September 30: Are You a Participant?

Read Ezra 7:1-28

Historian? Spectator? Participant? Which are you?

Ezra began writing this book as a historian. He wrote about events that had taken place decades before. He wrote about Israelites who returned as part of a first wave of former captives to their homeland in 538. He was a stickler when it came to details, recounting specific families and numbers from that family that returned. He wrote about how they began work on the temple and the opposition the workers faced. He wrote about the seventeen year standstill on temple construction. He wrote about the influence of Haggai and Zechariah as they inspired people to return to the job site. He wrote about a king who gave official permission to continue the construction.

All of this happened before Ezra was born. But he told the story as one who had investigated the details.

Most of us enjoy telling a good story and all of us enjoy hearing one.

But now, in chapter seven, the story moves from a third person account of what others did in days gone by to a first person telling of what God was doing in and through Ezra. This historian became a participant!

When it comes to what God is doing in this world, which are you?

Are you a historian who can retell the stories of what God has done in the past in and through others? Are you a spectator who observes God’s work from a distance but, for whatever reason, you never join in? Or, are you a participant who rolls up your sleeves and commits to being part of what God is doing?

Ezra was a participant. I suppose that is no surprise. After all, look at the kind of person he was:

  • He was committed to studying, obeying, and teaching the Scriptures (v. 10).
  • He was trusted by the king (vv. 15-26).
  • He was able to inspire others (v. 28).

God chose to use him. And here is where the story turns from “he, she, and they then” to “I, me, and we now.”

Does your account of what God is doing in the world have a humble “I, me, and we now” chapter to it or is it only about other people at other times?

sbk

Posted in Return

September 29: An Unstoppable Plan

Read Ezra 5:1-6:22

It was in the year 538 b.c. that Cyrus, King of Persia, permitted thousands of Jews to return from their captivity in Babylon to their homeland and its capital city of Jerusalem. Shortly after their homecoming, they began to rebuild the temple that had been destroyed under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. These were great milestones in Jewish history and in the plan of God.

But not everyone welcomed the Jews back with open arms. And not everyone supported their efforts to reconstruct the temple for worship. It seemed that construction workers encountered opposition on every side. This opposition culminated in a letter from a new king instructing them to stop.

But when God purposes something, He is unstoppable!

He can use pagan leaders to see that His purposes are accomplished. Even the Babylonian exile had been part of His plan to bring punishment on His people. God used Nebuchadnezzar, a foreign king, as His servant to bring that about. Similarly, He chose to direct Cyrus, King of Persia, to bring His people back and begin construction.

He uses courageous people to create forward momentum. Even though it was “illegal” to build, God spoke through prophets like Haggai and Zechariah to cause people to get back to the project. In spite of opposition, men like Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and other prophets returned to the work site.

God uses normal people to bring about the impossible. Once the records were found and another decree had been given, others joined in the project . . . and brought it to completion. How great the celebration must have been as God’s people finished and dedicated His house! How meaningful it must have been to celebrate that first Passover after decades!

God’s purposes cannot be thwarted! And He uses all kinds of people to accomplish them.

What is it that God purposes today? Jesus described another construction project that is front and center in the plan of God. He said, “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18)! Nothing will thwart His efforts and yet He also invites you and me to join Him in this undertaking. It will necessitate courage. Your role will include going and proclaiming the gospel to those who don’t know Jesus and being a blessing to those who do. Though the opposition is real, His plan is being realized even now!

sbk

Posted in Return

September 28: Opposition

Read Ezra 4:1-24

The headlines today regularly cover some kind of opposition being expressed towards Israel. That is certainly nothing new. There was evidence of it even before their enslavement in Egypt leading up to the exodus under the leadership of Moses.

We have recently spoken of it during the time of the Babylonian exile in the sixth century b.c.  During that time, tens of thousands of Jews were carted off to Babylon while their holy city, Jerusalem, was destroyed. And in today’s reading, even though Cyrus had granted permission for their return and for the rebuilding of the temple, opposition was still prevalent.

At first, the opposition was less obvious. Enemy people claiming the same allegiance to God offered their assistance. While it may have been true that these people sought and sacrificed to Jehovah, theirs was a syncretistic faith where the one true God was but one of many they worshiped.

Still today, we must be careful. Not all who claim a common faith with us worship only the God of heaven through Jesus Christ His Son. The leaders of Judah did well to not permit them to join the project.

Next, enemies found ways of slowing and stopping the construction project by discouraging the workers, making them afraid to build. For years, they even bribed local officials to frustrate the work. In this case, the opposition was more obvious.

As I look back over the now more than five decades of my life, I am amazed to see how opposition to Christianity has become much more blatant. There was a time when Christian influence and convictions were appreciated . . . and even reflected in the society as a whole (even among unbelievers). Today? Not so much.

Finally, the opposition was taken to the national level. Local opposition invited national leaders to take a closer look at the history of this “subversive group.” As a result, the construction project was shut down. Indeed, today we live at a time where it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a fervent follower of Christ. Laws urge toward political correctness, and people tell us to curb our speech and douse or zeal.

But don’t let the opposition prevent you from being someone who loves God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

sbk

Posted in Return

September 27: No Comparison

Read Ezra 3:1-13

If you trace the history of the Jewish temple to its original roots, you will discover it all began with a portable tent.

During the time of Moses and the Exodus, the Tent of Meeting represented the very place where the omnipresent God of the universe “dwelt.” Into this tent, Moses would often go to meet with God. When he came out, he would have to place a veil over his face that was aglow from his encounter with God.

Years passed and the Israelites settled into the Promised Land.

There was the time of the judges and then of the kings. Though David had wanted to construct a more permanent building for worship, sacrifice, and for God to manifest his presence, he was not permitted. Instead, Solomon, David’s son, was the one who oversaw this important project. The building that resulted was elaborate! But it was God’s abiding Shekinah glory that made it all that it was.

