Rebuilding the Walls

Series: Preacher: Date: February 17, 2013 Scripture Reference: Ezra 7; Nehemiah 1-2, 4, 6-8; Malachi 1-4

Nehemiah 8:1 – Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel.

2 – So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.

3 – Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.

4 – So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.

5 – And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.

6 – And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

7 – Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place.

8 – So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.

9 – And Nehemiah, who was the governor,Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.

10 – Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord.  Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

11 – So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”

12 – And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.

Not too many decades ago it was customary for churches to hold a revival every year—usually in the summer.  An evangelist would be invited to come and preach.  A guest music minister would come as well. A special revival choir would be formed to sing. Posters would be printed and hung all over town inviting people to come. In fact, when I was in college my picture was on a lot of revival posters because I led the music at several revivals in churches in the area. It wasn’t that I was in demand because of my “great talent.”  It was just that there were revivals going on all the time so there was always a need for a music guy.

Back then services would be held every night—sometimes for as long as two weeks. In fact, many times there was also a day-time service which was attended mostly by women and men who worked the second shift. Before the evening service someone would invite the revival team to come to their home for dinner. I remember, the first time I had filet mignon was at one of those pre-service meals.

I’m saying there was a time when revivals were a big deal—but not so much anymore.  These days revivals have all but disappeared from the typical church calendar and I’m not saying we should bring them back…but I do think we all need times to stop and—as we read in Haggai a couple weeks back—focus on, “giving careful attention to our ways.”  We all need a time to examine ourselves to see how we need to change in order to live lives that are more pleasing to God. We need time to renew or REVIVE our commitment to Jesus.  I’m reminded of something the famous evangelist, Billy Sunday, once said. He was asked if revivals lasted, and he replied, “No, neither does a bath; but it’s good to have one occasionally.”

I bring this all up because in today’s text we read about a revival that took place in Jerusalem among the Jews who had returned from Babylonian captivity. But before we go any deeper in our study of that event, let’s review a bit. In our reading of The Story, over the past few months we have seen a consistent pattern in the Hebrews. They come to God, and then sometime later they would turn away from God. They would suffer the inevitable painful consequences of doing that and this would motivate them to return to God. He would welcome them with open arms and for a while things would be good but then, after a few years of obedience the Hebrews would disobey God’s laws again. This cycle repeated itself numerous times.

Well, in our reading over the past few weeks we saw how after another period of disobedience God allowed the Assyrians and the Babylonians to take His people captive. Then decades later, when the Hebrews had matured under the “discipline of captivity,” God prompted Cyrus, the King of Persia, to allow the Jewish people to go back to Jerusalem. That took place in 538 BC and the first group to return began the rebuilding of the temple.  But the project languished for a number of years—sixteen years, in fact—so God sent two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to encourage the people to finish the job, which they did.

Last week we learned that in 478 BC a young Jewish girl named Esther became the wife and the queen to Cyrus’ successor, King Xerxes. We also learned that Esther was instrumental in the providential deliverance of the Jews who were still living in exile there in Persia.

Well, twenty years later in 458 BC, a SECOND group of exiles returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra, the priest, who led the group with the king’s blessing and resources.  Ezra 7:6 says, “This Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.” 

If you do the math you see that Ezra returned to Jerusalem about eighty years after the first group—the temple-builders. Now, you would think that after all those years of exile God’s people would’ve finally learned their lesson and I’m sure Ezra probably thought that as well.

But when he and the second group arrived back in Jerusalem he found just the opposite. He discovered that the Jewish people had started marrying people of different faiths. And please understand, this had nothing to do with race; no—the problem centered on the belief system of these non-Jewish spouses. The descendants of the Jews who had returned in that first group had disobeyed God’s law by marrying people who worshiped a variety of gods instead of the one true God. The Bible tells us that when Ezra saw all this idol worship going on he was so upset that he tore his garments—which back then was a sign of great sadness.  But Ezra didn’t stop there. He also pulled out his hair and he pulled out the hair in his beard. Then in Ezra chapter 9 it says he fell on his knees with his hands spread out to God. Ezra prayed and said,“God, I am too disgraced to raise my face to You, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.” He prayed about how gracious God was to deliver them out of bondage and to end their exile and to return them home to Jerusalem. He said, “God, You enabled us to rebuild the temple, Your house. But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands.” Ezra went on to specify just how they had broken God’s law. In verse 15 he said, “Lord, the God of Israel, You are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before You in our guilt, though because of it none of us can stand in Your presence.”  Understand, Ezra’s repentant attitude caught on such that they ALL knelt out of respect. They ALL felt unworthy. They couldn’t stand in the presence of God.

