Map Quest I

Fourth in a 6-week series titled “Prime Time.”
Delivered March 9, 2003 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Theme: “What should I anchor my life upon?” Engaging God’s Word by those who would say they are Christ-followers – study, practice, teach.

Sermon Text:
Ezra 7:10

Let’s pray. Lord again, we have the promise of your Word that in your light we will see light and as we often pray at funerals, we ask that you would lift us above any heavy sorrow so that we might hear the promises of your Word, and have our focus on eternity. And we pray Lord that you would indeed be with the Bertaux family, even as we are thinking on your Word. Grant us your grace by the Holy Spirit so that we would hear again, not just words in print or on paper, or just read, but that we would hear your Word speaking to our hearts this day. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you have a computer and that is not everybody, but most people have one by now, and you have access to the Internet, you have probably used the website MapQuest. MapQuest is a computer website that helps you find directions. And MapQuest presumes that you know where you are. It presumes that you know where you are starting from when you ask for directions, and it presumes that you know where you want to go. In fact, there is one slide or screen in there that says departure and destination, and you punch all those things in and it gives you the route. Well, today I want to tell you about a map that will serve you even if you are not sure where you are, and even when you are not sure where you want to go. And as you have already surmised, I am sure the Word of God is that map and the quest is for those who seek wisdom, because again as we have heard this day, we can come up against it in life, and we need to know which way to go. And so I want to ask you to turn with me to Ezra, Chapter 7, Verses 6-10. We will look at that and then ask you to walk through the note sheet inside your bulletin, your bulletin insert.

Verse 6 starts out: “This Ezra” and the first five verses kind of gave a long genealogy of which Ezra they were talking about and it 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. Some of the Israelites, including priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers and temple servants, also came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of Artaxerxes.

Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month for the gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of theLaw of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.”

Now on your sheet I have taken from the New American Standard Bible another version of that last verse. Ezra 7:10. And it says, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord and to practice and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel.” That’s the order; study, practice and teach. I have shared with you before that one of the things that really impressed me during my time out when we went to certain churches, from the New Hope Church and pastor Wayne Cordero, the message that we can read the Scriptures either offensively or defensively. We can read them defensively and prepare and study so that we can tell somebody else like a Sunday School class or we can read them offensively sitting there, whether we are going to tell anybody or not, something that God needs to speak into our life, and Ezra was that kind of person who studied the Scriptures both offensively and defensively, but he studied them offensively first. He put them in practice in his life before he taught someone else. So the written Scriptures of his day were his guide in life and his guide in his particular mission, because here he was in Babylon, and he was in the post exilic time, he was going back to Jerusalem to help build the temple. He and Nehemiah worked around the same time period and so his particular mission in life, he was especially was studying and setting his heart to know the laws so that he would be able to fulfill that mission. And so here are some principles of guidance and to wisdom that I think we can learn from the life of Ezra and just learn in general.

You will have two teachers in life. You will have two teachers in life basically. The first teacher is wisdom. Now here is the thing. If you want wisdom to be your teacher, you must enroll. You must enroll. Just like enrolling in any kind of course, it is going to take some time. It is going to take some self-discipline. It is going to take some self-denial. You are going to have to work at it. You have to enroll if you are going to learn from wisdom. But here is the pay off. Listen carefully. You get to correct your mistakes before you make them when wisdom is your teacher. You get to correct your mistakes before you make them when wisdom is your teacher. And it will save you 5-10 years at least of misery when wisdom is your teacher.

The second teacher that you can have in life is consequences. Now consequences demand that you make a mistake first in order to learn. And this may cost you 5 or 10 years of misery. Wisdom might save you 5 or 10 years of misery, consequences cost you 5 or 10 years of misery. It might cost you your marriage, it might cost you your job, it might cost you resources, and it may cost you your life. So you can have two teachers, wisdom or consequences. And where do we learn wisdom from? We learn wisdom from number one, personal experiences. Boom, walk into a wall. We say, wall hard, nose soft. We have just gained wisdom from that personal experience. Probably only do that once.

Secondly, we can learn wisdom from other people’s experiences. Right? We can see what other people go through and we can learn. In fact, there is a passage in Proverbs that I want you to listen to. This is Chapter 24, verses 30-34. The writer of the Proverb says this:

“I went past the field of the sluggard, (the lazy man), past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment;thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest- and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.”

Here is the writer of Proverbs, the writer of Proverbs going by learning from other experiences.

Gordon McDonald was and is a teacher of Scripture at a huge church up in New England. Many of you may know his history. He fell to immorality. He asked to be restored. He was restored and he wrote a book called, “Ordering your Private World.” There is a book that you can learn from the pain of other people’s experiences and many books are like that. So that is the second way that we learn wisdom. Personal experiences and other people’s experiences.

But the third way that we learn is from the Scriptures, the Word of God. You know, we can look in that book and we can look at the life of David and Solomon, great people and we can see where even though they were godly people, they made serious mistakes, and we can learn and walk in a different way. Look at this verse. “A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom.” So obviously the greatest book of wisdom is the Bible. The greatest book of wisdom is the Bible. And look at the verse that I have put underneath that. This is from Psalm 119 and I would encourage you this week to just kind of camp out in Psalm 119. It’s the longest Psalm as you know, but every verse has something to say about the strength of God’s Word in our lives.

