Second Chances: “Team Play” – Ezra 2

TeamsIf you have been paying any attention to American football at all, you are likely aware that “Fantasy Football” has really caught on around the US. It is essentially a statistical game in which players “compete” against each other by managing groups of real players or position units selected from American football teams. Using the stats of players, you can calculate the advance of your “made up” team toward the post season. This “game” started in a New York hotel room during a 1962 trip by some of the partners of the Oakland Raiders. Two Raiders Public Relations men and a news reporter developed a system of organization and a rule book, which became the basis of structure of the fantasy football operations. In 1969, a restaurateur brought the game to his sports bar in Oakland, California and added another couple fantasy leagues. What began first as a trivia type contest soon began to spread across the country. Finally, with the rise of the internet the game really took off. In 1997, CBS launched the beta version of the first free fantasy football website, and the game went viral. Today there are rulebooks, websites, draft leagues and paid clubs that are involved in an elaborate game that is never actually played on a field.

The skill needed to attain a winning season is largely the insight to pick a team that will get you through the season statistically. For many, it is a statement of their loyalties – they choose players based on team loyalties and rivalries – but that is seldom a winning strategy. In other words, teams that win are normally chosen based on player’s individual abilities, not loyalties. The problem is, that isn’t really a “team” as much as a collection of highly talented individuals. A good fantasy “head hunter” must pick through statistics, game play, and health probabilities to try to assemble the team that will carry the ball to the final end zone. The choice of players is the key to the success of the team as any “owner” can attest. Bad player choices lead to losing scores. Yet, that isn’t such an unusual concept. Often in life we find the quality of the ingredients becomes the basis for a successful outcome.

What is true in construction, cooking, and even fantasy football teams is also true in setting up successful attempts at a second chance in your life, your relationships, your church, or even your nation. Assembling the right team is an essential key to getting the right result. It is also true of a remake, or a second chance. Let’s say it this way:

Key Principle: Assembling the right team is essential to set the second chance on a positive path.

Our series from Ezra is about SECOND CHANCES. In the case of the children of Judah, their sin caused them to be taken into captivity, and God brought them to the place where they would be again free – this time with a second chance to build their kingdom. Perhaps that is a bit too hard to really practically apply in your life… Let’s see if we can make it more real to you.

Pretend for a moment that you have gone to school to prepare for a specific job you thought was perfect for your nature and personality. After fulfilling your educational requirements, you sought and found several companies that hired ion your field, and you sent resumes and did interviews. After a few ‘call back’ interviews, you were offered two positions. You looked over both companies for advancement opportunities and physical locations (so you could determine the travel time to and from work, etc). In a few days, you landed the job and were on your way to building a career. You advanced nicely, and you enjoyed the work over the next two years. On a Tuesday morning, you arrived at the office at the usual time, and found the door locked and a note posted that said “closed for business”. Shocked you call you co-workers and you all meet together at a coffee shop, stunned that you are all out of jobs. You are told the comptroller of the company has stolen much of the operating budget, and the company was forced to close and prosecute those handling the finances. You are in shock! Someone else’s evil had ruined your life plan! What is next? How do you put together a “second chance” strategy. Today, let me suggest that you start with a team.

Change the scenario. You and your spouse met long before you knew Jesus at a local bar. You had some good times, decided (almost on a whim) to get married, and after two years you were living in a small apartment, raising a child with another on the way, and you found Jesus. Someone shared His love and message with you and you turned your life over to Jesus. Not even a week later, you came home early from work and found your spouse in your bed with someone else. They left, claiming the affair had been going on for months and they had no interest in continuing the marriage. What’s next? You don’t have time to curl up in a corner and cry endlessly, but that is exactly what you WANT to do. What should you do?