Do you see what had happened? The Jews were released from bondage. They were permitted to return to Jerusalem, but when they returned they dropped their guard.  Instead of influencing the culture around them they were influenced by it. Instead of being  “THERMOSTATS” they became “THERMOMETERS.” And I can imagine that over the years they rationalized their sinful choices with excuses. They probably said things like, “The rest of the Jews are hundreds of miles away over in Persia. They won’t know what we’re doing.” They also probably thought, “What happens in Jerusalem stays in Jerusalem” and “We’re an enlightened culture nowadays so it’s okay for us to marry outside of our faith. It’s ok to marry a non-believer.”  They forgot what Solomon had said in his Proverbs:  “There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to destruction.”

Well, after Ezra’s prayer and the people’s repentance from all this, once again God blessed His people as they turned from their unfaithfulness back to Him. This should remind us that God’s grace is truly amazing. He is long-suffering. He believes in second and third and fourth and fifth chances. I’m not saying God is soft on sin. I’m saying He is soft on us. He doesn’t give us what we deserve. No, in spite of our sin He always longs for us to come to Him in repentance.

Okay—fast forward 13 years to 445B.C. and head east back to Persia or Babylon (same thing). At this time a group from Jerusalem went back for a visit and they were the bearers of bad news. They made their sad report to a man named Nehemiah. Nehemiah was way up in the Persian government. In fact he was a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. Artaxerxes was the son of King Xerxes that we studied last week—Esther’s husband.  And I’m not kidding about the high level of Nehemiah’s government job because he was cupbearer to the king and that was a very important job. His PD—that’s “position description” for you non-personnel committee members—Nehemiah’s PD was to drink the king’s beverages and to eat the king’s food before the king did. You might think, “Well, that sounds like a pretty fun job.”  And most of the time it was because the King ate good—but every once in a while it was a very dangerous job because the reason Nehemiah got to drink the king’s beverages and eat the king’s food, was to protect the king from someone who was trying to poison him. By the way, Bobby, would you mind tasting the water in this cup for me before I take a drink? Just kidding!

Well, the bad news Nehemiah received from these visitors was that the city of Jerusalem was in ruins. The walls were broken down, and the gates had been burned with fire.  So while the temple had been built and looked great, the walls protecting the city and protecting the temple were broken down. And back then a city was only as good as its walls.  With the walls down enemies could come and go as they pleased. They could raid the city as often as they liked

In Nehemiah 1:4-7, Nehemiah writes, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of Heaven. Then I said: ‘Lord, the God of Heaven, the great and awesome God, Who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer Your servant is praying before You day and night for Your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against You. We have acted very wickedly toward You. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws You gave Your servant Moses.’”

Do you notice the pattern here with both Ezra and Nehemiah? They were both deeply committed leaders but before that they were deeply committed followers. Let me put it this way…they were the best kind of leader because they led on their knees. They led the people—as God led them. Well, God had placed a burden on the heart of Nehemiah for Jerusalem. And King Artaxerxes took notice of Nehemiah’s burdened heart and when Nehemiah explained the king said, “Listen. You take a leave of absence Nehemiah. Some of the other cup bearers can take up the slack. What’s more, I promise to help. I’ll send you letters with my seal on it to ensure safe passage as you travel. I’ll provide resources and materials for the rebuilding of the wall. I’ll do whatever you want, Nehemiah.”

And so, with the encouragement of his boss, Nehemiah took a leave of absence from his food tasting and traveled to Jerusalem. When he arrived he surveyed the damaged walls and prayed for God’s wisdom and a strategy to take on such a monumental task. He divided the people into groups by families, and he had them work in conjunction with people that they loved and cared for on specific parts of the wall. He said: “This is your family’s section. This section is your responsibility.” Nehemiah did this because he knew if they worked together—if they took ownership of their section—they would work harder. It’s kind of like giving workers stock in their company. Corporations do this because they know if the employees own the company they will work harder. The strategy works for corporations and it worked for Nehemiah but, no sooner did all these “family wall-building teams” get started than they faced opposition. Some local politicians of different faiths began to take shots.  Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, Geshem the Arab—they each began attacking the Jewish people. Nehemiah 4 says: “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates…and the army of Samaria, he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?’ Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, ‘(Yeah) What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!’”

