Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Author and teacher Kay Arthur warns: "If you do not plan to live the Christian life totally committed to knowing your God and to walking in obedience to him, then don't begin, for this is what Christianity is all about. It is a change of citizenship, a c

There's an article on Time magazines website. It begins: "Religion can be a source of comfort that improves well-being. But some kinds of religiosity could be a sign of deeper mental health issues." The article quotes a clinical psychologist who states, "Religion is related to the child having a higher sense of self esteem, better academic adjustment and lower rates of substance abuse and delinquent or criminal behavior."

So much for the positives. The rest of the article tells us all the negative ways religion could affect our children. Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) might rigidly repeat holy verses or focus on other rituals. If so, such ritualistic behavior "in reality could be no more spiritual than fanatical hand washing or dreading to walk on cracks." Other children suffer from "scrupulosity," a form of OCD that involves shame and guilt. We're told that "fastidiousness to religious practices may not seem so harmful," but could lead to "extreme behavior such as delusions or hallucinations."

The article recommends that parents "be alert to a sudden and pervasive shift in religious practice" and "model a healthy balance between religion and life." They should show children "how religion can co-exist with enjoying life" (note the juxtaposition, as though the two are mutually exclusive). Their goal should be to help religion become "a comfort and a joy," since "that's the role that religion should have for people of faith."

Now I suppose if I was going to be obsessed with anything, Jesus would be a pretty good target. To me, the Time article is symptomatic of a cultural bias against true Christianity. Religion in moderation is fine, but surrendering every dimension of life to Jesus is too extreme. I ask how is this working for our culture?

Author and teacher Kay Arthur warns: "If you do not plan to live the Christian life totally committed to knowing your God and to walking in obedience to him, then don't begin, for this is what Christianity is all about. It is a change of citizenship, a change of governments, a change of allegiance. If you have no intention of letting Christ rule your life, then forget Christianity; it is not for you." Jesus would certainly agree. It is not a self-help system. Our story today demonstrates this.

The year is 609 BC and the evil and cruel Nebuchadnezzar begins the Babylonian empire by defeating the Assyrians as the prophet Jeremiah had predicted. Jeremiah had spoken to the people for 23 years and they had not listened, then finally in Jeremiah 25-29 he gives details about Nebuchadnezzar coming and that the people of Israel would be in exile in Babylon.

During that time we know about the life of Daniel who prophecies through his visions of some of what we are about to witness in the book of Ezra. Daniel reads the writing on the wall telling Nebuchadnezzar that the Medes and Persians are coming to conquer his kingdom through Cyrus. The Persians, led by Cyrus do indeed conquer Babylon in 539 BC thus ending the 70 years of Babylonian reign, and Daniel once again prospered under the kings of Persia.

Ezra begins - "In the first year of Cyrus's reign, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus the king so that the prophecy of Jeremiah might be fulfilled", the exiles begin returning home. In 538 he allows the first wave of exiles to return to Jerusalem to begin building a new temple. This new exodus is led by the "prince of Judah" Sheshbazzar, which is the Persian version of Zerubbabel. If you come to the Wednesday night study, you will see why this person is important.

They begin the rebuilding but there are adversaries as always, and the temple does not get completed until 516, and it's another 60 or so years until Ezra and the last wave of exiles return.

During this time of rebuilding we see that there are two prophets delivering the word of God, Haggai and Zechariah. We learn a lot from those books as we see that the first year the Israelites were back, they focussed on just throwing up a temporary altar and then went to work trying to be prosperous. Listen to what God says through Haggai and see if it speaks to us as wee as to them (Hag 1:9-14 NLT). That's when they got to the real work of building the temple. Notice also how God is using Gentiles to both punish, and also to give the commands and resources to rebuild the temple.

I find this very interesting for us. We know that the temple is really symbolic of God's house in the Old Testament and there is a very clear parallel here for us, and it is that we must focus first on the temple of the Lord which is now us, before we can expect to truly receive all God's blessings. It is said well by Jesus, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

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