Day 166: Actions Speak Louder (Ezra 9-10, Acts 1)

While Ezra prayed and made this confession, weeping and lying face down on the ground in front of the Temple of God, a very large crowd of people from Israel-men, women, and children- gathered and wept bitterly with him. -Ezra 10:1

If we rewind back to chapter 9, Ezra is told that the people of God are marrying unbelievers. Ezra immediately expresses his sorrow for the sin committed by tearing his cloak, shirt and pulling his hair from his head and beard! Moving on to chapter 10, Ezra takes a few important actions while praying and confessing to sin. In front of a crowd of people, he humbles himself before God, laying face down, weeping out before men, women and children. He even confessed to a sin that he didn’t commit, taking ownership and committing to the people.

Usually, when we recognize others’ sins, we do the complete opposite, ostracizing and condemning people. The crowd of people were watching Ezra, they saw his reaction towards their sin, so much so, that they all started crying out, confessing and repenting of their sins.

Just like Ezra, people are watching us – our actions and responses… how we live! Remember we are set apart people of God! The way we treat one another, how we speak to each other and about one another, and our actions, should all come together and be a reflection of God!

Day 165: What’s in it for ME? (Ezra 6-8, John 21)

Sometimes, when we hear the word “volunteer” we decide, right then and there, that it is not for us. Not enough time, not our thing, and don’t know where to start are a few excuses we use. But, let us be honest and just say it…What’s in it for ME?

Even back in the day, while Ezra was journeying to Jerusalem, when he asked for volunteers, he received opposition.

I assembled the exiles at the Ahava Canal, and we camped there for three days while I went over the lists of the people and the priests who had arrived. I found that not one Levite had volunteered to come along. -Ezra 8:15

We spend a lot of time praying to God to bless us with a special gift, purpose, a calling, and opportunities to serve others. He answers those prayers by blessing us with all kinds of creative and unique talents and gifts to utilize for His purposes. But, sometimes we get caught up in controlling how and when we use our gifts, thinking only of ourselves, that we forget our gifts are from God.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. -1 Peter 4:10

Are there any volunteer opportunities available in your community or church, that stand out to you? Willingness and a good attitude are requisite character qualities to have while serving others.

Day 164: Those Who Believe (Ezra 3-5; John 20)

“Therefore, make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me.” – Ezra 4:21 (ESV)

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” – John 20:29 (ESV)

Isn’t it just like the enemy to wiggle his way into our minds as soon as we plant a seed of doubt? We have momentary lapses of faith when life overwhelms us (myself being the worst offender) and as soon as we start to doubt, the enemy grabs a hold of that and uses it against us. It almost goes against our human nature to believe first, then see. It takes a strong foundation of faith for that.

In Ezra chapters 3 through 5, we see the rebuilding of the temple that the Babylonians destroyed in Jerusalem. After the foundation was finally laid, great rejoicing took place all over the land. It was the beginning of restoration and hope for the Israelites. But in chapter 4, the enemies of Judah and Benjamin step into the scene and convince King Atraxerses to command them to cease their rebuilding. I think it’s safe to say we would expect that the Israelites automatically felt so much frustration, discouragement, and doubt. But instead, they are obedient to the king’s decree and wait to begin rebuilding again. We also see God’s favor in the situation and what may be assumed to be God’s perfect timing.

And who can forget about doubting Thomas? In John 20, Jesus resurrects and appears to various disciples and friends. The Messiah has risen; their Lord is walking among them. I’m sure by the eighth day, Thomas heard multiple stories from multiple sources. But he refuses to believe. And honestly, who could blame him? How can something that seems so impossible, too goo to be true, be real? Many times I catch myself doubting and full of disbelief just like Thomas.

But God.

God comes through for the Israelites. They were patient and trusted in Him. And even though Thomas wasn’t as full of faith, Jesus is still full of grace and offers him an opportunity to believe that he is the risen King. And not only does he extend his wonderful grace, but he also blesses us when we believe without seeing – just like God blessed the Israelites with His favor.

Imagine what kind of blessings we could receive if we decide to give God “that problem” or “that concern” first instead of making Him prove it to us that He will take care of it!

Let’s rebuke the enemy’s lies that God isn’t a faithful God. Don’t let him fool you that our God isn’t trustworthy enough to help us through our struggles even before we know what they are. Because He is and He does! And when we decide to trust God with our situations and problems before knowing the outcomes, we are blessed. It’s His promise to us.

What situation, problem, or concern will you trust God with today?

What is one area in your life you need to have a little more faith in? I encourage you to trust God with it – He will bless you for it!

Day 163: Two Generations (Ezra 1-3, John 19:23-42)

AN INTRODUCTION TO EZRA:

As we finish the books of the Kings and Chronicles, we continue our journey into the prophets and psalms. Here, the book of Ezra begins where 2 Chronicles ended: Cyrus, king of Persia, sends volunteers to Jerusalem to build a house for God. After 70 years in exile, the captives from Judah were finally allowed to return to their homeland. Nearly 50,000 people made the journey.

When they arrived, they began to rebuild Solomon’s temple, but became discouraged by the opposition (people in the area who did not like the Jews and did not want them in Jerusalem). Although Zerubbabel was in charge of the first migration of volunteers to Jerusalem and helped oversee the re-construction of the temple, Ezra was a well-known priest and scribe during this time, encouraging and pointing the people to God. In fact, Ezra led the second migration of Jews to Jerusalem almost 80 years after Zerubbabel (starting with chapter 7). Just for reference, the books of Haggai and Zechariah come from this time in history as well, as those two were the major prophets then (chapter 5).

DEVOTIONAL:

“But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people should with a loud shot, and the sound was heard far off.” -Ezra 3:12-13

From all of today’s reading, these verses are the most branded on my heart. This clash between an older generation and a younger generation – both worshipping God, but so differently. These elders served God in the temple that Solomon built (which as we’ve read was incredibly elaborate and stunning). But then persecution and war came and the Jews were captured and taken as slaves to Babylon; Solomon’s temple was destroyed.

Finally, 70 years into exile, some of the Jews returned home – to their Promised Land – to rebuild the temple of God. They faced a lot of opposition – mostly politics, and their resources were limited. No more gold and precious stones, but the same imported cedar wood, on the exact same place where the former temple once stood.

And as the workers laid the foundation, the elders wept – remembering the old temple and I’m sure thanking God for the chance to live long enough to be back home and seeing the new temple constructed. But there was also the younger generation – the ones born into captivity, the ones who grew up on a steady stream of stories of the old days in Jerusalem and plenty of persecution for being Jewish in a foreign land. I’m sure these young people were extremely passionate and overjoyed at the prospect of freedom, and so they shouted with joy.

We see some of that today. I grew up in a Russian-speaking, immigrant community where our parents and grandparents were raised in the Soviet Unction under great religious persecution, and my generation had the privilege to be raised in complete freedom in the United States. As a result, many of our churches have that similar dynamic between the elders who have seen hardships and how things used to be, versus the young, naive energy of youth that seeks freedom and joy first and foremost. Neither one is bad in itself, but as we see here, blended together they make quite the spectacle. Both are needed though, so we must be careful about annihilating one from the other.

What kind of generational differences do you see today in your community?

What can you learn from the elders’ view?  What can you learn from the youth’s view?