So they started making fun and, after several weeks of working amidst those conditions, as usually is the case, discouragement set in among the workers and things started to slow down.Verse 10 says, “Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.’” Let me just stop and say that discouraging words have a lot of power. The old phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is just not true. Words DO hurt—I mean, nothing drags you down more than the painful words of discouragement! It’s like kryptonite to Superman! And the “discouraging” words of Sanballatt and his crew slowed the progress of construction. But to make matters worse, they went beyond words and began to make threats. These enemies begin to plot violence against the Jewish people that were working on rebuilding the walls. We read about it in verses 11 and 12: “Also our enemies said, ‘Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.’ Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack.’” In other words, these people were saying, “Man, you better watch out. When you least expect it, expect it. They will attack!”

Nehemiah countered this threat of attack by making the teams work while armed…a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other. They were like 5th century B.C. minute men—ready to fight at a moment’s notice! You can imagine—this was a tough work environment, especially since these laborers were unpaid volunteers—but Nehemiah kept them going.  He continued to remind them why they were doing all this. He told them they were doing it for the one true God. They were doing it so that they could have a closer relationship with Him. And Nehemiah’s plan worked.  Verse 15 says, “The wall was completed in fifty-two days.” Is that amazing? In fifty-two days—in less than two months—they rebuilt the massive walls that surrounded Jerusalem. But that’s not all that was rebuilt. You see, in the process the Hebrew people experienced a “rebuilding” of sorts themselves. Perhaps because of the things they learned in the exile and by worshiping in the rebuilt temple and by being part of the miraculous restoration of the walls around Jerusalem the people saw anew their need for God. They got to the point where they yearned for a “revival” of their relationship with our Heavenly Father and so they gathered at the Water Gate—thousands of them…men, women, even children who were old enough to understand.  Then the people asked Ezra the priest to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses and read it to them. Understand…this wasn’t Ezra’s idea—it was the people’s idea. Remember—it had been 140 years since these Hebrews had read from God’s book. They were truly hungry spiritually…they were famished to hear from God. This hunger for the Word of God had been prophesied long ago. Amos 8:11-12 says, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.  Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the Word of the Lord, but they will not find it.”

Well, because of their sin the Hebrews hadn’t heard much from God in a long time and as such they were finally ready to listen. So, a large platform was built next to the wall near the Water Gate. I imagine they did this so as to get the acoustical benefits of the backdrop of that wall. I’m sure the height of the “pulpit” they built for Ezra to read from helped as well. But the idea was that everyone wanted to hear and everyone wanted to see. They were all EAGER—HUNGRY—for the WORD! In essence they were “sitting on the edge of their seats” as Ezra began to read and that’s what he did. He read the entire Book of the Law, which you may remember from our reading, is what Joshua did after the sin of Achan. Frazee writes, “This spiritual exercise served to refocus, re-center, and remind Israel what was truly important. It aided in the rebuilding program of a life aligned with God’s Upper Story.”

And that re-alignment happened. The people experienced a 5th century B.C. revival and the spark that ignited their renewed commitment to God was the reading of His written Word. By the way that’s the way it was with the great revivals of history. God’s Word was always at the center. People read the Bible and saw their need to REVIVE their relationship with Jesus. Well, what can we learn about “revival” or spiritual renewal from this part of THE STORY? We must learn from this because as I said, regardless of whether churches schedule revivals Christians need them. We all need times to RENEW our walk with Jesus.

(1) First, we can see that for revival to come the Bible must be RESPECTED.

To experience the kind of renewal these Hebrews did we need to realize the Bible is not just another book. We must understand that it is the Word of God Himself. That conviction—that respect—is what motivates us to READ the BIBLE and to live by its teachings. We see the Hebrews’ respect in the way they STOOD when the Book of the Law was read and they didn’t just stand for a few minutes…you know, long enough to hear the typical sermon text. No they stood for the entire time—the entire “revival meeting”—and it was a long one. Ezra started his reading and teaching early in the morning and continued through midday, which means the people stood and listened for five or six hours—and this continued for an entire week. No doubt, from time to time, Ezra gave the people opportunities to rest, but they knew they were there to hear God speak so every day they returned and stood. As verse 3 says, “All the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” From time to time they would respond by shouting, “AMEN! AMEN!” which means, “SO BE IT! We will do this! We will obey God’s Word!”

