Friday, August 31, 2012

Acts 5 - Pure Hearts and False Motives

Hello Project Ezra!  Thanks for being part of the group.  I pray that you are doing well and are looking forward to another blessed opportunity to share the word of God this weekend.  Our passage this week is Acts chapter 5, the very well know story of the death of Ananias and Sapphira.  I’ve actually held off on tackling this passage for quite a while, since it can be a challenge to explain to a non-believer.  Many would look at this passage as an example of God being arbitrary and vindictive, while in truth it is yet another example of the fact that He is same yesterday, today, and forever.  God is a God of love, but the fact of His love does not eclipse the reality of His justice and wrath, which are displayed in the New Testament just as in the Old Testament. 

However, I thought a better approach to this story would be in comparison to what is said of the Jewish leaders, and the ongoing evidence of their hardened hearts, despite years of signs and wonders performed both by Jesus Himself, and then by His apostles.  Those who reject Christ never do so based on lack of evidence, but based on hearts hardened toward God.  Unbelief is not an intellectual problem, but a moral problem, and it was the same moral problem, that of pride, that led Ananias and Sapphira to lie to the Holy Spirit in order to get the praises of men.  So this outline focuses on pure motives before God.  And of course, none of us truly have pure motives before God in our own strength.  But by His grace, He takes out our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh, transforming us more and more into the image of Christ.  And praise God that by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we will be seen as pure when we stand before Him on that final day.

I pray this outline is a blessing.  If Project Ezra has encouraged you in sharing your faith, please let your friends and church family know.  Perhaps you may be the tool God uses to encourage one of them to step out in faith and lift His name in public for the first time.  And believe me, there are few blessings greater than that!

All for His glory,


We are here today to share God's word with you.

In fact, we are compelled to speak, just as the Apostles were in this chapter, both by our love for God, and by our care for you.

These we speak are the words of life, words that many people desperately need to hear

We know that some people may be offended by what they hear, though that is not our intent.

But just as the apostles were told by the Angel of the Lord to go, stand in the temple, and speak the words of life, so we have been called to do the same, whether people are offended or not

We are called to obey God rather than men

We cannot help but speak.  We, like the Apostles, are compelled to speak of what we have seen, and heard, and know 

And what we know is the truth of salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, and in Him alone

We pray that we will present Him to you in truth, and with right hearts

But as we pray for true hearts, in Acts chapter 5 we see two groups who had false hearts, and impure motives, regarding Christ 

We don't know you, but would ask you to examine your own heart, in light of this passage, and to see if your hearts are right before Him

Acts 5 talks of Ananias and Sapphira, who were among those who followed Christ

But they lied to the Apostles, and ultimately to God, about the amount they gave, out of pride

They were more interested in the praise of people that in truth towards God

As a consequence, they were struck dead by God, in the presence of the people of God

Make no mistake, God is a God of love, but He is also a God of justice and wrath

It is as dangerous to misrepresent His character as it is to lie to the Holy Spirit

The scriptures tell us it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31)

Acts 5 also talks about the Jewish leaders, who were jealous of the Apostles, and were more interested in protecting their own power, and once again feeding their own pride, that they were in the truth.

They had seen some of the most miraculous acts ever done on earth, yet had killed the man who had done those works, and were now determined to silence His followers

This is why Jesus called them white washed tombs, clean on the outside but filled with dead men’s bones (Matthew 23:37)

They were hypocrites, only interested in themselves. 

So now ask yourself.  Have you come to God with impure motives, or an impure heart?

Have you claimed to believe in God when you are trusting something other than Him?

You don't need to tell me, but please don't lie to yourself.  I truth, no man has ever come before God with a pure heart.

You can't lie to God, and when you try you break His law

But many do lie to themselves, because they will not acknowledge the true God.  They create an image of God in their minds, to suit themselves.

They create a god in their own image, one that winks at their sin, accepting them as they are

But this is idolatry, and scripture tells us that idolaters will not inherit the kingdom of God

Or are you going through the motions of religion to please your family, or for cultural acceptance?   

Are you claiming a faith that you truly have no interest in?

