Monthly Archives: December 2018

Settling into Life

The last few chapters of Nehemiah capture for us the reality of living life back in the Promise Land. The work of establishing a place of common worship, the restoral of daily sacrifices and offering and the reading of the word of God daily in the Temple all have resumed. The Temple and the city of Jerusalem are secure once again. Those who had rightful inheritance live within the walls. The scribes, priests, gatekeepers and singers are developing a “routine” in life. Man it feels good to be back home after a long absence! Coming out of chapter 9 which was a REVIVAL of the people. There is then chapter 10, with the identification of the signers of the Covenant. I couldn’t help but think of the USA and the original signers of our Constitution. I have often thought of the similarities of Israel and America. No I’m not talking politically! God has blessed people for their worship and obedience to His Word. When we fail to remember that HE is God and WE are not; then a resulting downfall is imminent. Far too long America has banked on the blessings of God, without any corresponding obedience to Him and His Word. I have heard some pastors even exclaim that America is GOD’s gift to the World. There is a definite arrogance about Americans. It wasn’t until I was overseas did I come to the reality of the expression “Ugly Americans.” For the very same reasons of disobedience and pride that brought Israel into a tumultuous time, even so I believe America is headed in the same direction. We cannot count on just the Blessings of God; we must also know the divine correction of God. The Father in Heaven loves His children, but He will not tolerate “brats.”  There is a great need for a Holy Ghost, spirit breaking, confessional, repentant of sins, glorifying God revival; In the CHURCH. I’ll be doing a study on the Seven Churches’ in Revelation 1-3 soon. Something that must be noted, every church has problems. Mainly self-induced problems. If warnings are not observed when pronounced by God – through His Word and prophets, then there is a reality that the “Lamp” will go out. Jesus will extinguish the Lamp.

Israel discovered that their existence was in jeopardy when carried away into exile. They got and woke up for hundreds of years. I do not know what it will take for the Church in America to wake up? As a Church Revitalization person, I see churches that are ready to die. They don’t care; all they know is that they will not do anything to stay alive. Long before the Church doors close; the Holy Spirit of God has left. The Holy Spirit does not inhabit “dead people!” The problem with Israel before the captivity is the same problem with Churches today – we think we are bigger than God. We think that the CHURCH is ours! They may own the building – but the building IS NOT THE CHURCH. Enough preaching.

As a result of the Holy Spirit driven revival the people – Jews made changes in their living. Sin was no longer acceptable. It wasn’t just about doing the right things as it was also not doing the wrong things. When revival occurs, it affects every aspect of life. Just as Jesus indwelling our bodies through the Holy Spirit saturates our lives. The Work of living was the focus of the people. It is one thing to rebuild – quite another to live out on a continual basis what was covenanted during the revival. Sure all the rituals of worship were restored, the practices of the people and the labors to keep and sustain the place of worship had to be accomplished. But, having an awesome worship experience isn’t all God wants. He wants ALL of you and me! Ever detail of every area of our lives. Just as Jesus told the rich young ruler, “there is one thing thou lackest, go and sell all that you have and come follow Me.”  All In- is the minimum requirement of following Jesus. There was a lingering problem of “unequally yoked marriages.” Israel had been told NOT to do it, they did it anyway. In Nehemiah 13- Solomon is the bad example and warning against mixed marriages. Please rise above RACIAL prejudices. This is a spiritual problem even today. Believers are inter-marrying with unbelievers and becoming casualties. DO NOT DO IT!

The problem stretched from the lowest social class to the priests. If revival is really going to be a lasting revival – we must continue the work of renewal as Nehemiah. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are not solely about repairs and building of the Temple and Walls. It was about building and restoring the Faith and obedience of God’s people. Nehemiah says at the end of the book; “Thus I purified them from everything foreign.” May we have purified lives before our God!