You get the idea. Let’s pick up the story of the second chance AFTER Judah’s leadership under a man named Sheshbazaar has gotten word they are being resourced and returned to their homeland and tasked with rebuilding God’s Temple. The people have drawn resources from all the captive Jews, and about fifty thousand of them have already decided to make the grueling trip to return to a place they have heard about, but only the oldest among them have ever seen. Drop into the story and let’s see who was placed at what positions on the team to get the second chance opportunity to be effective…

What is the next step? The key is team building! We begin with “The Setting of the Story” (Ezra 2:1)

Ezra 2:1 Now these are the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his city.

The stage had been set by God through Cyrus the Median King in chapter one, as he offered the exiles of Judah to return back to the Promised Land, and to renew the life they were supposed to have as God’s people. The exiles grew up in a darkened world, and choices made before most of them were even born caused them to be in exile. The “Promised Land” home that Scripture promised was never available to them. The blessings of a Kingdom, and homes rooted in God’s law never happened. Now they had the opportunity to go back and try again. God, in His Divine mercy opened a second chance – and they were returning home. What was required to make it work effectively? God took the time to tell us in detail for this reason: When you want to rise out of the ashes of a life of bad decisions or unfortunate situations and start anew, you will need to build a team. How? What is included? Keep reading…

Next, we move to the Process:

First, you will need to assemble leaders for the team.

You cannot pull off all that you need on your own to start again in big things. Whether you are picking up the pieces of a broken life or restarting a company, be humble enough to get help. You can too easily fall back into old ways of doing things. You need to have established people with Godly track records built into you team. The text explains:

Ezra 2:2 These came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah.

Eleven leaders are mentioned here, each by a name. Four observations may be helpful:

You need a team leader.

Sometimes, you will lead the team for a “second chance re-start” – but not always. It is interesting to note that the Book of Ezra is actually two different books from two different missions. The first book recorded the return under Zerubbabel in Ezra 1-6, the second was the return under Ezra years later as recorded in Ezra 7-10. In other words, the team leader for the second chance was Zerubbabel, and he is likely the original author of this. This was a national second chance, and he was a national leader.

In any endeavor it is necessary to establish a leader who is responsible for direction, because any venture requires that you know where to turn for answers. The visionary (Sheshbazaar) was not tasked with all the nuts and bolt – that was Zerubbabel’s job. His was the clear voice people needed to follow. Surrounded by good men, there still needed to be a singular leader’s voice at the head of the transformational journey. He did not speak dictates and was not absolute in authority, but in the end the people followed a single voice. Not everything can be run by committee. Leadership needs to be checked and accountable, but authorized to lead in your life. You need on your team someone who will help you organize the steps and follow through on them.

You need someone with expertise in your restart area.

In any second chance, you need to find experts in what you are rebuilding. If the second chance was a marriage, you would need a good marriage counselor, or perhaps a book and seminar that would help you develop skills of communication and conflict you didn’t have in the failed marriage. In this case, since the work was a Temple rebuild, the expert was a priest. Though not all of the functions of the priest could be fully realized, it was still necessary to have someone who had those skills and understood the functions of the Temple. When you choose an expert for your team – you don’t have to fully use all of their services, but you should seek someone who has a background in the area in which you are trying to gain a second chance success.

In this case, the whole council of leaders was all named.

You will likely need other counselors and helpers. They can help, but people need to know who the leadership is accountable to, and how decisions will be made. They cannot simply walk lock step after one unaccountable leader. Time and time again this method has been used, and it is dangerous. Consider these words:

Proverbs 24:5-6 says, “A wise man is strong; a man of knowledge increases strength. For by wise counsel you shall make your defense: and in multitude of counselors there is safety.” Even more tellingly, Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counselors they are established.”

It is worth noting that even the leaders were people in the midst of change.

If you examine the other name list in Nehemiah 7, some of the leader’s names are not the same, but similar. Some Study Bibles note Seraiah was also called, Azariah; Reelaiah was called Raamiah, etc. This has to do, most likely with the men being in a multi-lingual environment. As with the people, so the leadership was going through a transformation of the old lives to the new, and facing challenges. Everything wasn’t instant for the leaders and progressive for the followers. In many churches, people assume that leaders have none of the problems that they experience in life. That isn’t true – it only means that in maturity and growth, they have shown themselves to be consistently moving through the obstacles of life!

