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Crash & Burn
By Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church – www.cedarbrookchurch.net
This three part message is taken from a 31 week overview of the Bible. In my overview of the Old Testament it became apparent that the Bible is full of people who have “crashed and burned”, that is, had significant failures in their lives. As I looked at the headlines as well as at our community I realized that “crashing and burning” happens all the time. Surprisingly, Jewish history offers a very concise story that addresses how to recover from a crash and burn. And so, I developed three messages that are very practical as to how to recover from this kind of failure. I hope you find them helpful. • • • Part One: Crash & Burn - Now What? Part Two: Exile - Is God Punishing Me? Part Three: How to Rebuild Your Life
Part One: Crash & Burn - Now What?
We are in the middle of a 31 week study of the Bible. And we are in a traumatic time of history. Everything has fallen apart. It’s about 600BC. God calls a prophet by the name of Ezekiel who had a vision that probably made him want to throw up. The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. Ezekiel 37:1,2 Imagine coming into one of the valleys around here and finding one bone and then another. Skeletons. Skulls. Not just one or two but thousands. That’s what he saw. Ezekiel realized that these bones represented the remains of God’s people. These are his family and friends. People that had been killed by Assyria and Babylon as they invaded Israel and Judah. And it must have been so depressing…so disheartening to think what had happened to God’s people in such a short time. God’s people had fallen so far so fast. Way back in the book of Genesis we saw God call Abraham. He said that he was going to bless Abraham so Abraham could turn around and be a blessing to the world. That was God’s call to his people. And then for a few hundred years things were looking pretty good. God raised up Moses and Joshua. He gave them their own country. Then he raised up King David. But then a number of kings turned away from God, starting with Solomon. And without God they started to fail. The kingdom split in two. And then last week we saw that Israel was destroyed by Assyria. Then, in 586 B.C. Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians . (see map) They deported the people to Babylon and then destroyed Jerusalem. Ezekiel was exiled and prophesied to the Jews in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar removed all the treasures from the temple of the LORD and from the royal palace, and took away all the gold articles that Solomon king of Israel had made for the temple 2
of the LORD. He carried into exile all Jerusalem: all the officers and fighting men, and all the craftsmen and artisans--a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left. 2 Kings 24:13,14 Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. He also took from Jerusalem to Babylon the king's mother, his wives, his officials and the leading men of the land. The king of Babylon also deported to Babylon the entire force of seven thousand fighting men, strong and fit for war, and a thousand craftsmen and artisans. 2 Kings 24:15,16 Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the LORD, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. The whole Babylonian army, under the commander of the imperial guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. 2 Kings 25:8,9 Nebuzaradan …carried into exile the people who remained in the city, along with the rest of the populace and those who had gone over to the king of Babylon. But the commander left behind some of the poorest people of the land to work the vineyards and fields. 2 Kings 25:10-12 In less than 1000 years God’s people went from being blessed by God to being totally destroyed. God portrays them to Ezekiel as a valley of dry bones. That was Ezekiel’s congregation you might say. It doesn’t get much worse than that! Then God asked Ezekiel a question… "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." Ezekiel 37:3 God was asking…is there any hope for my people…because this looks pretty bad. Now, God answers his own question. But before we look at the answer I want to get practical and answer a number of questions myself. You see, we aren’t just talking ancient history here. It’s not just nations that crash and burn like this. People crash and burn. We have seen all kinds of kings fail over the last few weeks of our study; from Saul to Solomon to Rehoboam. But the same is true with us. We see people crash and burn all the time in the news. Just think about this past year with Tiger Woods or Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan. But we know people in our own lives who crash in burn as well. They are in our class at school. They are in our office. They are our friends and even our family members. In fact, everyone here today either knows someone who crashed and burned…or you are someone who has crashed and burned or you are about to crash and burn. Right? I’m talking about the person who we warn about their health or their relationship/marriage or their addiction or their finances but they don’t listen until one day they hit the wall and their life falls apart. It’s not an easy subject to talk about. But I want to talk about these people because they raise a lot of questions for us. Questions like… how could they do this? What were they thinking? What do I say to them? How do I treat them? So here’s the first question I want to answer; What causes people to crash and burn? 3