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Who They Are – The Jews

In Nehemiah 6 the wall is finished. The labor of a building project can be immense and burdensome. I have built buildings and had to repair old ones. Too often after the work is finished there is a lull or better yet a “downtime.” This makes sense for depending on the project the building efforts can be very taxing and affective to the congregation and people involved. There is a great sense of accomplishment, but many times people are just glad to get done with all the dirt and dust of building. One of the aspects that often gets overlooked after a major building project is why they built it in the first place. Sometimes it can be because the old building was in need of attention because of lack of attention over the years. Other times the building project was to facilitate new ministry. The goal always has to be kept in front of people, lest they forget why the endeavor was important to take on in the first place. CAUTION: a lull in physical activity can result in a lull of spiritual progress as well. With a sense of accomplishment, there can be an attitude creep in that says “Take it easy for a while – you deserve it.” The caution is our adversary would like us to put our guard down, and adopt a “period of comfort” and take it easy. There is still working to be done, in our spiritual and physical lives. In Nehemiah chapter 7 we find that there was significant work that needed to be done. The question now with the Temple/altar of worship restored and the walls rebuilt for a physical sense of security. The question for the returning exiles is “who are they?” We must remember that there are only two tribes of Israel remaining, the larger tribe Judah and the much smaller Benjamin. The Lost ten tribes of Israel are no more. When the exiles return from 70 years of captivity, they are identified as “Jews.” Not Israel, for Israel is the greater name of all the people, and carries with it a nation/state connotation. Like in 1948 as a result of the Belfour Agreement, that established Israel as a nation/state.

It was time for the people to figure out who was who of the returning exiles. Obviously there are the priest, Levites, singers  and gatekeepers, but what about the rest of the people? Who are they and do they have legitimate right to the Homeland? A great census was done. There were some that were excluded for “Unclean” purposes and not allowed to live inside the walls. The point of building the wall and the Temple is to become the people of God/Yahweh again. This means more than being a blood Jew for inheritance of the Land, for Us it is being a Jew for our heart is one with God. {See Romans 4}

Being the people of God means we worship and observe the Law. Ezra reads from the Law in chapter 8. We find that he uses a wooden podium, what we would call a pulpit. The people stood when the Word was read. This is a practice that I observed when I pastored churches. Today though it seems people stand for singing and sit for the Word. I have never quite figured that one out. In chapter 8, both the Governor [Nehemiah] and the Priest [Ezra] come together to honor and worship. The festivals are restored, the one mentioned in the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles [usually observed in October]; I observed this festival when I went to Israel in 1993. Interesting is the verse 8:17, it says Israel hadn’t observed the festivals since the days of Joshua; that’s a long time to just forget the “why of worship.”

As reading of the Word normally results in, the people began to make confession. Not only for their own sins, but for the sins of their fathers. The 9th chapter of Nehemiah is a history lesson of how God had literally taken care of Israel from Birth until then. The failure of Israel from the time they left Egypt until they were taken into captivity is addressed. Confession results in REPENTENCE and repentance results in COMMITMENT. The people meant business. They took an oath together and made a COVENANT with each other and Yahweh.

Finally, the Jews were getting to the point of “returning” to the Promised Land. The returning exiles meant business. I think for the first time Israel actually felt that they could lose everything. The Return began a great project of “transcribing the Law and the Prophets.” The capturing of the Word of God became an obsession for the scribes and priests. The LAW dominated life; and as we understand set the condition of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the New Testament, but that is another story.

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Walls and Wolves

Nehemiah 3-5; with the people ready to build, not just with words but put to work the words they spoke, we find that there is a tremendous amount of damage. Every gate is identified and the people who will have the responsibility to “shoulder” the work. There is a saying – better together. We can accomplish so much more together than on our own. That statement is true regardless of the size of a church or organization. Something that must be clearly identified and communicated is the specific responsibilities of each entity involved. I have learned from my pastoral ministry years, you can’t over communicate. Invariably there will be some who have felt left out or didn’t get the message. Nehemiah brings both a renewal spirit and the necessary leadership to the project. The purpose has been established “eliminate the reproach” and it would be done through rebuilding the walls. The walls were part of Solomon’s Temple mount project then, and likewise now by the exiles.

Walls serve two purposes – one is the security of the people inside the walls; but also to keep out the unwanted whether animals or people from coming in. During this time in history and for much longer, fortresses and castles had protective walls to be able to defend the people and property from intruders. Jesus also talks about limiting “intruders” into the camp in John 10. Jesus talks about how that the sheep and shepherd have a unique relationship. No one who comes over the Wall is a friend. No one who leaves the sheep when they are in danger is a True Shepherd, but a hireling. Pastors have to protect the sheep as well as provide for the sustenance.