They you are failing to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, as we are commanded to

Or are you covetous, loving the things of this world more than God, as Ananias and Sapphira, along with many so-called preachers on TV?

If you are guilty of breaking any of these or other laws of God, than you are guilty before Him.  And all of us are guilty of breaking His laws

Every one of us, myself included, deserves nothing but death and hell as punishment for our sins, our moral crimes against a holy God

Ananias and Sapphira were killed instantly for their sin, and God would be perfectly right in doing the same to us.

But there is good news!  Gospel means good news, and the reason we share the bad news of sin is so the good news of Christ’s gift to us will make sense. 

Our hope is this.  Even though we have all broken His law, His broken body, and His spilled blood, satisfied the demands of that law.

On a Roman cross, 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, was crushed by His Father (Isaiah 53), so that we could be forgiven  

Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins, so Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, spilled His own blood for us.

And through that perfect sacrifice our debt was paid, justice was satisfied, and now we can go free.

So I pray that today you will receive this gift

I pray that God will take out your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh, one prepared for His word

And I pray that through repentance, turning from sin, and through faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone, you too will be saved, made right with God.

Someday I will be in heaven with God, though I don’t deserve it.  I deserve nothing but His judgment.

And when I get there I hope to see you there too.

So, today, turn from your sins and trust in Christ alone.

Don’t delay.  None of us is promised a tomorrow, and the fate of Ananias and Sapphira could be yours.

So, while He has graciously given you time, turn to Christ, and live!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Zechariah 7 - Religious Ritual and Hardened Hearts

Hello Project Ezra!  Running a bit behind today, so don’t have much time for commentary.  However, I think this outline will be a blessing.  This week’s passage is Zechariah 7, and recounts the Lord’s rebuke of the men of Bethel, when they came to the prophet after following religious rituals, but hardening their hearts toward God.  I believe that this describes many in our society, including many regular church attenders.  It may even describe someone reading this.  But Christianity is not about rituals observed by men, but about hearts transformed by God through the blood of the cross.  I pray that through this outline, we will be reminded and those that hear will be convicted.

All for His glory,



In this passage the people of the city of Bethel sent a messenger to speak with Zechariah, the prophet of God

They sent men to entreat the favor of the Lord, asking if they should have a time of mourning and fasting, as they had done for the previous 70 years.

God’s reply was a very convicting message then, and should be to us today as well

God made it clear that the people had acted out of spiritual duty and religious ritual, and had no true heart for God

He asked “Was your fasting for me?  Do you not eat and drink for yourselves?”

God had called them to follow His laws, but they turned a stubborn shoulder and closed their ears to Him

They did not want to hear the voice of God.  They just wanted to fulfill what they saw as His requirements, so they could go on with their lives.

The Lord said they made their hearts diamond hard, lest they should hear the law and the words of the Lord of hosts, sent by the Spirit through the former prophets.

The most frightening aspect of His rebuke, is that God stated that if He called and they would not hear, so when they called, He would not hear.

If you go through the motions of religion or spirituality, but do not listen to God’s word and His law, 

He will not hear you when you call out to Him.

God’s mercy is not a play thing, to be taken out when you feel the desire, and put aside when something more interesting comes along.

Being spiritual will not help you

Religious ritual will not help you

Confession of your sins to a man in a box will not help you

Wearing a cross around your neck will not help you

Showing up to church on Christmas and Easter, or other religious holidays, will not help you.

Jesus Christ made the same statements to the Pharisees

They observed the rituals and the legalistic requirements, but Ignored the weightier things of the law (Matthew 23:23)

It may be that you have been just going through the motions with a heart hardened to God’s law

If you’re not going through the motions, and have rejected God outright, you have still have hardened your heart, and are in just as much danger.

God desires a heart that is broken before Him.  He says:
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
                        a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  (Psalm 51:16-17 ESV)

Don’t follow your heart.  God’s word says the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.

But God has not left our wicked hearts unchecked.  He has written His law on our hearts.

God’s  law can wake and break our hearts, and our conscience bears witness to the truth of His law

When we lie we feel guilt.  We feel guilt because we are guilty, and deserving of God’s justice

When we steal or covet, we feel guilt, because we are guilty.  God, in His providence, has given us all we need, but our lust and greed is never satisfied.