What causes a crash & burn? There are many reasons. I’ll just give you five. The first is greed. Some people just take what they want and don’t care about the consequences. They live in the moment and if some is good then more is better. It’s not any deeper than that. And eventually their greed consumes them. The prophet Isaiah accused the leaders of Judah of greedy by saying… Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them. Isaiah 1:23 The second reason people crash and burn is pride. Pride typically works with greed. For some reason these people feel entitled to get take what they want because they think they deserve it. They think they are better than others and for the same reason they don’t think they will face the same consequences as other people. So they tend to overreach and when they do that they often fall. A third reason people crash and burn is no self-control. For whatever reason these people just can’t say no to themselves. They’re not greedy or prideful. They want to stop the madness but they can’t. At least they don’t think they can. They feel helpless against temptation. I was in the hospital the other day with someone like this. They are slowly killing themselves with an addiction but they feel powerless to change. The fourth reason that people crash and burn is shame. These people feel so bad about themselves – so worthless - that they don’t think they deserve to live a better life so they’re self-destructive. It’s like they sabotage their lives on purpose as a way to punish themselves for not being good enough. Crashing and burning is their idea of justice for being “less than” others. And the fifth reason people crash and burn is just being trapped. These are the people that get pulled down by the people around them. If it was left to them they would change but they are controlled by other destructive people. They are victims of a dysfunctional system that sucks them into a vortex of destruction and they crash and burn along with everyone else. For example, I mentioned a few weeks back how Bernie Madoff’s son committed suicide. Bernie Madoff stole billions of dollars in a stock market scheme and not only destroyed his life and the lives of his investors but his whole family was destroyed as well. His son committed suicide and his wife is irate at what her husband did to the family. My second question is; What can you do if you are one of these people? How can you turn your life around? Again, I’m going to give you quick answers. But I think they are fairly self-explanatory. Recovering from a crash & burn. The first thing you need to do is admit what you are doing is wrong and acknowledge that you are heading for trouble. It seems so obvious and easy. But what most people do is go into denial. The thing is, most people know what you are up to anyways. You aren’t fooling them. They may not know the 4
details but they know that something’s not right. So your stock will actually go up with people and not down when you admit what’s wrong. But like I said, most people don’t do that. They cover it up. It’s like wrapping a towel around a wound. It hides the wound but it doesn’t heal it. In fact, that only makes it worse. What happens? The wound gets infected. You might have to amputate. Or worse, you could die if the infection isn’t treated. My guess is some of us here today are in that situation. Instead of admitting that your finances are in trouble or your marriage is in trouble or you have some kind of addiction, you are covering it up and hoping that it will get better on its own. You keep spending thinking that your tax return is going to solve all your problems. But you are kidding yourself. What you need to do is admit it and get help. The next thing you need to do is apologize to the people that you’ve hurt. That means you need to express sorrow and ask their forgiveness. This includes God. Then you need to make amends. Fix what you broke as much as you can. And finally, you need to expect to make a comeback. Don’t grovel around and play the victim. Don’t feel sorry for yourself and look for pity and sympathy. Don’t vanish from the scene and go AWOL. That doesn’t play well with all the people you hurt. You need to take responsibility for what you’ve done. The Bible is full of stories of people who messed up, were forgiven and made a comeback. So add your name to the list. You need to see yourself as the next great comeback story. And my third question is; What is our role in the lives of these people? What can we learn from the prophets to help us in dealing with the people in our lives? People ask me about this all the time. They struggle with how to confront these people in their lives. How to deal with those who crash & burn. I think we can act as prophets in the lives of these people. So I see three things that we can do. The first is that we speak the truth in love without compromising. The temptation is to feel sorry for people and go soft. They give you all kinds of excuses justification for their behavior and so you basically say…Oh, gee, you are right. I guess God’s word doesn’t apply to you. You really are in a special category. You don’t need to take responsibility like the rest of us do. No. Don’t do that. You aren’t doing them any favors. Keep speaking the truth. Keep calling them to do the right thing. Don’t nag or be self-righteous. But don’t change your tune either. Next, don’t try to save them or fix them. This is easy to do. Some of you are natural caretakers. You want to solve everyone’s problem. If you see people struggling to do the right thing you like to jump in and save the day for them. Don’t do that. Let them take responsibility for their own lives. I’ve had parents tell me…But Remy, if I don’t save them they might end up dead. And I go…I know. And it’s hard. But you are not their Savior. There is only one Savior and you are not him. Jesus is the only one 5
