“God, I’m sorry if I sinned in some way”

Ezra 9-10 … 1 Corinthians 6

We hear a lot of meaningless apologies. “I’m sorry if you took that the wrong way,” “I apologize if anyone was hurt,” or “Mistakes were made.”  But the reality of sin in light of God’s holiness doesn’t allow for wiggle room with insincere confessions like, “God, I’m sorry if I sinned in some way.”

When we are confronted with the reality of our sinful attitudes and actions, our response should be like Ezra — to throw ourselves before the Lord in repentance and confession. Not because we are worms groveling at the feet of a sadistic monster, but because, like Ezra, we know that our God is gracious.

“Even in our slavery, God has given us new life and light to our eyes. Though we are slaves, our God has not abandoned us in our slavery. He has extended grace to us in the presence of the Persian kings, giving us new life, so that we can rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.” Ezra 9: 8b-9

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Ezra finds out that the people of Israel, including the priests and Levites, have been intermarrying with the pagan cultures surrounding them. His reaction?

As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled” (9:3)

It seems almost inconceivable that the Israelites of Ezra’s day could have fallen into the sin of intermarrying with the idolatrous peoples around them. God had strictly forbidden inter-marriage with other nations, because He knew that His people’s hearts would be led astray by these unions. This was not an issue of racial purity, by the way, but spiritual purity.

And much like patterns of sin in our own lives, Israel’s pattern of intermarrying with pagan cultures was not new. Solomon married many foreign women who worshipped detestable idols and turned his heart from the Lord.

We might have thought that Israel’s seventy-year captivity in Babylon finally cured God’s people of their infatuation with idol worship. But here were some of the former exiles, including the leaders, disobeying God and inviting His judgment again by taking foreign women as wives for themselves and their sons. No wonder Ezra tore his clothes and even pulled out some of his hair, a sign of extreme anguish.

In my more modern image, I picture Ezra doing a major forehead slap and screaming at them, “Are you KIDDING me?!?!”

If spiritual amnesia comes as easy to us as it did the people of Ezra’s day (and it does), maybe we need to practice our remembering.

Here’s a brief prayer checklist list I found that you can use each day to keep your memory of God’s will sharp in your mind.

1) Give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18)

2) Ask God to search your heart and show you any “offensive way” (Ps. 139:23–24)

3) Don’t be anxious about anything, but bring your requests to God (Phil. 4:6)

4) Ask God to cleanse you from “hidden faults” and keep you from “willful sins” (Ps. 19:12–13)

After sitting appalled, and praying to God himself, Ezra gave the people this advice,

make a confession to Yahweh the God of your fathers and do His will. Separate yourselves “ Ezra 10:11

Being sorry is a necessary step, but doing something about it is what shows sincerity. It also can help to keep us from repeating the same mistake again. 

Maybe we should add a step 5 to that list in honor of Ezra…

5.) Take action in your repentance. Show it. Live a changed life. (Ezra 10:11)

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 9-10 and 1 Corinthians 6

Hupernikao: Overwhelmingly Conquer

Reading for today:

Ezra 7-8 … 1 Corinthians 5

It may not seem like there’s much of a time gap between chapters 6 and 7 in the book of Ezra, but if you were to look at a timeline of Persian rulers (and why wouldn’t you?) you would notice that between Darius (chapter 6) and Artaxerxes (chapter7) they skip a whole ruler: Xerxes.

And that name may ring a bell if you’ve ever read the book of Esther (if you haven’t, you definitely should). The book of Esther spotlights Jewish exiles who chose to stay in Persia rather than return to Israel, and Esther’s heroism in rescuing them from annihilation.

“…who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b)

Like Esther, Ezra had a purpose to fulfill in his specific place and time.

We learn that this godly man was a descendant of Aaron, which established his right to function as a priest and teacher (7: 5-6). Ezra also knew the Word of God and lived it, which was one of the most important features of his life. He was skilled in understanding God’s law and explaining it to others.  Ezra’s commitment to know and live God’s Word was one reason for the impact he had for the Lord in his time.

Preparation. “Ezra prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach” (7:10). Our heart must first be put right with God before our life is truly ready for Him to use fully. Certainly, he can use anyone, anytime…but if we want to be all that God designed us to be, we need to start inside. Other translations of this verse use words like “dedicated, devoted, firmly resolved, and set his heart” to give us a greater picture of what this preparation might look like.