Many believers find a way to be involved in ministry, and yet sculpt a position for themselves that has no real accountability. They do the work, but only on their terms – only their way. They feel they are servants, but on closer inspection, they are serving only how, when and where they choose to serve. They don’t come under the leadership when it doesn’t suit them. They are missing an ingredient, and can easily become destructive in the rebuild.

How does that help the person who needs a new career or has just faced a dissolved marriage? Keep reading. It means start with skilled counselors, experts in your re-start area and people who agree with your vision of where you believe God is leading you. Yet, there is much more here.

Second, you will need to organize the team.

These passages can seem mind numbing unless you are a fan of genealogies and old names – but God had at least two purposes for sharing them. Look at the list:

Ezra 2:2b “The number of the men of the people of Israel: 3 the sons of Parosh, 2,172; 4 the sons of Shephatiah, 372; 5 the sons of Arah, 775; 6 the sons of Pahath-moab of the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,812; 7 the sons of Elam, 1,254; 8 the sons of Zattu, 945; 9 the sons of Zaccai, 760; 10 the sons of Bani, 642; 11 the sons of Bebai, 623; 12 the sons of Azgad, 1,222; 13 the sons of Adonikam, 666; 14 the sons of Bigvai, 2,056; 15 the sons of Adin, 454; 16 the sons of Ater of Hezekiah, 98; 17 the sons of Bezai, 323; 18 the sons of Jorah, 112; 19 the sons of Hashum, 223; 20 the sons of Gibbar, 95; 21 the men of Bethlehem, 123; 22 the men of Netophah, 56; 23 the men of Anathoth, 128; 24 the sons of Azmaveth, 42; 25 the sons of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah and Beeroth, 743; 26 the sons of Ramah and Geba, 621; 27 the men of Michmas, 122; 28 the men of Bethel and Ai, 223; 29 the sons of Nebo, 52; 30 the sons of Magbish, 156; 31 the sons of the other Elam, 1,254; 32 the sons of Harim, 320; 33 the sons of Lod, Hadid and Ono, 725; 34 the men of Jericho, 345; 35 the sons of Senaah, 3,630.”

First, it is important to remember that these lists were essential records to Israel’s history and continuity. They became the basis of land claims and family property, along with many other ancient applications.

The question you may have is this: “Why save them for US?” Because they help us to recognize how a team works in practice or a second chance. Let me call you to observe a few things:

God kept an accurate account of the families scattered into exile, because even though life wasn’t what they knew it should be, the Lord knew them and watched over them. When you pass through severe trouble, it is essential that you remember YOU HAVE A NAME before the Lord. You neither a number nor a project – you are a person with a name, heritage and future in His story. This record reflects God’s oversight. God always keeps record – even amidst our walk in the world and disobedience. He knows WHO we are and WHERE we are. This can be such a comfort for the parent of the runaway child, or the brother or sister of one who has withdrawn from Christ. God keeps track right to the end – in the Lamb’s book of life.

Also, you may be able to tell the place of the people was diminished in the process of their troubles. Sin brought down a nation that once was sovereign among nations – and now they were a mere province of the world. Sin reduced influence and carried a substantive continued penalty – the subservience that came with bad choices. The borrower becomes the servant to the lender. The disobedient and wayward believer becomes a servant of the world’s system and purposes. It is a good reminder.

Third, don’t forget where they were headed – God preserved their place. It is good to recognize He knew them, but even better to see that He had a future place for them. Though they were in captivity, they were able to reassemble in the places God gave to them, because God kept their place for them. They could not expect this from God, and He was under no obligation to do it, but He was preparing to “restore the years the locusts had eaten.”