who can save your child. It’s not fair to yourself or the other people in your life. It’s like when people are being swept away in a river. You read about this every year during the flood season. Someone gets heroic and jumps in the river to save the drowning person and what happens to them? They drown too. How smart is that? I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to rescue someone but if you jump in the river you need to be tethered to something so you don’t get sucked in. It might seem harsh but God didn’t save Israel or Judah from themselves. He let them reap what they sowed. He offered to save them but they ignored God. God never rescued people unless they asked for help. He respects our free will. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t help people if they show a sincere desire to change. I’m just saying don’t rescue the person who clearly has no desire to change. You aren’t saving them, you are just prolonging their foolishness. They will let you save them but they are only taking advantage of your kindness. As soon as you are done doing your good deed they will go right back to their old behavior. Sometimes crashing is the best thing that can happen to them. Isn’t that true? Sometimes the only way up is to go down first. People don’t lose their greed and their pride until they reach the end of themselves. Some people have to spend time in jail or a hospital or a treatment center or experience a divorce before they realize that they’re not so smart after all. And third, don’t judge them or forsake them. That’s one thing that really stands out to me in the account of the fall of Israel and Judah. The prophets stuck with them to the very end. And when first Israel and then Judah were destroyed the prophets didn’t get all smug and say “I told you so”. Their message immediately turned from warning them to repent to encouraging them that God will restore them. And that leads me back to the valley of dry bones. It’s a great example of God offering hope after someone – or in this case, a nation – crashes and burns. God asked the question…can these bones live? You see, these bones were much worse than just a bunch of people who had crashed and burned. These people had crashed and burned, died and their bones were scattered by animals throughout the valley. This is a metaphor for total hopelessness. Maybe that’s how you feel about your condition right now. Totally hopeless. Ezekiel said, God, only you know if these bones can live. So this was God’s response to Ezekiel but it might also be God’s word to you today… Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' " Ezekiel 37:4-6 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to 6
the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " Ezekiel 37:7-9 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet--a vast army. Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' Ezekiel 37:10-11 Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.' " Ezekiel 37:12-14 Ezekiel saw a new day for God’s people. You know, I told someone once who had made a mess of their life that the resurrection wasn’t just a good story to tell on Easter. Resurrection is God’s gift to everyone whose has failed miserably in their life. The typical response is that it’s too good to be true and that they don’t deserve God’s forgiveness or resurrection. They want to punish themselves for a while. And to that I say, then fine. Don’t be restored for your sake. Be restored for God’s sake. Be restored to show people how great God is. Let your life be a testimony to the amazing love of God. Or be restored so you can be a blessing to the people that love you. But staying in the grave is such a waste. Staying in the grave just makes God look bad and makes everyone else miserable. I’m sure that God is speaking to people today. The question is…will you listen? Will you obey? I want to pray for you but I want you to do something while I pray. I want you to clench your fists. And as I pray and ask forgiveness I want you to open your fists to symbolize that you are letting go and letting God take control of your life. Father, the Bible says that there are none of us who are righteous. None of us are perfectly good. We’ve all made a mess of our lives at one time or another. So we want to confess to you our greed and our pride and our shame and everything in us that causes us to walk away from you. We want to confess that our pride has kept us from doing what you want us to do and it’s caused us to hurt the ones we love. And right now we ask that you would come and restore us. Resurrect us. Fill us with your life so we become the blessing to others that you’ve always wanted us to be. I pray that there might come many comeback stories from this group of people here today. Thankyou for sending Jesus to make this all possible . Amen.
Part Two: Exile – Is God Punishing Me?
The thing that I find so interesting about the story of the Bible is that even though it’s telling the story of a group of people thousands of years ago the application is so personal and relevant to every one of us today. We often go through the very same things today that God’s people did in the Bible. And we can learn so much from them. Last week was a good example. We saw how God’s people had crashed and burned. They had made a number of bad choices that got them into big trouble and so I talked about what that looks like in OUR lives – today. What happens when WE crash and burn? And how do we deal with family and friends who crash and burn around us? I must have touched a nerve because I got a lot of feedback and a number of people downloaded the sermon from our website. What that tells me is that many of us are struggling with how to handle people who crash and burn…including ourselves. This morning I want to build on the idea of crashing and burning. In the Bible, people crashed and burned because they failed to worship God. We might crash and burn for the same reason or we might crash and burn just because we made other bad decisions… maybe regarding our finances or a relationship or some kind of habit that turned into an addiction. The circumstances may differ but basically what happens is that we make a series of bad choices resulting in a crash and burn scenario. You might end up in jail, or a treatment center or a hospital or a divorce court. You might end up in the principal’s office or a lawyer’s office or even the pastors office! You know you are in trouble when you have to resort to talking to your pastor. And the question is…what am I gonna do now? I’ve royally messed things up. Is there any hope for me now? Can I ever get back on track? Well, in our story here the people don’t end up in jail but they end up in exile in Babylon. Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and deported everyone. I hope you catch the irony of this. Where did our story start? By Babylon with Abraham. And God promised Abraham a land. So Abraham travels to Canaan. And then his family ends up in Egypt via Joseph. Then Moses leads them out of Egypt and they spend 40 years in the Sinai Desert before Joshua leads them to the Promised Land.