In ministry there will always be the critics and naysayers. We find that the inhabitants of the area at the prompting of Sanballat ridicule the work being done. Laughing and trying to demoralize the people. There are those that work, those that watch and those that ridicule the work being done. It comes with the territory – Keep building. There are three questions the critics ask – each one begins with “Can they . . . ”  Sanballat even has solicited the “money holders” on his side to bring doubt to the work. I have built buildings and have had church members ridicule the building project to the point that many wanted to quit because of the doubt cast on the project; keep building.

What does Nehemiah do? He prays to the Father in Heaven to shut the mouths of the critics and not forgive their sins. Wow, is that spiritual? God was in the work, too many times we give audience to knuckleheads – people  are people and we do not have to be compassionate to blatant sin!

The people had a “Mind to work” and so the building process continued for 52 days. The words didn’t deter the work, so then Nehemiah instituted a guard watch while building continued. Many of the critics and tactics of Satan are “mind games” used to discourage and frustrate the work of God. Dear for their lives, the people came together and defended each other, but the work continued. Brick in one hand and sword in another. The enemy is real, we must take proper precautions against the “wiles of the devil.”

Nehemiah is an encourager and a cheerleader. The pastor and people both need to be encouraged during the work. So intense was the work that the men didn’t stop to change clothes.  But each rotated from building and defending the work and each other.

In church life and revitalization work, there will be enemies against the restoration of the devastation of souls and spirit. Keep building.

While the walls were being built, there were wolves in the camp. The Jews were extracting usury from their own people. They were mortgaging their property and even selling their children into slavery so they could pay taxes inflicted on them by their own leaders. Wolves – hirelings, leaders out for the money not the ministry. Be careful while building the walls of defense that you don’t trap wolves inside!  Nehemiah addressed the injustices against the people. Nobles and affluent people did not identify with the people doing the work. Ministers must be careful not to see the congregation as the means for their own success and opulence, but brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God. Nehemiah addressed the elephant in the room – then provided the example for the nobles to follow. Nehemiah dug deep into his own pocket and paid for the provisions and food needed by the workers.

Wolves abound today; they come seeking to rob, kill and destroy the church and the sheep. Nehemiah does something of leadership that many pastors and minister must do – if there is a known problem, address it, deal with it and move on. DO not let the problem ferment into a conflict and catastrophe.

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Unfinished Work

Nehemiah is the sequel if you will to the book of Ezra. Ezra and Nehemiah are intertwined in the restoration of the Temple and the City walls of Jerusalem. It would be easy to categorizes Ezra as the Spiritual leader and Nehemiah as the civic leader; but that would be wrong. All the Work of God is Spiritual, whether moving rocks so those who come after can plant or build; as scripture tells us, one plants, another waters, but God gives the increase. [1 Cor. 3:7] Both men had a God-given task to do. The 70 yrs. of exile were over, many of the exiles returned after Cyrus’ edict. The exiles were to build the Temple under Zerubbaal, but “found it was not expedient time to build.” Ezra brings a “spiritual renewal” to the people; but the work was still lacking. Nehemiah opens with him asking how things are in the homeland. The brethren tell him things are not well. Nehemiah was the cup-bearer to the King – his face was sad before the King, something that was not acceptable, “why are you saddened?” The people who returned were “reproached” by the people who occupied the barren land. Reproach is a repeated word throughout the book. Reproach means to be “discredited, disapproved of, disgraced, cause for blame, to be continually criticized, or to be censured.” These words are according to our dictionaries. But what is reproach in the Bible? It means to be the cause for blame or ridicule, deserved of criticism and condemnation.

When Nehemiah is asked by the King, he is ready to give answer of the hope that is within him. I have found that I must ask and answer “questions before they become a question.” What I mean is I have to know what the will and mind of the Lord is in situations that have a reasonable opportunity of transpiring. Be ready when someone asks the question. Nehemiah found the will of God by prayer and fasting. There was brokenness in his spirit or the situation. His prayers are to the Lord God, confession and repentance – a godly sorrow for the acknowledged sins of his ancestors. Come clean before God. If I regard iniquity in my heart, my prayers will not be heard. Before Nehemiah approaches God, he had to deal with the “reproach of Israel before God.”