Note one more thing about this sterile looking list… the number of the journey was not fixed, because people changed their minds. The difference between the numbers here and in Nehemiah 7, (a cross referenced list) is likely due to the fact that some gave their names at first to return but later changed their minds, and vice versa. Even in the face of a new life, second chance restarts are HARD, and not everyone who begins the journey will see the choices through!

They were people who had a name—whose family had made a name for themselves. They had land and possessions in their family names. The Parosh estate, the Arah plantation, the Zattu place. They were the “old money” Jewish names in Babylon. But notice that that’s not the only laymen listed. From verse 21 through 35, they’re grouped according to what town they’re from because they didn’t have a big family name. They probably didn’t own land in their family names. They were the working class folks. In our day, they would be the ones who make it paycheck to paycheck. They’re the people who don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the inheritance tax, because they’re spending their kids’ inheritance now. Now, let me ask you—which group had a harder time packing up and leaving Babylon? They both did. What a difficult thing it would be to leave the security, heritage and tradition of the old home place. On the other hand, what a difficult thing it would be to leave when you have no idea where the next paycheck’s coming from. But these are the kind of laymen it takes to accomplish God’s work. He calls people from all different backgrounds, and of all different means and abilities.” (Sermon central illustrations).

The fact is that some people will start to rebuild life, but like a New Year’s resolution or gym membership – they will find the practice hard. People like the results by loathe the processes. Don’t be surprised is some don’t stick with the task.

Third, you will need intercessors.

The next list included those who stood before God on your behalf:

Ezra 2:36 The priests: the sons of Jedaiah of the house of Jeshua, 973; 37 the sons of Immer, 1,052; 38 the sons of Pashhur, 1,247; 39 the sons of Harim, 1,017.

Note that God superintended the high number of intercessors for the people – about a tenth of the company: total were above 42,000 (2:64), and four families of priests made up above 4200 (2:36-39). Since the work of the priest was to stand in representation of the people, they would need a lot of intercession to restore them to their place. In our day, it is worth recalling that many restorations come where many prayer warriors fight. We lack transformation power when we lack intercessors!

Three priests were heads of courses (cp. 1 Chronicles 24:7, 8, 14). The fourth was singled out, and is strangely the name Pashur. Could these be the posterity of that Pashur that abused Jeremiah (Jer. 20:1)? Many scholars think this is exactly that story and that is perfect – God bringing blessing out of a cursed man’s life. Isn’t that the essence of the restart? Though the man was negative and hurtful, God made his loin fruitful and his posterity blessing! Can we not see God’s mercy in this act?

Fourth, you will need spiritual direction from models.

Levites were spread around the land during the kingdom period by God to show the people how to walk with Him. Note the inclusion on this list:

Ezra 2:40 The Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviah, 74.

Look at what disobedience did to their ranks. Observe the diminished number of them! In earlier times the Levites were endowed with more duty than the priests (2 Chronicles 29:34), but not on the return. It appears being AMONG the people made them LESS DISTINCT, instead of better examples. It is also true that God uses different people at different times. In one time a specific group is the critical element, in another – God changes the landscape and suits a different group to carry the load.

When I was young the “door to door” visitation people were vital to the growth of a church. We gathered and went out on Tuesday night and knocked on doors to share Christ. There are still some that think if their church isn’t growing it is because people aren’t doing what used to work.

During this transition, God took the work of the Levites and turned it more toward an emerging learned group that would later be simply called “rabbi”. (“Rabbi” – pronounced “rah-vee” in Hebrew – literally means “my master”; from the word “rav,” whch means “master.” In modern Hebrew, “rabbotai” is the equivalent of “gentlemen.” Public announcements begin with the phrase: “G’virotai ve-rabbotai…” which is simply “Ladies and gentlemen.”)

Don’t miss that a restart team still needs models. The critical work of the Levites was practical training in everything from sacrificial practices to directions for around the Temple Mount. They were modelers that lived in every region, and servants that worked in the Temple of God. How critical! If we are to reset our lives to God’s standards, we will require practical models.