But now look what happens. They end up right back where they started. They are like the poor guy who won the lottery and then lost it all because of bad choices…no better off in the end than he was in the beginning. The Jews must have scratched their head and asked… How could we have been so stupid? How could we squander all that God had done for us? They must have been just sick. We get a glimpse of the pain of exile from a song recorded in the Bible. These are the words to a song they used to sing in exile in Babylon. By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill]. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. . Psalm 137 Now, exile wasn’t all bad. It’s not like they were in prison. We get just a little window into the life of the exiles in the book of Ezekiel… In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, … Ezekiel 8:1
That tells us two things; they had houses and they had freedom to hang out with each other. But imagine yourself in exile. You can’t do anything about it. You have no control over your situation. You are powerless to make the changes that you want to make. You feel trapped and isolated and alone. You feel like you are being held back from what you really want in life…like your hands are tied. Plus you are full of regret for what put you there in the first place. It’s easy to feel like God must be punishing you. Added to all of that is a good dose of confusion and depression. Some of you may know what that feels like. Maybe you were recently divorced or you were fired from your job. Maybe you were kicked off a team or your family won’t talk to you. I was talking to someone once who was going through a divorce and they wanted so much to bring closure and move on with their life but they couldn’t because of the court system. So they felt trapped waiting for everything to be finalized…like their life was on hold. And they got madder by the day. And I just said, Do you know what? You are in exile. You are frustrated right now because you’ve lost control and you don’t get to call the shots. You are at the mercy of other people. But God has put you in this place to teach you some things right now. So don’t fight against it. You’ve got to let it go and let God do his work in you. And that made sense to this person. It helped them understand what was going on in their life at that time. So, let’s look at this idea of exile. I think a lot of us can relate to it. Not just because we crashed and burned. I think we end up in exile for a number of reasons.
Is God Punishing Me? But first, what’s the big temptation in exile? What do you think the Jews in Babylon were tempted to believe about themselves and God? That God had broken covenant with them. That God had abandoned them and was punishing them. Isn’t that right? When you first go into exile it is such a critical moment. What people often do after they crash and burn is assume the worst. They assume that God has given up on them and so they give up on God. They give up their faith community and they often give up on themselves as well. But did God abandon them? Did he send them to Babylon to punish them? Or was there more to it than that? The Bible gives us some insight… … have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don't shrug off God's discipline, but don't be crushed by it either. It's the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that's why you must never drop out. He's treating you as dear children. This trouble you're in isn't punishment; it's training, the normal experience of children. .. We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God's training so 10
we can truly live? …God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God's holy best. At the time, discipline isn't much fun. It always feels like it's going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it's the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. Hebrews 12:5-11 This is from the Message. I think it really captures the meaning of discipline. It said that discipline isn’t punishment. What is discipline? It’s training. It’s correction. It’s education. And look what it says here…it pays off handsomely. It brings us into a better relationship with God. So that’s the purpose of exile. Exile is a season of life when God teaches us things after we’ve had a crash. He teaches us things we weren’t able to listen to or understand before. It’s really a special season. A holy season…but it’s often so uncomfortable that we tend to not appreciate it and try to fast forward through this time. So, I’d like to talk about the benefits of exile. [Note: many people can feel like they are in exile for a variety of reasons. It’s not just those who crash and burn. So you may find these descriptors applying to you even though you have not experienced a major life failure.] The Benefits of Exile Exile separates you from your past and the temptations associated with it. God knew that the only way to break the cycle of sin in his people was to totally separate them from their environment. He had to pull them out of their routine and what was familiar to get their attention and break their habits. That’s why we go to the gym to exercise or move to college to study. That’s why we go on retreats or send our kids to camp. Separation helps us to break bad habits and to focus on developing good habits. Too many people think they can stay around temptation and still change but it’s a lot easier to change if you get away. So exile helped the Jews get the separation they needed. Exile helps you start over. Exile brings closure to what was and enables you to start the next chapter of your life. When you crash and burn you don’t just need to improve a little. You don’t need a little rehabilitation. You need a total makeover. You need a resurrection. But before resurrection there needs to be a death and a burial. And exile is the burial. Exile is the space between your old life and your new life. And you need that space. It looks like this. Crash & Burn >>> (Failure) Death >>> Exile >>> Reflection Burial >>> Restoration Resume Life Resurrection