Nehemiah knew he had to deal with the King of Kings before he entertained talking with the king on earth. Prepared to come in the presence of king Nehemiah understood that the LORD God of Israel was at work. Too many times I believe pastors and churches move to a solution without conferring with the Father in Heaven, then wonder why the plans failed. Nehemiah found favor with the earthly king because he found favor [grace] from God first.

From what can be read, Nehemiah was not guilty of the sins he confessed, but the people where, we find brokenness, conviction, confession, repentance and desire for restoration in the prayer of Nehemiah. Restored spiritually, Nehemiah was ready to do the building and restoration of the city of Jerusalem. When Nehemiah asks the king for provisions, the king granted them to him based on “the good hand of My God was with me.”

Of course when the man of God and the people of God began to restore their lives and communities that had been under satanic control – the demons will come out of the woodwork to cause conflict and more confusion. Sanballat and Tobiah the Ammonite [see the lineage of Esau and Ammon with the Amalekites] rise up to thwart the work.

Nehemiah travels to Jerusalem, but doesn’t announce his plans; a friend of mine told me about “vision jacking” when someone finds out your plans and derails them before you can implement them yourself – usually with the intention of foiling them. Nehemiah spends three days just traveling and scoping out the ruins of the city. There is much to be gained by having “boots on the ground” before attempting to execute a plan.  Listening, looking and leaning on the discernment from God, Nehemiah finally talks to the people and gives his prognosis of the situation. Man there is a lot of work to be done! Nehemiah said “let’s build so we will no longer be a reproach.” The reproach follows when Sanballat and Tobiah learn of the people “putting themselves to the good work. Plenty of people can and will be critics when the man of God and the Church decides to follow God’s restoration plans. Keep building!

 

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Altar of Confession

Ezra 9 and 10; After the Temple altar was restored and worship resumed for the Jews a set of steps that would change the course of the returning Jews occurred. As with any time the people of God have a revival, the Holy Spirit will bring conviction to the hearts of the people about their personal and corporate lives. After having rustled through the debris and remains to find the foundation of the Temple and Altar, the people restored the place of worship again. But the place of worship was nothing like the original altar. This altar had stains, cracks and scars from the past. Just like our lives do when we rebel against God – our lives can be restored, because God is merciful and longsuffering towards us; but we are never the same. Ezra was giving the exiles a steady diet of the Law given to Moses. The were standing for 6 hours listening to the Word. Romans 10:17 – faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Believers must return to that place of departure; that place where the disobedience started. This doesn’t just have spiritual implications, it also affects the physical lives they lived.

Too often I have talked with people who fell back into sin; there was repentance and rejoicing at returning, but there was also consequences for their actions. God is gracious and forgives; but events were put into motion that would have a pay-day. The people had inter-marriage with the local people. The nation had disobeyed what God said in Exodus and repeated in Deuteronomy – DO NOT MARRY FROM THE NATIONS OF CANAAN. During the first return under Zerubbaal, the people refused to build the Temple, instead built their own houses and became comfortable back in the Land. How soon we forget and repeat the very sin that caused us to be in trouble in the first place. God said don’t inter-marry with the tribes He was casting out! Now I imagine someone is thinking that God is racist – that mixed ethnicity marriages are forbidden. God’s position for not inter-marrying was SPIRITUAL! Solomon proves this to us with his many wives and concubines – they led him astray and he faltered at the end of His life. ! Corinthians tells us “what fellowship does light have with darkness? ” Come out from among them!

What does all this have to do with Ezra? The Word preached brought conviction about the wrongful marriages – up and down the line they were marrying and giving in marriage with the inhabitants of the destroyed Land. God sent Judah into captivity because of their disobedience and to purge the Land. The Land is God’s promise to Abraham. The Promise is still valid.

The people had to come to grips and do what was right about their wrongful marriages. I can’t tell you how many people have wrongfully married the wrong person. Spiritual unequally yoked marriages have been proven to fail. I know so many girls that will marry a boy who is lost because they are in love and they open themselves up to a life of heartache.