When we look with lust, coveting a man or woman that is not our husband or wife, we feel guilt.   
God has made marriage to reflect His relationship with His church, in love, in purity, and in exclusivity.

When we use God’s name lightly or disrespectfully, or in some other way fail to give God the honor and glory He is due, failing to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we blaspheme His name.

In truth, God condemn us right now, and give no chance of reconciliation, and be perfectly just.

God could throw every man, woman and child into an eternal hell, and would be perfectly right to do so.

Hell, a place of fire and darkness and pain, is an appropriate punishment for those who know God, yet have rejected Him

For even the smallest sin, is infinitely sinful against an infinitely holy and perfect God.  And our sins have not been small

But God, although He is holy and just, is also loving, kind and patient.

He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that they turn and live. (Ezekiel 18:23)

So He sent His one and only son to bear our guilt and sin

Jesus Christ, God the Son, through whom and for whom all things were created, humbled Himself and came to earth in a human body. (John 1)

He lived a perfect life, perfect in thought, word and deed. (Hebrews 7:26)

Then He willingly went to a Roman cross, and shed He blood so that we would not have to shed ours.  For without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins. (Hebrews 9:22)

He died.  And when He did, the veil in the temple split, top to bottom, and the Holy Place of God was opened.  (Matthew 27:51)

Now, through Jesus Christ, the one and only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), we can be seen as righteous when we stand before God.

Through His sacrifice our sin is atoned for, and we are changed

But salvation is not just a choice we make.  It is a supernatural work of God, received through repentance and trust in Christ alone

When we turn from sin and trust in Him we become a new creature through the blood of the cross.  We are truly born again

God gives us a new heart and new desires.  Hear what God says in Ezekiel 36
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.  (Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV)

So turn to Christ and trust in Him today, while He has graciously given you time

He will change you, His Spirit will empower you, that you too may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light! (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Nehemiah 1 – An Urgency for Eternal Things

Hello Project Ezra!  I pray that your week has been good, and that, like me, you are ready for the weekend and more opportunities to share your faith.  Here in Northern California the weather has been warm, and the street festival and other events that have been going on have been very busy.  Even in the evening there have been many more people out and about for music festival and bar hopping, or just to spend time with family and friends.  I pray that in your area that you are seeing the same.  If you don’t know of any good public places in your area to share your faith, I would encourage you to spend some time looking for some.  Every Christian believer, and particularly those who do public evangelism regularly, should have one or more “fishing holes,” places where people gather and where it’s easy to start up conversations, or to share the word open-air style.  Even if you have to drive for a ways, it is well worth it to find a good spot.  But there is very likely to be a place nearby with good foot traffic, or which has events which draw people in.  And wherever people gather, there is always someone who needs to hear the good news.

This week we will be focusing on the imminence of eternity, and encouraging people to think about what happens next today.  A good way to open up this kind of reading is by taking an example that those listening are likely to know about or be able to directly relate to.  Natural disasters, celebrity deaths, and the like can be great springboards, and will often help those listening connect with what you are saying.  Sadly, the example I plan to use hits very close to home.  A homeless lady, one I saw on the side of the street as I drove to and from work almost every day, was killed two days ago.  She was mentally disturbed, I’m sure, and apparently known for yelling at people, even those who tried to help her.  Then, Tuesday I believe, she yelled at a man who was also mentally disturbed, and he came back and slit her throat in broad daylight.  It was a horrible tragedy, and the community is reacting very strongly.  I had considered stopping to talk and share the gospel with her a couple times, but never did.  It’s a sobering reminder of just how true it is that none of us is promised a tomorrow.  Using these kind of examples can when preaching can be very effective.  However, we must never treat these type of events lightly, or cavalierly, if we use them as an illustration.  Your respect and compassion must be evident in your speaking, and must be real.  Not only was a real life lost, but real lives are still at stake.  Be sure to spend time in prayer preparing your heart, and making sure it is right before God, whenever you go out to share His truth.

I pray this outline is a blessing.  May God be glorified!


"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."