You see, exile is a time of transition. It’s a rite of passage. You can’t go from failure to success without a time of transition. You can’t just snap your fingers and have all your problems go away and jump back into your old life. People often don’t understand that. They think of exile like a bad dream and they just want to wake up and get on with their life. But that’s a big mistake. There are some very important dynamics that only happen in exile that you can’t get anywhere else and so you can’t afford to miss the season of exile. It’s like a seed in the ground. You don’t go from a dry seed to a living plant without a time of transition. A seed needs time in the ground. It seems like such a waste of time, I know. But even though it doesn’t look like much is happening a lot is happening inside the seed. That seed is making preparations for new life and that can only happen in the ground. Jesus said… …unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24 Exile gives you perspective. It’s interesting how we can often learn more apart from something than close up. You know the saying…you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. We don’t appreciate our spouse until we are separated from them. We don’t appreciate our parents and all they do for us until we move across the country to college or our first job. We don’t appreciate our job until we get laid off. When you lose something you often appreciate it more. You understand it better. You get perspective. When the Jews were forced out of Judah they suddenly realized all that God had done for them through the years and all they had lost. They got perspective. If you read the book of Daniel (written during the time of exile) you see that Daniel got perspective on the future of Israel through a series of visions from God. The Jews must have felt like they were washed up but Daniels visions showed him that in the end God wins! God’s kingdom will rise over every kingdom on earth. Exile shifts your reliance to God instead of relying on other people or things. Exile is any place that’s outside of your comfort zone. Outside of your comfort zone you don’t have your usual people to help or support you and so you are much more inclined to turn to God. In the book of Daniel three Jewish boys refused to worship the King of Babylon and so the king threatened to throw them into a furnace and burn them to death. This is what the boys told the king… Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. Daniel 3:16-18 They said, “We’ve been down the road of worshipping other Gods. You can fool us once but not twice. This time we are going to trust God.” 12
You see, exile gave them an opportunity to trust God in a way they wouldn’t normally have. They didn’t get this kind of challenge back in Jerusalem. And so they seized the opportunity. And that’s what God wants you to do in exile too…start to trust him in ways you never have before. Maybe before you crashed and burned you didn’t trust God for much. Well, exile is the time you can change that. Exile puts you in a place to see God move. When you start trusting God that’s when you start seeing God. If the Hebrew boys hadn’t trusted God they never would have seen God move. But the story says that when the three boys were thrown into the fire that a fourth man appeared in the fire to save them. It doesn’t say if it was an angel or God himself but the King was so amazed that he pulled them out of the furnace and it says… They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Daniel 3:27 God showed up to save these boys. When you’ve made a mess of your life there is a tendency to think that God won’t show up for you anymore. But that’s not true. God wants to do amazing things in your life and it starts in exile. Do you see that? God didn’t wait until the Jews got back to Israel to work miracles. He didn’t wait until they were living the perfect life. And God does the same with us. He’s not waiting for you to get your life back together before he moves in your life. He wants to move in your life today, even in exile, so you CAN get your life back together. Exile gives you time to form new habits before you reenter or move on to a new phase. Exiles are typically long periods of time not just a few weeks. A few weeks isn’t an exile. That’s just a bad vacation! Most of us want to get out of exile long before our time is up. So we need to readjust our thinking and prepare for the long haul. When Moses killed a man he spent 40 years in the wilderness before God used him to lead the exodus. For the Jews, their time in exile was set for 70 years. This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. Jeremiah 29:10 God wants to restore us but we have to endure the exile first. The seventy years needed to be “completed” before God would bring them back. There is a set time for exile and you can’t rush it. I’ve been through my share of exiles…some for months, some for years… and Psalm 37 often guided me… Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Psalm 37:3 I felt God used this verse to keep me grounded in TODAY and not jump into tomorrow. He wanted me to be faithful to the people in my life and not complaining to God about why I wasn’t moving on to the next phase of my life. My point here is, don’t spend your exile wishing your life away. Embrace it. Make the most of your time by working on the things that made you crash and burn in the first place. Exile is a time for building your character because character is only built in hard places…not easy ones.