They also responded by bowing down with their faces toward the ground, showing their belief that the words they were hearing were not “normal” words—they were not man’s words—no—they were GOD’S WORDS! This week I read that it is customary in many Scottish churches for the service to begin with the entrance of a man, a church officer, called, “the beadle.”  The beadle enters carrying the Bible, which he places on the church’s pulpit and then opens to the day’s reading, after which he escorts the minister to the pulpit. The important thing about this ceremony is that the people stand when the beadle enters with the Bible, and they remain standing until it is opened and the minister has taken his place behind it, with the implied but obvious assignment to expound on it. Only after that do the people take their seats. Some might call this kind of thing bibliolatry, “the worship of a book,” but it is no such thing. It is simply an acknowledgement of what the Bible is: the very Word of God. And I’m not saying that we should necessarily do this at Redland—but what I am saying is that for us to experience the kind of renewal experienced by these Jews it must be our conviction that this is not just any book. This is GOD’S book. This is why whenever I read my sermon text, I follow a tradition started by my predecessor and say, “This is the Word of THE LORD!” and you respond, “Thanks be to God!” We must believe that as Paul told young Timothy, “All scripture is GOD-BREATHED….none of it originated in the will of man….” (2nd Timothy 3:16). As I remind(ed) my 101 class in our review of Redland’s essential beliefs, the entire Bible beginning with the Old Testament makes this claim to be GOD-breathed.

  • If you were to sit down and read from Genesis to Malachi you would      count over 3800 times in which phrases such as “Thus says the Lord” or “This is the Word of the Lord” are used.
  • And, the writers of the New Testament make the same claim.
  • In Galatians 1:11 Paul said that the things he taught were not from man but were a “revelation of Jesus Christ.” In 1 Timothy Paul referred to the Gospel of Luke as being “Scripture.”
  • In 2 Peter 3:15, the big fisherman confirmed that Paul’s writings were God’s words when he said: “Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.”
  • In Revelation John claimed to be writing the word of God repeatedly.

I could go on and on but suffice it to say that from Genesis to Revelation, from the beginning of this Book to the end, the Bible claims to be different from any book by stating repeatedly that when we read these pages we are not reading the words of men but instead we are reading the words of God Himself.

And, as I said, knowing that these are God’s Words—respecting them as such—leads us to live our lives by its teaching. We respect this Book as God’s guidance for us. I like something Rick Warren wrote in The Purpose Driven Life.  He said, “The Bible is far more than a doctrinal guidebook. God’s Word generates life, creates faith, produces change, frightens the Devil, causes miracles, heals hurts, builds character, transforms circumstances, imparts joy, overcomes adversity, defeats temptation, infuses hope, releases power, cleanses our minds, brings things into being, and guarantees our future forever. We cannot live without the Word of God! Never take it for granted. You should consider it as essential to your life as food.” And Warren is right—for us to be nourished and renewed as Christ-followers we must draw “nutrition” from this book of books!

In fact, I would say that the reason many of us don’t experience renewal—the reason our Christian walk is lifeless—is because we look for direction in life elsewhere.  We base our choices on unreliable sources of authority like: culture (“everybody is doing it”), tradition (“We’ve always done it”), reason (“It seemed logical”) or emotion (“It just felt right”). All four of these things are flawed by the Fall and as such are not reliable. What we need is a perfect standard that will never lead us in the wrong direction and only God’s Word meets that need.

You know, I seek out and heed words that I respect. For example, when it comes to spiritual advice I seek out the words of people like Charlie Brinkman or Gladys McClain because I admire their walk with Jesus. I respect their words. I listen their guidance in spiritual issues. When it comes to financial guidance I seek out the words of people like Bill Jones and Hugh Faulconer and Jim Burke because I respect their words on monetary issues. I listen when they talk about finances. When it comes to legal guidance, I seek out the words of CC Day and Bob Michael because I respect what they have to say about legal things. I listen when they talk. Well, to experience the renewing abundant life we all long for, we have to respect the words of the Bible for they are God’s Words. As the hymn puts it they are wonderful words of LIFE. Do you respect the Bible in this way? Is it your Source of authority in life?  Do you seek out and heed its words?

(2) A second thing we can learn here is that for personal revival or renewal to come the Bible must also be UNDERSTOOD.