"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

Jim Elliot

Jim Elliot, who was murdered while trying to reach one of the most remote, most violent tribes in the South America, understood what it meant to have a sense of urgency regarding eternal things.

He was willing to die for what he believed, and did.

Nehemiah, who in this chapter plead for the nation of Israel, who were in exile, also had an urgency regarding eternal things. He was willing to give up one of the most privileged positions in the kingdom for the sake of God’s people, and the city that bore God’s name.

He wept and mourned and fasted and prayed for days for his people.

Nehemiah wept for his people and his city, praying to the God who keeps covenant and steadfast love.

He had a passion for the lives of his country-men

Do you show the same passion for your own soul that he did for the lives of others?  For those you love?

What matters to you?  What do you live for?  Do you ever think about eternal things?

Do you have any idea what comes next, what will happen to you when you walk off into eternity?

I would like to encourage you, and even plead with you, to think about those things today.

Life is far shorter than you realize            

you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  (James 4:14 ESV)

Every one of us will walk off into eternity one day, and face the righteous judgment of a just God

it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment  (Hebrews 9:27 ESV)

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.  (Psalm 7:11 ESV)

When you stand before God, how will He see you?  Will He see you as good?  How do you know?

We must all see ourselves in truth before God.

Nehemiah recognized the sins of his people, which had caused God to turn His back on them.

He confessed the sins of the people, and acknowledged their wicked behavior and corruption

He acknowledged that Israel had not kept the commandments, statutes and rules of God, just as we have not.

When we chose to ignore God’s commandments, statutes and rules, the Bible calls it sin. 

God’s law is a reflection of His goodness and His perfect will and plan for us.  When we break His law we offend Him, and we hurt ourselves and others.

Have you lied, or failed to tell the truth when you should have?  God is a God of truth, and will not tolerate dishonesty.

Have you ever stolen, or coveted and desired something that belonged to someone else?  In either case, you are showing that you trust your own desires more than God’s perfect plan for your provision.

Have you looked with lust at someone not your husband or wife?  Have you followed through on those lustful thoughts?  If you have done either, you have committed adultery, and have offended God, who by His nature is faithful and true.

Have you taken the name of the God who gave you life, and used it in place of a curse word?  Have you used God’s name lightly, or disrespectfully?  Then you have committed blasphemy.

Have you hated someone, even to the point of committing murder in your heart?  God says that even anger without cause is worthy of judgment, and anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.

God tells us that He is a just judge, and as a just judge He will not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34)

All those who are guilty will have their sin punished perfectly.  And all of us are guilty

The just punishment of God will be carried out in a place called hell, a place of fire and darkness and pain, which will last forever.

It is a place I don’t want to go, though I deserve to, and I don’t want to see any of you go either.

And because God is a God of mercy and of steadfast love, He provided a way of escape.

He provided escape not by overlooking our sins, but by paying for them in full

He demonstrated His love on the cross

2000 years ago His own Son, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, came to earth so that the world might be saved through Him.  (John 3:17)

And He became our high priest, offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.  (Hebrews 7:23-27 ESV)

On the cross all God’s anger and hatred and wrath toward sin was poured out on Him, so it didn’t have to be poured out on us.

Then He rose on the third day as He had prophesied He would, defeating sin and death and proving who He was

Now if we will repent, or turn from our sin, and trust in Him alone, then His shed blood will be the payment for our sin and we can go free

Today you may be like those Israelites, scattered far from God because of your disobedience and unfaithfulness

But Nehemiah knew that though they were in the uttermost parts of the heavens, He would gather them back

And I pray, as Nehemiah did for His people, that God will call you back to Him

I pray that God will bring you redemption through His great power and strong hand

And that you will delight to fear His name

Please come to Christ today, in repentance and faith, so that like Israel and the city of Jerusalem, you too may be restored.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Proverbs 1

Hello Project Ezra, and welcome to our new members!  Our project founder Tony posted information regarding the project to his Facebook page, and we got a number of new member requests.  Thanks Tony!  For those of you who are new, here’s a little background on the group.  Our focus is encouraging and equipping believers in Christ to share the gospel through public scripture reading.  Each week I, or one of the other administrators, pick a chapter from a different section scripture, based on a Bible reading system from Professor Grant Horner (the link is below).  Then I give some suggestions on how you can use the reading of that passage to transition into a gospel presentation.  I will also occasionally share videos, pictures, and testimonies of other member’s experiences with their Project Ezra readings.  Members also frequently post them on our Facebook page.  So, for an idea of what the project looks like in practice, check out our group wall, or take a look at our last participation report here:

Grant Horners Bible Reading System (I use this system for my own reading, and it is excellent!)