Exile gives you hope to see a better future. People often think that exile is a time of despair. It’s not a time of hope. But that’s not true. Exile is when God speaks to us about our future. He speaks to us with words of hope. If you are in exile today God wants to encourage you about your future. This is what God spoke through Jeremiah to the exiles… For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile." Jeremiah 29:11-14 Exile isn’t forever. Remember, God isn’t trying to punish you. He’s preparing you for the next phase of your life. Exile gives you a new sense of identity and purpose. God’s people had lost their identity. God had called them to be a blessing but they forgot all about that. They became totally self-serving. But exile gave them a chance to reclaim their identity. Exile was a time for them to reflect on what was really important in life and restructure their lives around putting God first. They studied the Bible and came to realize that they were God’s chosen people, his treasured possession. And they were called to be a blessing to the world. You see, they didn’t want to lose their way again. They wanted to make sure that if God ever gave them a second chance that they’d be ready to fulfill their calling and not squander it. Well, I hope this helps you understand and appreciate the role of an exile. My prayer is that you see the value of exile and embrace it. Don’t run from it. Let God do his work in you. Let the full work be done so you can truly be resurrected to a new life. Prayer: Father, you know how important seasons of exile are. Help us to see what you see. Help us to not run from your instruction but turn and embrace it so we can experience the resurrection we need. Amen
Part Three: How to Rebuild Your Life
In our study of the Bible so far one thing has become painfully clear: Religion doesn’t work. Isn’t that right? I mean, the Jews had lots of religion. They had a holy book. They had holy men. They had holy days. They had rituals. But after a thousand years of religion where did it get them? It got them in a lot of trouble because they were lousy at religion. They couldn’t do it right. It wasn’t any fun. It didn’t bring them any closer to God. So they went off and partied. And then God gave them a big time out. I mean, that’s the Old Testament in a nutshell. Maybe that describes your experience with religion. You tried hard and then gave up. Well, if you’ve been tracking with the story you know that God’s people failed so miserably that their country was destroyed and they were forced into exile in Babylon. Put simply they reaped what the sowed. The Bible tells us that when we sow to destruction we reap destruction and that’s what they did. But exile eventually comes to an end and God let’s you move on with your life. So that’s what we are going to look at today. I’m calling this message… “How to Rebuild Your Life” and I want to look at a number of things we can learn from the exiles as they returned home to Jerusalem. I think some people get stuck “in exile” because they don’t know how to find their way back. So I’m hoping these lessons will help you today. About 50 years after the Jews went into exile God sent some of the exiles back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. …the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: " 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you--may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. Ezra 1:1-3 The first lesson is that…When God calls you to rebuild your life, no power can stop you. It says here that God moved the heart of Cyrus. I’m sure that after 50 years in exile the Jews were convinced that they would be stuck in Babylon forever. Babylon would never let them go. But there’s one thing that the Bible is very clear about… God does WHAT he wants to do WHEN he wants to do it. He wasn’t going to abandon his people in Babylon. He had a plan for them to return and rebuild their lives. And nothing could stop that. And that goes for every one of us here today too. If you’ve made a mess of your life, God hasn’t given up on you. He’s got a plan to help you rebuild your life. And I think you’ll see some of that plan today. So, God calls a man by the name of Zerubbabel to lead 47,000 people to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. The second lesson I see here is that if you want to rebuild your life then…Don’t walk alone. 15
I know this is hard for us to understand as good independent Americans but God doesn’t look at us solely as individuals. God created us to live in relationship…to live in community with each other. And so when God looks at us he looks at us in the context of community. For example, I have three kids. But I don’t think of them as simply three individuals. I think of them as a brother and two sisters in a family too. You see, we have an identity as a family, not just five separate people. God thinks of us in very much the same way. He sees us as a community, a family. So, the first thing he wants to do with us is to not only get us into community but to get us to see ourselves as woven into the fabric of community…to have a community mindset. Do you believe that? This is really important when it comes to rebuilding your life. If you try to be a lone ranger you are going to have a tough go of it because that’s just not how God works. You’ll be swimming upstream. So, if you want to rebuild your life then seek God with other people. That’s why we encourage people to join some kind of a small group study or service group here at Cedarbrook. When I see people around here who are really growing in their relationship with God, nine times out of ten that person is connected to other people here at church. The next thing I see here actually caught me by surprise. I thought I knew my Bible history. I thought for sure that the first thing the people did when they returned from exile was build the wall. That only makes sense, right? You build the wall first for protection, then you build houses for shelter and once you get settled in THEN you build the temple. But I had it backwards. God sent the people to rebuild the temple first…it wasn’t until much later that he had them build the wall. Do you know why that was? Because if they would have