“I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statues. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.”

Think about that. You know if we are to make it in this life, if we are to lead in the 21st century church, if we are to just be people that have a message to share with the world, we are going to need to be smarter than our experiences, than what we learn from our experiences and from what we learn from other people’s experiences. We are going to need to be smarter than that and the only way to be smarter than that is from what the Psalmist said. To learn and to meditate and to absorb his Word.

You know, Ezra came into a tough situation. It was very difficult what he had to face, rubble all around him. You know, 70 years of misery that those who stayed in Jerusalem endured. And he had to convince the people to focus and to rally, and they rebuilt the temple. And I love what it says here in this Ezra 7:10 that I have on the sheet, for Ezra had set his heart, he had set his heart to study the Law. He set his heart to study the Law. It drove him. Now you look at the word law, and you say sometimes that gives you a negative connotation. He set his heart to study the Law. But you know God’s law and God’s commandments are always expressions of love. I mean we say this to our children all the time. The reason I tell you that you can’t go play with knives or go play in the streets is because I love you. I care about you. You might think I am taking away your fun, but its not really. I am providing for you and I am protecting you. And the more we know of God’s law, the more liberty and the more fulfillment that we will experience in this life. Don’t ever let the enemy deceive you into thinking that his commandments are binding or restricting in a negative way. They are always designed to bring fulfillment in our life. I get reminded of this every time I get in the car it seems like. Have you ever been in a car and you come behind a person, you are able to make a right turn on red and the person in front of you may even have their directional on and there is nobody coming and they could turn and you are behind them and it is always when you need to be somewhere, but you can honk if you want. I mean that might help. Sometimes you can coach them silently or verbally, even though they cannot hear you, like c’mon, c’mon. You can do it. You can do it. Make that right turn. Okay. And finally, and you have cars behind you too that are trying to figure out what is going on, I thought we could do right turn on red? Finally the light turns, the person goes and you say something like, “Man, if that person (and I was going to say woman. I don’t know why I was going to say woman) If that person had just known the law, we could have been going. We could have been on our way. We could have been free.” And that is when the Lord comes and says; hey that’s a good thought. You know, if you knew my law a little better, you would be a lot freer in your life. That’s the way God is, he helps us to make right turns. Isn’t that good? He helps us to make right turns. And those right turns are designed to free us.

Now, because these principles prove themselves time and again, we are instructed by scripture to be disciplined, to be disciplined in our devotions. In the NIV verse it says, “Ezra devoted himself to the study, he set his heart and devoted himself.” So we are called to be disciplined in our devotions. And Paul said to Timothy, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of Godliness.” Discipline yourself for the purpose of Godliness.

Now, I am just presenting to you today more of a discipleship kind of sermon because I want to encourage you to get into life journaling. I have been kind of encouraging you over the last few weeks and I know that you can tell that this is important to me because I keep talking about it, but I keep talking about it because it has been so helpful in my own life. And I recognize that in some ways we are talking about going back to Bible study 101 in some ways. But believe me, in order to be strong in the strength of the Lord’s might, we can not ignore the most basic elements of our discipleship and so that is why I want to encourage you to journal and let me just give you five tools for journaling and then I will say a little bit about it.

The first tool of course is the Bible. You need to have a Bible. And I would say that when you go to journal and this is for those who might come on Wednesday night or just whenever you do this, to take your Scofield reference Bible and put in on the shelf. Don’t look at a Bible that’s got more notes than scripture. Okay? Because what we will do, we will dull your creativity. You will be reading the notes instead of the Scripture. So try to read a Bible version that is limited on any kind of notes. Okay?

Secondly, you will need a pen. I mean this like duh? For journaling you need a pen. But let me say why you need a pen. Because you want to underline the things that the spirit of God speaks to you. Because when you are reading a text, if you are opening your heart to the text and you are saying, God speak into my life. I need to hear from you today. You want to underline whatever stands out to you. You know there is a wonderful promise in John, Chapter 14. The Lord Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands” and that means whoever grasps firmly in the mind “my commands, and keeps them is the one who loves me and he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I too will love him and reveal myself to him.” What a great promise. As we listen to the Scriptures and we are ready to underline, it is almost like we are saying Lord reveal what you want to say to me. I am going to underline it. I am going to mark it. It is okay to write in your Bible.

Thirdly. Journal. You will need a journal and we have those journals and you will have those journals if you come Wednesday night and we are going to order more journals, but it’s a very, very simple little spiral bound notebook and it has a lot of great tools in to help you, but basically you are recording on one page using the SOAP method. You know soap keeps us clean. So we use SOAP and as you look at the text for the day, and you underline scripture, you go back when you are done your reading and you write that scripture. It might just be one verse. It might be one phrase. Then the “O” of soap is your observation. What is this text saying? What is this saying and maybe you will write down a few thoughts about it. And then “A” is your application. What is it saying to me? The key question to answer when you get to your application is, how will I be different because of what God is speaking into my heart today? What difference will this make? And then “P” you just write a prayer. You write a prayer.