Power. “The hand of the Lord his God was upon him” (7:6). Because of this invisible and powerful hand upon him, the king granted him “all his requests.” I don’t think it’s any accident or coincidence that God’s hand acted on Ezra’s behalf, helping him in his endeavors. After all, Ezra was a man who had “devoted his heart” to seeking God’s ways. What a lovely illustration of God actively intervening to act on behalf of those who actively set their hearts on Him.

In chapter 8 we see Ezra, again, preparing not only himself, but all the people for their trip to Jerusalem.

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.” Ezra 8:21

As we seek God in prayer and fasting, we honor him and set our hearts on Him. We acknowledge that we don’t possess a power great enough to overcome that which is before us, but we know HE does, HE is.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:37

The Greek word translated as ‘more than conquerors’ in this verse is “hupernikao” which means “overwhelmingly conquer.” It doesn’t mean “barely eek out” or “just get by.” It indicates a crushing victory.

Picture a wrecking ball.

You and I don’t possess wrecking ball kind of power on our own, but this verse tells us that through our great God, we have that power in us, available to us.

Ezra knew it.

And he knew how to utilize it, too. Not by looking within himself– but by preparing, dedicating, setting his heart on God’s word and trusting that God’s hand would overcome.

“I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was on me…”  Ezra 7:28

hupernikao

it’s fun to say

– Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 7-8 and 1 Corinthians 5

Overcoming your Thoughts

Reading for today:

Ezra 3-4 … 1 Corinthians 3

If you were to get the Bjorksnas dresser from Ikea with all of its 678 (just a guess) pieces, are you the kind of person who would meticulously follow the instructions or are you more of a ‘this looks about right’ kind of person?

Twice in today’s passage, Ezra records that the people returning from exile did things “in accordance with what is written”

“Jeshua son of Jozadak and his brothers the priests along with Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his brothers began to build the altar of Israel’s God in order to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God.” (Ezra 3:2)

“They celebrated the Festival of Booths as prescribed, and offered burnt offerings each day, based on the number specified by ordinance for each festival day.” (Ezra 3:4)

What makes this even more impressive is what we find out in between these two verses:

“They set up the altar on its foundation and offered burnt offerings for the morning and evening on it to the Lord even though they feared the surrounding peoples.” (Ezra 3:3)

Even though they feared…

They did all these things, so careful to faithfully follow the specific instructions of their God, despite their fear. Impressive.

We’re doing a study in our Wednesday night class right now on a book about changing your thoughts, which leads to a changed life.

The place we’re at in our study currently is teaching us that at the root of any behavior that we might wish to change is a lie that we have (probably unknowingly) believed. We are learning how to identify those lies and create new neural pathways in our brains to (hopefully) eventually develop new behaviors. (If you’re interested, btw, the book is Winning the War in Your Mind, by Craig Groeschel .)

Typically, when we start to practice taking that new pathway, it can feel weird…it can feel uncomfortable…it can even feel scary. But it’s only in acting when we feel scared or uncomfortable that we are able to overcome the existing pathway and create a new one.

This scientific knowledge confirms what the Bible has told us for generations, which is that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

The only way to overcome a falsehood is with the truth. And in order for truth to really permeate our mind it has to become personal to us.

Simply printing out a Bible verse and sticking it to your mirror isn’t going to cut it. Take that verse, pull out the truth as it applies to the lie you are believing and write a declaration.

Here’s what I mean:

  • You struggle with trusting God, so you decide to hang up the verse that says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” to remind yourself of the truth that you can trust God to take care of you.
  • Instead, consider taking that same verse and personalizing it by writing out a statement like this, “God loves me more than I love myself. He knows me more than I know myself. He has my best interests at heart and He can be trusted. If He didn’t spare His own Son, but gave Him for us all, I can trust that he will graciously give me all things as well.”
  • And then even shorten it further, perhaps, to put to memory, “I can trust that God will graciously give me all things.”

Write it. Speak it. Think it. And as you begin to practice a new behavior, rooted in truth, it may feel scary. But press through and keep at it!

Renew your mind and overcome the lies that hold you back from living the life that God intends for you to live.

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 3

The Scourge Of Red Tape

Ezra 4-6 and Psalm 137

Part of today’s reading is Psalm 137. I’m starting with it because this is not a note to end on. Sit with it a few minutes, but don’t take it with you for the whole day. Maybe there is no helping that. 