built the wall and their homes first they never would have built the temple. Isn’t that the way it always is? We have good intentions of putting God first but the truth is we never get around to it. So God shows us his priority. If you want to rebuild your life then Worship First. The Temple was the place of worship. It symbolized our relationship with God. So when God told them to rebuild the Temple first that tells me that we need to be worshippers before we are workers. A.W. Tozer, a pastor from the mid-1900’s, said it like this… God wants worshippers before workers; indeed the only acceptable workers are those who have learned the lost art of worship. A. W. Tozer To worship means that you put God first in everything. God’s not the last thought to come to your mind. He’s the first thought. Worship isn’t when you work all day and then ask God to bless it before you fall asleep at night. Worship is when you ask God to show you what he will bless at the start of the day and then you do that. The next thing that’s needed to rebuild your life is to…Make the Word of God Central. When they started to rebuild the altar of God it says… 16
Then [they] began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Ezra 3:2 But then it goes on to say… Then in accordance with what is written, they celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles with the required number of burnt offerings prescribed for each day. Ezra 3:4 If you read through this section it’s clear that these people have a new appreciation for God’s word. Before the exile they ignored God’s word. They even lost it for a few years. So this time they aren’t taking any chances. They made sure that they did everything by the book. And that was smart. That’s why we are doing this yearlong study of the entire Bible. It became clear to me and the LEAD team that many believers today don’t know their Bible. But if you don’t know your Bible then you don’t know God as well as you could. God has revealed himself in this book. So if you want to rebuild your life then the Bible needs to be central to your life. But here’s another thing you need to beware of if you want to rebuild your life… discouragement. When you seek after God…Expect Discouragement .…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. Ezra 4 I guarantee you…if you get serious about God you will have all kinds of road blocks suddenly appear trying to knock you off course. Your friends might laugh at you. Your boss might suddenly schedule you on Sunday’s. Your parents might criticize the church you attend. If you aren’t prepared for this you can get discouraged and give up. And that’s exactly what the people did here in our story. Rather than push through the discouragement they gave up and they got practical. They decided to quit working on the Temple and build their own homes. And you know how that goes. Once you build a home then every weekend is filled with some project. One project leads to the next and suddenly you are never free because you have to fix this or remodel that. And so the temple sat there for sixteen years in disrepair while people built their dream homes. Well…you can imagine what God thought of that. He was not happy. He didn’t bring them back from exile to build a new subdivision in Jerusalem. So he sent two prophets to speak to them- Haggai & Zechariah- and they challenged the people saying... Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin? Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse
with holes in it." This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. Haggai 1:3-7 God tells, them, Look…do you see a connection here? Do you ever wonder why you never seem to have enough money at the end of the month? It’s because you’ve misplaced your priorities. You’ve made God’s big thing your small thing. And when you make God’s big thing a small thing then there are consequences. God thwarts your small plans so you’ll pay attention to his big plans. God’s big thing in that day was the Temple. What’s God’s big thing today? It’s the church. I’m not talking about the building…or the meeting on Sunday. But the community. You know, for a lot of people church is just an afterthought. It’s a meeting they might show up to if they have time. It’s just a small thing in their life. But for God…it’s a big thing. THE Big Thing. Like I said before, the church is God’s family. Any parent knows what that means. Your family is your top priority and you want everyone in the family to treat it with top priority. And again…I’m not just talking about Sunday morning. This community of people is the big thing to God. God wants to work IN US and THROUGH US to touch lives. But when we opt out of church we stunt the growth of God’s plans for the church. And so, if you want to rebuild your life then be careful how you spend your time. Don’t make God’s big thing your small thing. Don’t spend all your time paneling your house…or whatever it is that distracts you. Invest in the relationships and the ministry of the church. That might sound self-serving since I’m the pastor but it’s no less true. I really believe that our personal restoration has to do with being fully engaged in God’s church. Well, when you make God’s big thing your big thing then you can…Expect great things. Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing…Be strong, all you people of the land,' declares the LORD, 'and work. For I am with you,' declares the LORD Almighty … 'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the LORD Almighty. Haggai 2:3-9 There were a few people in the crowd who remembered the beauty of the original Temple. And so when they looked at the shambles of what existed they thought, Why bother? What’s the use? But God was telling them that the old Temple wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to the beauty of the new one. When I apply this verse to today I think it’s similar to how we feel when we compare the early church to the church today. The early church seems to have had everything going for it. It was filled with people with dynamic faith. Lives were changed. People were healed. The needs of the poor were met. And we compare churches today to that and it can seem pathetic. So we say, Why bother? What’s the use? But that kind of attitude guarantees that we’ll never see a better church. I believe that God wants to do greater things through the church than he’s ever done. And I believe that he wants to do them through this church. So when Haggai says that the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of 18