This week our suggested reading is Proverbs chapter 1.  We visited this chapter just over a year ago, and it is certainly worth visiting again.  And once again, our focus will be on the character and nature of God, and its consistency.  There are many chapters in the Bible where the gospel is not addressed directly, and it would be difficult to find it there without wrenching the chapter out of context.  However, God does not change.  He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and if we look at what His word tells us about who He is, and who we are, both truths naturally lend themselves to sharing the gospel.  In particular, I will be focusing on the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom.  Everyone is happy to remind us that God is love, but what about the fear of God?  It is vital that we have a full understanding of His character and that we share this when we preach the gospel.

All for His glory,



The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  This phrase appears several times in God’s word.

Have you ever thought about that?

We always hear that God is love, and that is very true.  He is love.

But His word does not show us that His sense of morality is one dimensional.  Nor should we expect it to be.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

We should fear God.  We should fear Him because of His holiness, and His glory.

Even the greatest heroes of the Bible fell on their faces, trembling, at the smallest glimpse of who He truly was

We should fear Him because of His power and majesty.  He spoke the world into existence, and was and is His to command. 

But power is not a fearful thing, unless you are at odds with it.

This is where our greatest fear should lie.  God is good, and we are not.
                The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
                                They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
                                there is none who does good.
                The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
                                to see if there are any who understand,
                                who seek after God.
                They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
                                there is none who does good,
                                not even one.  (Psalm 14:1-3 ESV)

Because God is good, He is also just, and will see that justice is served.

Because He is good, He will not leave the guilty unpunished. (Exodus 34:7)

And we are all guilty, rebels against God and His law.

Hear what this passage says about men

It says their feet run to evil

It says they make haste to shed blood

Another passage tells us that we are by nature children of wrath
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)

And because of our rebellion, our love for our own sin, we wait for our own blood, and set an ambush for our own lives.

Look at yourself in light of God’s law, and you will see that this is true







These are hard words, but so important. If you don’t see the truth of your own sin, you will not see your need to be saved from them.

And that is what we need, to be cleansed of our sins.

That is what happened when Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross 2000 years ago

In fact, that is what the Bible is about.  It is about God being glorified in our salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ

The cross is the perfect demonstration of both God’s mercy and His love.

Because God is just and righteous he poured out all His anger and wrath and hatred toward sin on Jesus Christ

Jesus, fully God and fully man, and more valuable than the rest of creation combined, could pay the infinite price for our infinite sin.

And by that act of love, we can be cleansed of our sins and be seen as right before God.

But Jesus Christ did more than die.  Three days later He rose again, as He had prophesied He would, and the Bible says He is now seated at God’s right hand, as our advocate, our lawyer for the Day of Judgment.

So if we will do as scripture tells us, if we will repent, turn from sin, and trust Christ alone, then we will be seen as righteous, morally right, before God when we stand before Him on judgment day.

This passage of scripture says that God’s wisdom calls for us

It tells us to turn at His reproof and He will pour out His spirit on us, and will save us.

But many will not.  This chapter also describes those who will not listen to God’s wisdom calling them to repentance and the terrible consequences.

It says we refused to listen, and would have none of His reproof

Because of this terror strikes like a storm

Calamity comes like a whirlwind

Distress and anguish come upon you

They will call and there will be no answer

Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, they despised His reproof

They will eat the fruit of their way.  The simple are killed by their turning away, the complacency of fools destroys them.

Do not be simple and foolish.  Be wise and fear the Lord.  But more than that, trust in the Lord.

Turn from your sin and turn to Jesus Christ.  Only through Him can you be saved

And time is short.  None of us is promised tomorrow.

Turn to Christ today while He has graciously given you time!