If you were here Ash Wednesday, how many of you were here Ash Wednesday? About half. I read from my journal. And I read something from my journal that I wrote in October. So there is the other benefit of the journal. That you can go back to it and get doubly blessed. Not just once when you are sitting there, but you can go back and there is a table of contents in your journal that you can write a one word topic that describes what you have written and so you can go back to your table of contents over months time and if you see the word trust you can go back to that journal and see what God said to you five months ago about trusting him. You see? So it’s a tool. It’s a tool for discipleship.

Okay. And then the fourth thing is you need a reading program. And the journals that we are going to provide, right in the journal itself is a read through the Bible in a year plan. And when we come together on Wednesday nights, those of us who are doing the discipline together, we are just going to go to March 12th and read whatever is written there and work from that. And you know it is amazing when you do this, it keeps you moving around the scriptures. You know, lots of time I imagine the Psalmist saying, why are you always coming here? Why are you always coming to my house? Why don’t you go to somebody else’s house, instead of just the Psalmist, right? I mean in the past few months the journaling has been from Leviticus and I am like, I don’t think I would have been there. I don’t’ think I would have been visiting Leviticus’ house if it wasn’t for this journaling, and so it keeps you looking at all the portions of Scriptures and there is a lot to learn from even the things that you think are the most obscure.

And then fifthly, the daily planner or note pads. And by that, you can even just stick an extra piece of paper in your journal. Sometimes if you have ever had the experience when you are having a quiet time, that you start to think about all the things that you have to do in the day or all the things you have to get done. Well the notepad or planners is there so that you can just for one second write down whatever it is that you think you will forget and then set it aside and then get back and refocus. Okay?

Some people ask when is the best time for devotions. The best time for devotions is when you are at your best. I mean we have all had the experience of trying to devotions when we are tired and our heads are on the table and we are drooling on the paper and it’s terrible. We are getting nothing. So you want to do it when you are at your best. If you are a morning person, do it in the morning. If you are an evening person, do it in the evening. If you have the schedule where you can do it at another time, fine. Do it. But the idea is that you develop a habit. Same time. Try to be in the same place if you can. Same schedule if possible. You know the main thing; whether you do it morning or evening or whenever, is that you do it regularly. Because the promise of God is that we are not to be conformed to this world, but we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. The scriptures renew our mind. I like the way one person said, if resets our default program, not just our screensaver. Okay? We are not just looking on the surface, when we are renewing our mind, we are ready whenever we get tempted, whenever we need a word from God, then click there is something there when our minds are being renewed. And you know you can look at this journaling and again it is so basic, but I want you to think about somebody who is an accomplished musician. Accomplished musicians spend hours and hours a day, doing what?(hums the scales) The scales. These are the greatest musicians in the world. They spend hours a day doing the scales. And you can look at this journal and you can say, Oh boy soap. Here we go again. Scripture, observation, application… that is like a virtuoso. So that when you go through your day, you will be ready to perform. God will touch you and you will be ready to have a word for somebody because it’s being programmed into your heart.

And then Timothy, again Paul says to Timothy very clearly, “Be diligent in these matters;. Give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” You know he was instructing him to publically read the scriptures in this context, but he is saying be diligent to be in the scriptures yourself.

Now let me just close with this. What do you love to do? What do you love to do the most? Some of you may be musicians. Some of you may love to play music the most. Some may love to play sports the most. You have a certain kind of sport. Basketball, football, golf or whatever. Some of you may love to write. Some may love to engage in artwork. As many as are in the room might have a different thing that gives them energy and that they love to do and they love to develop. Now let me ask you this. If the greatest mentor in your field of endeavor were to come to you and you had the opportunity even to interact with that person, I mean just for example let’s say somebody really wanted to improve their skills in basketball. And Michael Jordan came up from Washington D.C. and you somehow got a commitment to sit down with him. Okay? And you have the nerve to ask him, “Do you think you could show me some moves?” And Michael Jordan takes out his Daytimer and says, “You no what, believe it or not for you, I think I could give you either one hour a week” and you go “are you kidding me? You will give me one hour a week?” He says, “Wait a minute, I didn’t finish. Or I can give you one hour a day” What would you choose? I mean you thought one hour a week was great and now he is saying, I will give you one hour a day. The Master of the universe is ready 24/7 to give you any hour of the day. Will you settle for an hour a week? Or would you want an hour a day? You choose.

Let’s pray. Lord we thank you for your love and we first of all confess that so many times we walk right by, that you are waiting, ready to speak in to our life, ready to mentor us in the things that will make us smarter than those who have years of learning and for somehow for some reason we pass on it. I pray Lord Jesus that you would renew us and revive us according to your Word at Central Church and that every member would begin to renew themselves again at your feet. What a wonderful thing it would be if 500 adults were reading the same thing every day, talking to each other, encouraging each other from it. What a wonderful thing it would be and what a witness and testimony it would be to those who are not yet in your fold. Grant us grace Lord to see that it is wisdom to be diligent to study your word and we pray it in Christ’s name. Amen.