Fifth, you need people who lift you.

In every re-start team, you will need encouragers. I would argue you need them in every successful life. In this case, worship leaders helped the team to reset and grow.

Ezra 2:41 The singers: the sons of Asaph, 128. 42 The sons of the gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, the sons of Shobai, in all 139.

Though it is true that worship is not singing, it is equally true that music can be a chief aid to worship and its setting. Among the children of Levi were those who were called to draw the people to worship through song. God created music as part of the first world of spiritual beings, and God Himself is a singer.

God was joyous over their return as He promised to Jeremiah (32:41: “And I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul”.) He wanted some music for the return, and He added the leaders of worship to the mix of the return. Without WORSHIP there is no real return to God. Without MUSIC, the journey is a cerebral one, and does not mix the beauty of the heart! Don’t forget to include people in your life that will call you to worship and celebrate God’s goodness!

Sixth, you will need caring friends.

Sometimes you need people to work beside that aren’t evaluating your life, or working to help you grow, they are just people who work with you and make you laugh. In the case of rebuilding the Temple, it took many “behind the scenes servants” to help reset the work and grow it.

Ezra 2:43 The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, 44 the sons of Keros, the sons of Siaha, the sons of Padon, 45 the sons of Lebanah, the sons of Hagabah, the sons of Akkub, 46 the sons of Hagab, the sons of Shalmai, the sons of Hanan, 47 the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah, 48 the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, the sons of Gazzam, 49 the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai, 50 the sons of Asnah, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephisim, 51 the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, 52 the sons of Bazluth, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, 53 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, 54 the sons of Neziah, the sons of Hatipha. 55 The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Hassophereth, the sons of Peruda, 56 the sons of Jaalah, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, 57 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, the sons of Ami. 58 All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392.

Though we haven’t spoken much about it, this was a rebuild of a ministry of God among men – and ministry doesn’t just happen, it is planned and executed by people who work at it. God provided the returning group with men and women who would serve in many areas to make the whole program come together and not miss the depth of blessing that comes with INVOLVEMENT. The idea of service is not simply to fill the need – it is to wrap yourself in the objectives of God for one another.

There is a very common question on both scholarship and college admittance applications. Many of those forms ask the question, “Are you a leader?” One time, an honest young lady came to that question on a college application. She wrestled with the answer for a long time. She knew what the answer was supposed to be. She was supposed to talk about all the wonderful leadership qualities she had. But she also knew that she didn’t have those qualities. She knew she wasn’t a leader. So, should she be honest or give them what they wanted to hear? Since she was such an honest young lady, she gave the honest answer. She wrote down that she wasn’t a leader and mailed in the application. Of course she expected the worst. Here’s the letter she received back: “Dear Applicant: A study of our application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new freshman leaders. We are accepting you to our college because we feel it necessary for them to have at least one follower.” (Sermon central illustrations).

Seventh, you may need supporters to work with you.

God took the time to list people with their assets..

Ezra 2:64 The whole assembly numbered 42,360, 65 besides their male and female servants who numbered 7,337; and they had 200 singing men and women. 66 Their horses were 736; their mules, 245; 67 their camels, 435; their donkeys, 6,720. 68 Some of the heads of fathers’ households, when they arrived at the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, offered willingly for the house of God to restore it on its foundation. 69 According to their ability they gave to the treasury for the work 61,000 gold drachmas and 5,000 silver minas and 100 priestly garments. 70 Now the priests and the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers and the temple servants lived in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.

Though not everyone had a title, everyone was on the same mission and would need to sacrifice to accomplish the rebuild. The supporters were the mass of un-named caring workers and givers that made the journey and its results honoring to God. It is extremely rare that one can come back from darkness without supporters. We all seem to need them sometime. They are the people we call on for help and resource as we learn to honor God with our lives! The key to their life work was the word “willingly”. They gave because they knew INSIDE that it honored God. The worked to please Him, even at sacrifice to themselves. They were not perfect, but they were willing!