the former house, I say, Amen. I’m ready God. Let it happen here! And I hope that’s your attitude too. The more of us that expect great things the more likely that great things will happen. The next lesson is …Expect God’s help, even from unlikely sources. There were many troublemakers in Judah who wanted to undermine the work of rebuilding the temple. When they complained to the King, trying to shut the work of the temple down, the King told them to support the work with their tax money. Complaining backfired on the complainers! So remember that God will send help and he can use anyone. Well, the temple finally got built. It took 20 years. Then a priest by the name of Ezra returned from Babylon to teach the Word of God. But when he got to Jerusalem he was shocked to learn that the Jews had already started to intermarry with non-Jews. Listen to his response. When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice. Ezra 9:3,4 Why was he so shocked? Do you remember what started the slide into sin in the first place? King Solomon married wives from other countries and he started to worship other gods. That was the beginning of the end. And that’s why God outlawed Jews marrying non-Jews. Ezra couldn’t believe they had so quickly started to turn away from God. So Ezra identified everyone in the community who had married a non-Jew and they were divorced. It even said that some of the couples had children but they still divorced. Pretty radical step. We’d never ask people to do that today, of course. But things were black and white in those days to a make a point. And the point was…Don’t compromise your faith. We always think we are stronger than we are. We think we can rebuild our lives by only giving God a 50% commitment. But it never works. Compromise will eventually destroy your faith. And Ezra knew that. About that time another man came from Babylon. His name was Nehemiah. He heard a report from Jerusalem. They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire." When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:3,4 Nehemiah was sick to think that twenty years had gone by and there was still no wall in Jerusalem and so Nehemiah returned to build the wall. I like what I see in Nehemiah. He was passionate for what God was passionate about. He wasn’t willing to say…hey, we rebuilt the temple. That’s good enough. He said, that’s good but we can do better. God is dishonored as long as there is no wall protecting Jerusalem and the Temple. 19
The lesson I see here is that we shouldn’t accept a mediocre faith. Instead, we should value our relationship with God enough that we protect it. We need to guard our faith. Faith is vulnerable. Just because you have it today doesn’t mean you’ll have it tomorrow. Some of you know what I’m talking about because you lost your faith and are trying to get it back. You have to stay on your toes. You need to constantly invest in it. It’s like any relationship; with a friend or your spouse or your child. If you don’t invest in it…if you don’t protect it…it will slowly disappear. If you take it for granted one day you’ll look for it and it will be gone. The last thing I want to mention is something that Nehemiah said. There were some local leaders that were trying to discourage him from building the wall and they wanted him to come meet with them. And he said… I am carrying on a great work and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you? Nehemiah 6:3 Maybe you heard the story about the three brick layers. The story goes that three bricklayers were working side by side. When asked, "What are you doing?", the first bricklayer replied: "I'm laying bricks." The second bricklayer was asked. He answered, "Feeding my family." The third bricklayer responded, "I'm building a cathedral." You see, all three were doing the same job. But only one of them believed that he was doing a great work, and that changed everything. And that’s how Nehemiah felt. He was convinced that he was doing a great work. It didn’t look like a great work. But it was. I was talking to Jason Brooks (our new volunteer Facilities Director) the other day about his volunteering to manage our facilities and he was very honest. He said that when he thinks of the job as just cleaning and repair it doesn’t sound like much fun. It’s not very inspiring. But when he thinks of his work as preparing a place for ministry, that he’s preparing this place for God to do his work in the lives of people, then it makes it all worthwhile. He believes that is a great work. And I agree. It is. If you want to rebuild your life commit yourself to a great work. Commit yourself to something greater than making money and entertaining yourself. The Bible tells us that there’s no greater work than investing in people. Jesus invested in people by dying for us. He set the example. He told us that there is no greater love than a man lay down his life for a brother. And he said… Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:39 Or put another way, if you want to rebuild your life you need to give it away. It’s counter intuitive. But rebuilding your life isn’t about navel-gazing…focusing all your attention on yourself. If you want to rebuild your life you need to align your life with God’s purpose for you and that means loving others.
Nehemiah was committed to a great work and so within 60 days he rebuilt the wall. And Jerusalem was once again positioned to be a showcase for God’s glory. And that’s our hope as well. If we rebuild our lives we can be a showcase for God’s glory. Imagine if every one of us in this community was willing to die to our personal agendas and do the great work of serving others. That’s what the Bible calls the church. Prayer; Father, help us to rebuild our lives but might we not rebuild them for our purposes…for our happiness. Might we rebuild them for your purpose for our lives. Might we give ourselves to serving others.
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