Unfortunately, that temple was destroyed under King Nebuchadnezzar’s rule. Then, under Cyrus, king of Persia, Jews were permitted to return with the specific responsibility of rebuilding the temple. The reconstruction of this building and the reassembly of the articles from the temple would allow God’s people to once again worship God and offer sacrifices just as God had outlined in the Old Testament Law.

First to be constructed was the altar where sacrifices were made and offerings given. Next, temple reconstruction began. The laying of the foundation was a milestone accomplishment. It was celebrated with great fanfare.

While many rejoiced, however, a handful wept. These were the older Jews. Those mourning were the men who, years earlier, had seen the more elaborate temple in all of its glory. Somehow, it was clear to them that this one would not compare. Still void of the glory of God, they could not envision this temple being a place of worship.

While we must, of course, have a concern for the glory of God, there can be a real danger in comparison. We tend to “glorify” the past, don’t we? The song expresses our sentiments well at times, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Somehow, new and different just doesn’t compare with old and proven. Is it possible, though, that God can still use and be honored through the new and different?

sbk

Posted in Return

September 26: Lots of Numbers!

Read Ezra 2:1-70

For some, today’s reading may have been reminiscent of the genealogies found in other Bible passages. Though no mention of anyone dying, there were lots of names and numbers. Someone in 538 b. c. sure kept great records of people, their family lineage, livestock, and offerings given!

Before we disregard the value of a passage like this, let’s review a bit of history. Seventy years earlier, many Jews had been led into Babylonian captivity. Over the following twenty years, three different waves of exiles from Judah were carted off. And now, at the time of the return, certainly many, if not most, of those original exiles were deceased. It isn’t a stretch to think that the majority of those returning to their home land had never before seen it or were mere children when they had last been there.

In spite of all of the troubles associated with captivity, one generation had successfully passed along a spiritual legacy to the next. They had clearly communicated to their children who they were and where their real home was. Both of those realities could have been easily lost in the generational translation. After all, some of them had neither known anything else nor been anywhere else. Still, they knew who they were and where their real home was.

Those are two truths we can easily lose sight of, aren’t they? Living in this world where we have to do business, relate to others, and declare allegiances, we can forget that we are first and foremost children of the King. We are followers of Christ. While, of necessity, we must carry on, we have an entirely different purpose in being here. We are here as His representatives.

Similarly, there are certain joys, alluring temptations, or just plain adversity associated with the years that we spend on the earth. But again, we dare not forget that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). That is our true home. Before we establish roots that reach too deeply into earth’s soil, let’s make sure we have our eyes set on our final destination.

sbk

Posted in Return

September 25: Worship Where?

Read Ezra 1:1-11

In 539 b. c. Jews may have wondered about their future. The once unified nation had split into two: Israel and Judah. “Their” land had been invaded and the capital city had been destroyed. People had been taken into captivity among neighboring nations. Rather than being a blessing to other nations, they were a laughing stock. Judah alone had been subject to the Babylonian, then the Median, and now the Persian empires for more than six decades.

But in 538 that all changed. After 70 years of captivity, true to His promise, God stirred the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia. He allowed Jews to return to their home country and its capitol city and begin reconstructing their temple.

It was a key event. The land belonged to God’s people. Jerusalem was special. The temple was central to Old Testament worship as the place where God had chosen to manifest His presence in a unique way. With zeal and with vessels stolen decades before from the temple, thousands of people returned to their home land.

This represented the restoration of God’s people. It had all the makings of revival among God’s people!

Fast forward nearly 600 years. Jesus saw another day coming. He envisioned a change. Sitting next to a woman at a well in Samaria, He spoke to her in John 4 and said,

“. . . a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (vv. 21-23).

Jesus anticipated the days in which you and I now live. He, the very source of salvation, had come. There would be a shift in worship. No longer would it have a geographic element to it. God’s presence would no longer be associated with a physical building. Instead, He now abides in all who commit themselves to Christ. Regardless of location and with or without a building, we can worship God!

Take advantage of that reality today.

sbk

Posted in Return

September 24: The Giving and Receiving

Read James 5:13-20

Have you ever been that person? Have you felt down and out, but there was no one with whom to share your feelings? Have you been ill, but had no one to pray or care for you? Have you felt ecstatic about life, but lacked a person with whom to share the gusto? Have you wandered off track and had no “GPS person” to bring the course correction?

If you have been that person, you know how dangerous, lonely, and discouraging life can be. God never intended your life to be that way. He has designed us for community . . . especially as Jesus followers. Our lives are to be lived not only in harmony with one another, but also caring genuinely for one another, weeping and rejoicing together. (Rom. 12:15, 16)

When I live life like that, my trouble is not only voiced, but it becomes someone else’s concern. The other person helps to bear a burden that was all too weighty when I was carrying it alone. (Gal. 6:2) They direct me to my divine source of help. 

When I live life like that, my joy is neither contained nor is it merely a celebration between me and my Father. Others join me in the festivity of giving praise to God. They sing happy hallelujahs with me!

When I live life like that, my sin is no longer something I conceal in shame. Instead, I confess it to God and to a caring brother/sister who lovingly prays for my healing and holds me accountable in areas of powerful struggle. They are interested in my rescue, not my ridicule!

But I also dare not forget that living life like that requires that I am not only on the receiving end. I am the one bearing a brother’s burden. I am the one sharing in a sister’s joy. I am the one pointing a person towards righteous living.

Not only do I have the opportunity to experience the blessing on the receiving end of a providential relationship, but I am also called to the responsibility of being the one giving that blessing to others.

sbk 

Posted in James