Well there is the conviction of wrong, then came the confession of their wrong. Chapter 10, the people own up to their sin. It sounds so harsh that Chapter 10:3 says that they put away their wives and children. But reading the rest of the chapter that’s what they vowed to do. From the priests on down, they made a pledge and oath to separate themselves from the people of the Land.  I would imagine many of you reading this are appalled – wasn’t the action too radical? Their choice – Get right with God or continue in disobedience. We have to make the decision as well. A believer knows what is right before God and what is not. There are no acceptable sins in the Plan of God. The Jews then were convicted, confessed and the consecrated themselves to God. Three days they were given – make your decision, if you choose to live with the people of the world, you forfeit your inheritance in the Land. The people listened to Ezra – their answer is found in 10:12 – “That’s right!”

Two wrongs never make a right. Chapter 11 gives a list of the offenders – priests, Levites, singers, and sons of Israel. The Jews were infiltrated with sin, there had to be a total cleansing. Cleansing hurts. Dealing with conviction through confession is right; but we must finish the return to God by repenting – turning from our sin, and any consequences derived from our sin. When the Temple worship began again, true worship resulted in the people.

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Adversaries and Advocates

Ezra 5-7 presents the Spiritual battle with Kingdom of God work. The adversaries brought allegations and rumors about the motives for rebuilding the Temple. In the work of God, there will be many insiders and outsiders that will question the motivation of pastors, ministers and laymen. No one is exempt from the scrutiny that “Man” brings against the work of God. At this point anyone in ministry must remember that there is politics in Church. To not recognize this is fact goes beyond naivety into just sticking our heads in the sand. The people who had lived and occupied the city and surrounding area resisted any changes to their world. Anyone in ministry understands the problems of trying to change/improve a Church congregation. People all people acquiesce to a place of comfort. Once there they don’t want to be moved – even if the changes are for the better. We live in a difficult time of ministry to the Body of Christ. Too many Churches are dying. It has become epidemic across denominations and America. Estimates project that America could close 100,000 church within the next five years. [Quote from Thom Rainer]. As a revitalizationist, I have found that some Churches would rather die than do what is necessary to live. The resistance that Ezra and the Jews experienced from the local people is not that dissimilar to what we find in our own neighborhoods. In Ezra there were letters written filled with accusations against the work.  I know pastors receive letters, many times unsigned from people who are disgruntled. I had some good advice as a young pastor – if people haven’t signed them – shred them. Back to our passage – King Darius instigates a search through the historical records to find out if the accusations are true or false. In the search, Darius finds King Cyrus’ decree allowing the Jews to rebuild. The records substantiated the work and the Temple restoration began again. There is another application here – especially for the Believer: Satan will contest any and all movements to live a holy life. He will bring accusations against the brethren. Satan is a liar, and the father of lies. So many people have tried to restore their lives through the work of God, only to have their failures and motives brought into question. All of us are guilty of sin and rebellion. Satan would rather that we wallow in our failure rather than bask in the glory of Jesus Christ’s redemptive forgiveness!

In chapter 6, we have the Temple restored and the celebration of worship through the Passover. The Temple, which believers are has to be restored when life and sin have devastated and destroyed the place of worship to our King Jesus. It takes work, hard work to stay the course to restoration. I have met so many people who felt because they had fallen back into sin, or lapsed into some rebellious behavior, that they lost their salvation and were no longer fit for God use. Our God is longsuffering and merciful – our salvation has never been based on our behaviors, but the Saviors blood and righteousness. The foundation of our salvation is the Finished work of the Cross by Jesus. So don’t let Satan or any of hos emissaries try to destroy your faith. While we will always have adversaries we MUST remember that we have a Great High Priest and Advocate that is defending us before the Father in Heaven. Jesus our Savior and Advocate is our defense against the wiles of Satan. We are not strong enough to defeat Satan – but he has already been defeated – do not let his lies imprison us again. Romans 8:1 – no condemnation!

The scriptures tell us that righteous, godly living by us that the Father will make even our enemies to be at peace with us. King Artaxerxes reacts favorable towards Ezra when he visits in Chapter 7. Throughout chapter seven, we hear of the graciousness of King Artaxerxes towards the Jews and specifically the work of Ezra, the priest, the scribe and the man of God.

If America is to be a righteous nation, it must deal with its failures and sin. There is great devastation in the Land. Many evil spirits are at work to destroy anything that can be used to proclaim the Glory of God. There are churches and individuals that must correct their “lives” and rid themselves of unholy behavior. There are thousands of churches that need to “get to work” instead of resisting the movement of God. Also there are Pastors who need to remember who called them to the ministry and not succumb to the wiles of the evil present in churches and the world!