Psalm 137 is a tour through the raw emotions felt by those in exile. It’s the lament of the desperately misplaced. It’s a prayer to remember their home, Jerusalem, and their former standing with God. It’s a chilling and shocking request for God to repay Babylon for what they did to Jerusalem, concluding with the horrifying mental image of babies being smashed against rocks. The emotions are palpable and powerful.

Let that be a “looking back” exercise from where we are in Ezra. Look how far things have come, from complete and utter despair in a foreign land, to being home again and in the process of rebuilding and restoring. Speaking of Ezra…

When you try to do something worthwhile, there is likely to be a few obstacles. Even the most simple of projects can take twice as long as you’d thought. And that’s without anyone trying to sabotage your efforts.

At this point in the book of Ezra, the people of Jerusalem are working hard on rebuilding the city and temple, probably running into all the usual pitfalls of trying to build things. But they have a much bigger problem: Some locals are trying to stop them from building, even actively sabotaging their building plans.

These locals write the king about the people in Jerusalem, employing disinformation and half-truths, and claiming that they are all troublemakers who will rebel once the city and walls are built. The king Artaxerxes can agree that, historically speaking, they are indeed troublemakers, and he orders the construction halted.

Amidst the long hiatus, the Jews in Jerusalem receive some much needed encouragement from the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and are sparked to begin rebuilding again. Tomorrow we’ll be looking at the part Haggai played in this.

Soon after starting the project back up, they are pestered by the locals again, who are questioning if they have permission to build. They provide their entire story, and inform the locals that Cyrus commanded them to rebuild. Word gets back to the king and they do some fact checking in the archives. They find the papers regarding the edict of Cyrus, and the king makes it clear that the original edict stands. The rebuilding will continue, and the efforts will be subsidized by the empire, including animals to sacrifice.

But did you catch what the king’s motivations are? It is “so that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king as his children.” So it isn’t so much for the people as much as it’s to ensure the well-being of the king. What, did you think the king wasn’t getting something out this deal?

Overcoming these obstacles, the rebuilding of the temple is eventually finished, followed by a dedication for the temple, a massive sacrifice to atone for the sins of Israel, the appointing of priests, and observing feasts (think back to the first temple in 1 Kings 8). In other words, they are doing all the things they were not able to do while in exile. Now they have a stronger connection to and reestablishment of their worship and traditions they enjoyed before they were exiled.

It is a joyous day. Indeed they’ve come far toward restoration, but we’re left with an anti-climax and the feeling that there is much work left to be done. You can’t just build a temple, go through some motions, snap your fingers, and declare that the people are restored. There is work yet to be done on the hearts of the people.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Psalm 137 & Ezra 4-6

Tomorrow we will read the two chapter book of Haggai as we continue on the

Hello, IT. Yeah Huh. Have You Tried Forcing An Unexpected Reboot?

Ezra 1-3

The book of Ezra picks up the story of Israel at a very important moment: the return from exile. The Persians swoop in and conquer the Babylonians in 539 BC. The persian King, Cyrus the Great, acknowledging God for giving him the kingdoms of the earth, issues a proclamation that the temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt. The Jews who were taken captive and exiled in Babylon are allowed to return to the land they call home and help rebuild the temple. We’re reminded of the Exodus, when God’s people were freed from the clutches of Pharaoh.

For an ancient king, Cyrus seems to be especially respectful of the customs and religions of his subjects. It turns out that this is in a way beneficial for him, since allowing your subjects freedom of religion and not enslaving them earns you so much more support and makes for a more stable empire. He was a bit of a trend setter in this regard.

Cyrus is reversing what Nebuchadnezzar set in motion. Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian empire conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, took the temple vessels, and scattered the people into exile. Cyrus has conquered Babylon, allowed everyone to go back to where they call home, given back the temple vessels, and ordered the temple rebuilt. But really it is God doing the exiling and reversing, through the hands of these kings, to give his people another chance.

Ezra 2 gives an extensive list of the wave of 50,000 some people who returned to Judah, and details the livestock, if you were dying to know. We usually think this kind of passage is a bit of a drag, but it’s really more of a celebration, with more confetti at every name and number. Think of the importance they placed on leadership, and the legacy and roles of the people mentioned. Each of these people are going back to wherever they call home, where they have deep roots and history. Each of them has something unique to contribute toward rebuilding their lives, and they’ll need the skills and resources of everyone to restore Jerusalem and the temple.

Similarly, in the body of Christ, we need the unique skills and gifts everyone brings to the table. We all play an important role in taking care of each other and reaching out into the world.