Finally, there is a short list of people we dare not follow those who don’t have the qualifications to lead.

Listen carefully, there will always be people who will feel qualified to lead in a work, but should not be allowed…

Ezra 2:59 Now these are those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan and Immer, but they were not able to give evidence of their fathers’ households and their descendants, whether they were of Israel: 60 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 652.

God said that He chose those who would have spiritual leadership over His flock. He gave them the position by virtue of their BIRTH, not by an earned degree. Without that birth, they could not begin to serve in the post. In that same way, we all have the gifts that place our work in the body of Messiah by means of a NEW BIRTH. Our gifting is not our own – it is the work of the Spirit of God at our salvation. We are appointed to serve according to our gifts. They must be developed, but they are bestowed. Those who have no evidence of that gifting must not be placed into the position. How often I have sat and listened to a man that should never have been given a pulpit. How many times I have watched a man of mercy try to teach. We must be careful not to place people into positions because of the influence of their family, or the misplaced desire of their heart. We must carefully gauge their giftedness, and then set them on the task of becoming proficient within their gifting.

Evidence was demanded – and so it should have been. Even now, we can’t just take the ones that speak well and let them lead. Some couldn’t demonstrate God specified qualifications that allowed them to lead.

Ezra 2:61 Of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and he was called by their name. 62 These searched among their ancestral registration, but they could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood. 63 The governor said to them that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest stood up with Urim and Thummim.

Spiritual leadership is serious business. We dare not simply “take their word for it”. The people sought God and sought evidence, and both were necessary.

Before we leave this chapter, let’s also recall that real leaders – LEAD. They don’t need titles or perks to influence people. They see the need and they find a way to act:

In a Japanese seaside village over a hundred years ago, an earthquake startled the villagers late one autumn evening. Being so accustomed to earthquakes and not feeling another follow, they soon went back to their activities without giving it another thought. An old farmer was watching from his home on a high plain above the village. He looked out at the sea and noticed that the water appeared dark and was acting strangely, moving against the wind and running away from the land. The old man knew what that meant. His one thought was to warn the people in the village below. He called to his grandson, “Bring me a torch! Hurry!” In the fields behind him lay his great crop of rice that was piled high in stacks that were ready for the market; it was worth a fortune. The old man hurried out to the stacks with his torch. In a flash the dry stalks were ablaze. Soon the big bell pealed from the temple below: Fire! Back from the beach, away from the sea, up the steep side of the cliff came the people of the village, running as fast as they could. They were coming to try to save the crops of their neighbor. “He’s mad!” they said when they saw that he just stood there watching them come and staring out toward the sea. As they reached the level of the fields the old man shouted at the top of his voice over the roaring of the flames while pointing toward the sea, “Look!” At the edge of the horizon they saw a long, thin, and faint line – a line that grew thicker as they watched. That line was the sea, rising like a wall, getting higher and coming more and more swiftly as they stared. Then came the shock, heavier than thunder; the great wall of water struck the shore with a fierceness and a force that sent a shudder through the hills and tore the homes below into matchsticks. The water withdrew with a roaring sound. Then it returned and struck again, and again, and again. One final time it struck and ebbed, then returned to its place and its pattern. On the plain no one spoke a word for a long while. Finally the voice of the old man could be heard, saying softly, gently, “That is why I set fire to the rice.” He now stood among them just as poor as the poorest of them; his wealth was gone – all for the sake of 400 lives. By that sacrifice he will long be remembered, not by his wealth. He was not saddened by what his sacrifice cost him; he was overjoyed at what was saved. (A-Z Preaching Illustrations).

A second chance is a new day – a new opportunity! Don’t mess up the restoration by haphazardly putting together a losing team! Assembling the right team is essential to set the second chance on a positive path.