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Restoring the Heart of Worship

Today we look at the restoration of the Temple from the Book of Ezra. Ezra is a scribe and priest who returned to Jerusalem after the 70 yrs. of Babylonian captivity were over. Zerubbabel had preceded him, but the reconstruction of the city and the Temple were being neglected. In Ezra we have the Holy Spirit working in the man of God. Ezra is a scholar in my opinion. He is entrenched with the Word of God. Something happened after the return of the exiles – they began writing down the oral traditions, Targums and Midrash into book form. Up till now the transferring of the Word of God was very limited. The Jews [as the are called because only Judah and Benjamin tribes are left] realized that their history and way of life had been in jeopardy. Like Paul telling young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1-2; pass on to faithful men that which you have heard from me. The Jews had to capture the scriptures  – 2 Peter 1:19-21; God-breathed Word, so it could be transferred from generation to generation. Ezra is the Spiritual arm of the “Dynamic Duo” of Ezra and Nehemiah. Nehemiah is the administrator, leader and will be the governor.

The first thing that had to be restored was the place of worship – The Temple. Now with the war and devastation that occurred under Babylonian assault, plus the neglect for 70 yrs.; one can only imagine what the Temple and city looked like. How do people go back? I mean with things such as tsunamis, earthquakes, bombings, hurricanes and the like that wreak havoc on lives and life; how do you approach such a scene? There were those who had seen the grandeur of Solomon’s Temple in all of its radiance, but when the saw the restored shambles of the Temple they wept.

In a revitalization scenario, the people of God have to go back to the “ruins” and sift through the ashes and the rubble. What depth must one go to find something worth salvaging? Sin does the destructive work in our lives. Many times people will not return to the point of their failure and sin departure. The deceiver and liar, Satan will guilt us and tell us there is nothing worth restoring – move on and live with your failures! Again like I said Satan is a liar. Like the Parable of the Prodigal Son – the Father is waiting for the return of His children. We all sin, we all have failed in our lives; and we all must return and repent of the sin we know that keeps us in bondage.

Ezra and the rebuilding of the Temple in Chapter 3 -5 is met with opposition. The last thing Satan wants is for the “Place of Worship” to be restored. Satan will fight against rebuilding the Temple – but for you and me the Temple is not made of brick and mortar, Our Temple – this fleshly body that inhabits the Holy Spirit of God. Yes we make a mess of our lives, but God is the Potter and we are the clay – He will break us so that He can re-mold us.

In Ezra we have specific enemies identified – the people of the Land [those who occupied Israel after captivity] discouraged the builders. It is the same today – people will discourage us from “coming home” to Jesus Christ. The wrote letters, the reproached and ridiculed the people as they tried to restore the Temple and Altar of God. People today will tell us it isn’t worth – it’s too hard; quit trying. Being restored through rebuilding, repentance and reconciliation is ALWAYS worth it! “Keep Building” and keep rummaging through the ashes and rubble – there is always enough for God to use to make a beautiful Vessel of Honor to Himself!

Daily work – the Temple and our lives will not be restored and rebuilt in one day – it’s a life time investment. Rebuilding and restoration is a Spiritual matter. I have heard so many times after a natural disaster people who lost everything say – we will rebuild and trust God for the future. If a church or person has been devastated by sin and rebellion, for that matter even neglect of the Kingdom mission, there must be a point of building again. The only other option is to stand there and weep over what use to be and say it’s over – it’s done, and live in the memory of a broken and dismantled life.

I have talked with many a person who has watched their church fall down around them. A consistent thought is we must return to what was before – I’m sorry but that is Wilderness Talk – the nation of Israel always wanted to go back in time, to what they thought were better days. No a thousand times No. Onward Christians soldiers as unto war! believers and Churches will be met with enemies and strong opposition – press on. They will lie, demoralize you and I, they will bring great reproach and ridicule – don not listen. Keep building. When the foundation had been laid, they stopped and worshipped. Temple complete? No, but the Foundation had been laid – Jesus Christ is our sure foundation – the Solid ROck of our Salvation.

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