And so the project begins. First things first! They make sure there is at least an altar and that the usual schedule of sacrifices is back on track. They are trying to build a continuity between what their lives were like before the exile and what they are like now after the exile. Being able to worship again is a stepping stone toward restoration. Routines are important!

Into the second year after returning to Jerusalem, the materials and workers are all being gathered to get the temple together again. When the foundation is laid, there is a big ceremony with music and singing to God. They sing, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” Things are looking up. We’ve got the people, the temple foundation, and some semblance of our usual worship.

But there is something in the air that signals to us that not everything is quite right again. While many people are shouting loudly for joy, many of the older folks who saw the first temple are weeping loudly. It is bittersweet. It is good that there is now at least part of a temple, yet it doesn’t hold a candle to what it was before.

We end chapter 3 with this very divided response to the temple. The noise is so loud that they can’t tell who is joyful and who is sorrowful. They’ve been waiting so many years just for this chance to rebuild, and now it’s not even clear if it is a good thing or not. 

But restoration is a process. Most things that we want, we can get almost instantly. I can drive to the store and get ice cream. I can order something from Amazon almost without moving a muscle, and it will arrive in two days. Way in the future, in the year 2000, we’ll just think of what we need, and it will materialize in our teleportation device. But doing something of significance takes time, effort, prayer, and also probably money. And so does rebuilding Jerusalem. It is tempting to compare back to what things used to be like (the “good old days”) and be discouraged. What we might be missing is that God’s plans and ideas usually break our categories for what we think is even possible.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on BibleGateway here – Ezra 1-3

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Ezra 4-6 and Psalm 137 as we continue on our

Camping in Enemy Territory

Ezra 8-10

ezra822

Wednesday, December 7

Who would have thought that there would be a story about camping in the Bible.  The book of Ezra goes on to tell about how Ezra went with a company of people and those of Levitical heritage on a journey to the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding area.  They had a long, dangerous trek ahead of them sometimes even camping  in enemy territory.  They did not ask for soldiers or guards to protect them for their journey because they had said to the king that their God would protect them.  They were placing their trust in God to see them through the rough territory and prayed specifically for Him to protect them, their  children, and their possessions.  God honored their trust in Him and protected them.  When they arrived at Jerusalem they were able to give the gifts that King Artexerxes had sent, and able to offer the appropriate sacrifices.  They were also able to deliver the king’s edicts to the governors in the provinces beyond the river, and so Jerusalem’s neighbors began to show support for Jerusalem and the people who inhabited it, and the temple of God.

Then it is brought to Ezra’s attention that God’s people have been intermarrying with the idol worshipping people of the area around Jerusalem.  God had specified that the people should not intermarry as not to become entangled in the worship of other false gods within their homes, and the pagan influence that would be brought upon their children.  God wanted to keep his people from being drawn into pagan idol worship as they were so prone to being drawn into.  Ezra went into a time of mourning for the situation of God’s people.   He pleads with God for forgiveness for the people’s sins of disobedience.   A time of group repentance was held and sacrifices made to pay for the sins of disobedience to God in marrying foreign women who did not worship God thus concluding the book of Ezra.

What caught my eye was that Ezra and his company of people camping along the way decided to ask God for His protection instead of asking the King for a human army of protection.  They could have been attacked at any time by enemy forces, but because they chose to ask God for protection and trust Him – God protected them.  Have you ever asked God for his protection?  Are there times that you have felt God protecting you?  God is faithful to his promise that when we place our trust in Him, He will bring us through whatever situation we find ourselves in.    Key thought:  Place your trust in God because he is faithful to his promises.

-Merry Peterson

 

 

 

 

Some People Lift You Up – Others Bring You Down

Ezra 5-7

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Tuesday, December 6

Some people really make your day, others – well they can really make your day worse.  With so much discouragement for the Jews in rebuilding the city of Jerusalem God decided to send several prophets to encourage the people in finishing work on the temple.  The prophets  Haggai and Zechariah were especially influential in bringing God’s encouragement to the workers rebuilding the temple.  A governor named Tattenai from beyond the river tried to put a stop to the rebuilding process by asking who had given them permission to rebuild the temple.    He wanted a detailed, official report from King Darius of who had truly funded this rebuilding project,  why this temple was being rebuilt and any details that might cast a negative light on the Jews rebuilding of their city.  King Darius looked into the matter and discovered that king Cyrus had indeed been moved by God to let the Jews rebuild the temple and their city with part of the bill being paid by the Babylonian empire.  Darius was so moved by the reading of the documents that he decreed that anyone who opposed the rebuilding project should be put to death and their home destroyed.  So the Jews were able to complete the rebuilding of God’s temple in Jerusalem with the encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah.

