of God.”
• Put on the spot for God – 8:22, note Ezra’s “knee jerk” response
Ezra has about 2,000 people + $6mm gold; another $4mm silver. There is so much ‘stuff” that if it was evenly divided among the 2000 people to carry, each person would have to lug 24# of silver & almost 4 pounds of gold! That’s a lot to carry on a 900 miles, 5 month long journey. Think in terms of two 12 pound bowling balls plus 4 more pounds – and all your own “stuff” too!
So Ezra is put on the spot for God. Ezra is “ashamed” to ask for an armed guard – despite 2000 people, despite $6mm in gold, despite $4mm in silver, despite 900 miles of bandit infested desert. Why? Because he had been bragging on God’s ability to protect those who serve Him! He realized – big gulp – the inconsistency of talking about God’s power and might and majesty on one hand, and asking for an armed guard on the other. Are we aware of the inconsistencies within our own “talk” and our “walk”?
In addition to knowing the Word of God, 8:18 tells us that Ezra called on the people to do two things:
o __Prayer__ The New Living uses the adjective “earnestly” before the word pray. 2,000 people. $6mm gold, $4mm silver, no guards = “earnestly pray”.
It is unlikely this is the first time Ezra had practiced these disciplines – it is his “knee jerk” response to do these two things…. How we respond to life issues are learned responses – they are responses we have had in the past. Ezra’s response here by the canal demonstrates, I believe, what his usual response to life problems. He fasted… and he prayed. These are two neglected disciplines in the church today. They are life responses we ought to be acquainted with. There by the Ahava Canal, the returning Jews learned the power of these two disciplines.