It’s not enough to just hear and revere the Bible. It must be studied and taught. As Paul told Timothy it must be taught correctly—it must be “rightly divided.” I mean, the Bible is not a “magic book” that changes people or circumstances just because somebody reads it or recites it. No, the power of this book lies in understanding it. This is why Ezra and the priests took the time to explain the reading to the people of Jerusalem. When the people UNDERSTOOD the law they were able to see how far they had drifted from it. Understanding this part of the Bible helped them to see their sin and they responded by weeping. Bible study does the same for us. It shows us our sins and shortcomings. It helps us see our need for confession and forgiveness. This is what Paul was talking about in Ephesians 5 when he wrote about, “making the church holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the WORD so that she may be holy without any blemish.” The fact is that when we UNDERSTAND the Bible we “wash the sin out of our eyes” enough to understand OURSELVES.  The Bible washes away self-righteous attitudes so that we can see our sin as sin. I once read of a college student who had a job as a janitor in a hospital. At night he would rush through his duties and then he would sneak into a storage room to study for two or three hours. He always got his work done, but the quality of his work wasn’t anything to brag about. One day he read Colossians 3:23 which says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men.” The Holy Spirit used that verse to help him understand that with his work habit he was both cheating the hospital and sinning against God and so he changed his work habits. That’s the way it is with Scripture. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “For whatever God says to us is full of power; it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are.” (TLB)

By the way, the importance of UNDERSTANDING the Bible is why it is vital for all Christians to be in a small group setting, like a Sunday School class. This is where we study and UNDERSTAND the Scriptures best. This is where iron sharpens iron as we learn together and build relationships with other learners through which we hold each other accountable. The fact is you can’t get the fullest impact of understanding Scripture by just attending worship. You need other Christians to help you understand the Word.

(3) Finally, for revival or renewal to come, the Bible must be OBEYED.

As the people heard and understood the Book of the Law they learned about the Feast of Tabernacles. This was a feast that God had commanded the Jews to celebrate annually in which the people lived in shelters made of branches that they built on the flat roofs of their houses. It was a time for LOOKING BACK and remembering the nation’s 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, when the people were homeless and lived in temporary shelters. It was also a time for LOOKING AROUND at the harvest of blessings from the hand of God. From their roof tops they could see that the Lord had given them a good land—and that they were never to forget the Giver as they enjoyed the gifts. But the Feast of Tabernacles was also an occasion for LOOKING AHEAD to the glorious kingdom God promised His people.  It was a week-long festival of joyful praise and thanksgiving, focusing on the goodness of the Lord. When they read about and understood this feast in the Book of the Law they obeyed God and celebrated it joyfully—and this reminds us that it is not enough to hear the Word of God. We must also obey what it tells us to do. This is what Jesus was talking about in John 13:17 when He said, “Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you DO them.” Rick Warren says, “We fool ourselves when we assume that just because we have heard or read or studied a Biblical text, we have internalized its truth. Without implementation, all our Bible studies are worthless.” Warren is right. To experience the renewal that comes from the Bible we must obey—we must live out—its teachings.

Eugene Peterson writes, “At age 35 I bought running shoes and began enjoying the smooth rhythms of long-distance running. Soon I was competing in 10K races every month or so, and then a marathon once a year. By then I was subscribing to and reading three running magazines!  Then I pulled a muscle and couldn’t run for a couple of months. Those magazines were still all over the house, but I never opened one.  The moment I resumed running, though, I started reading again. That’s when I realized that my reading was an extension of something I was a part of. I was reading for companionship and affirmation of the experience of running. I learned a few things along the way, but mostly it was to deepen my world of running and if I wasn’t running, there was nothing to deepen. The parallel with reading Scripture is striking. If I’m not living in active response to the living God, then reading about His creation/salvation/holiness won’t hold my interest for long. The most important question isn’t “What does this mean,” but “What can I obey?”  Simple obedience will open up our lives to a text more quickly than any number of Bible studies, dictionaries, and concordances.”

So—to summarize, for the RENEWAL we need to come, we must RESPECT the Bible; we must UNDERSTAND the Bible; and we must OBEY the Bible. As we come to our time of decision, I’d like us to follow the example of the people who listened as Ezra read from God’s book that day in Jerusalem. I want to read a couple passages of Scripture. I want you to listen and then respond as God leads. In the book of Romans it says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” If you are here and you have never accepted God’s gift of salvation, if you have never called on the name of Jesus, won’t you do that today?  Pray and ask Him to forgive your sin and come into your heart and life. Then come forward and share that decision with us. We will rejoice with you. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” I believe that this verse and others like it teach the importance of being an active part of a local church. If you don’t have a church home, could it be that God is guiding you to join Redland? If so, come and ask to become a part of our membership. We would love to have you. James 1:5 says, “If anyone lacks wisdom, he should ask God Who gives generously to all without finding fault.”  This verse says that if we have a problem, we can and should ask God for guidance. If that describes you, pray at your seat or come forward and we will pray with you. Let’s all respond now, as God through His Word leads.

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