The city was beginning to take shape, and this is where Ezra whom the book is named after  comes onto the scene.  He was a priest and scribe in Babylon who had favor with the Babylonian king after Darius which was king Artaxerxes.  Ezra was decreed by the King to go to Jerusalem and select men who would be rulers over the city and set up the civil government of the city, appointing magistrates and judges for the people.  But King Artaxerxes didn’t send them empty handed.  He sent them with many gifts to embellish the temple and many measures of wheat, wine, oil, and salt that would be needed.  He even gave authorization to use the royal treasury money for whatever else they needed to ensure that proper temple worship could be accomplished.  This greatly encouraged Ezra and the people of God in Jerusalem.

Thinking about the many players in this account of the rebuilding of the temple it seems to me that there are those who are determined to bring the people encouragement and those who are determined to bring the people discouragement.  Are there people like that in your life too?  You may have noticed that there are some people who lift up your spirit, and some people who bring your spirit low.  Notice how God knew the discouraging people who brought the people down, and would send someone like Haggai or Ezra along to lift the people’s spirits up again?  Does God do this for us too?  Has he ever sent someone to encourage you and lift up your spirit when you were discouraged?  Maybe He has used you to help lift up the spirits of someone else just like he used Zechariah,  Haggai and Ezra.  They brought an encouraging word to the people.  Will you let God help you to be an encourager to someone else this week?   Key thought:  Ask God to help you be a person who lifts others up rather than a person who brings others down.

-Merry Peterson

The Day God Needed a U-Haul Truck!

Ezra 1-4

ezra

Monday, November 5

God could have used a U-Haul truck when His people were allowed to go back to Jerusalem after being taken captive into Babylon for 70 years.  God moved King Cyrus of Persia to allow the repatriation of the Jews back to their home in Jerusalem.  There were a lot of people who went , especially those who were from priestly lineage.  To find out just how many people went on this journey back to Jerusalem take a calculator and add up the number of people listed in chapter 2 verses 2-65!  They also had to pack up all the dishes that were to be used in the house of God that had been previously ransacked from God’s temple in Jerusalem some 70 years before.  That’s a lot of people, and things, to move all at once.

When the Jews did return to Jerusalem they began to re-instate the priestly duties of sacrifices even though the foundation of the new temple had not yet been poured.   They also began to celebrate their festivals as was their religious custom.  Cyrus had agreed to help them build the temple so orders for the cedar wood from Lebanon which was to be used, were issued.  The main contractor of this building project was a man by the name of Zerubbabel.  His job was to take this pile of rubble and figure out how to help make it into a beautiful place for God’s temple once again.  The people were overjoyed when the foundation of the new temple was laid and a celebration was held.  Things seemed to be looking up for God’s people but then some of their jealous neighbors in the land began to complain.  They sent complaints to Cyrus and the following kings of Persia making up all sorts of claims about the Jews who had returned which were not necessarily true.  So, with the distractions of unhappy neighbors in the land, and many hassles and arguments about the rebuilding that the Jews were doing, soon they became discouraged and left the project of rebuilding God’s house undone.  Not until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia did the completion of the temple happen.

Having been through a recent cross country move myself what caught my eye was all those dishes that were to be used in God’s temple that had to be transported.  5,400 to be exact!  They were made of gold and silver so they would have to be packed very carefully as not to be scratched or broken.  This gives dish duty a whole new meaning.  In my move a few of my dishes broke.  Thinking about this it makes me think of how broken the city was and the temple of God was when the people returned to their beloved city.  They must have been excited at first at the prospect of going back, but once there I’m sure that seeing all the brokenness of the city must have been very discouraging.

Think about one of the greatest things God can do — He can fix what is broken.  Sometimes we may feel broken , or tossed about by the circumstances in our lives.  So did the Jews.  The good news is that God can fix what is broken.  He helped the Jews to rebuild the temple to Him, and their lives after being exiled for so long – He made them beautiful again.  He can help us too by fixing the broken parts of our lives and shaping it into something beautiful.  Key thought:  Think about how God has helped to fix the broken parts of your life and think about how He chooses to make it beautiful.

-Merry Peterson