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? 

Day 162: Behold Your King! (2 Chronicles 34-36; John 19:1-22)

And (Pilate) said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” -John 19:15

I’ve never seen a royal being crowned. The last British monarch crowned was Queen Elizabeth in 1953. We love the idea of royalty…just look at the success of Disney princesses to see how fantastical they’ve become. But in John 19, the reality of being a King comes into crystal clear view.

There is one thing the nation of Israel always wanted: a true king. When they saw that other nations had a physical king, they rejected God and instead sought am earthly king (1 Samuel 8:1-8). When Saul failed to get as many kills as David, (1 Samuel 18:7-8) their favor switched to David, which led to him being chased in the desert for eight years. Jesus, who had healed, taught in the synagogue, and offered hope to the the rejects of society was a threat to the traditions the high priests had grown accustomed to and because of that needed to be taken out of public view.

Instead of a royal coronation, where the people would have joyously welcomed their king, Jesus was beaten and mocked, given a crown of thorns and a purple robe. He was crucified as an innocent man so that we who are truly guilty could be free. Pilate offered Jesus as their King and instead the high priests told him, “Away with Him…We have no king but Ceasar” (verse 15).

Is Jesus truly King of our hearts? Are we willing to crucify our sin and be away with it (out of our sight and heart)?

We know that there is a soon and coming day when we’ll see Jesus properly reign as King!

Day 161: For Such A Time As This (2 Chronicles 32-33; John 18:24-40)

 

Day 161

“You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” -John 18 37

I can just imagine speaking humbly, yet with such authority, the purpose for which He was born. There were probably dozens of important witnesses surrounding Him in Pilate’s court, and a fair share of those wishing Him harm, but He clung to His purpose to the end.

Our mission at Tirzah is to empower a generation of Esthers for such a time as this. Because Esther is another example of someone who stood in a king’s court and proclaimed, with her actions, the purpose for which she was created.

A lot of us read these stories and wonder, with a tinge of envy, why our purpose can’t be as clear. But, darling, it is. We’ve talked about it before, and we will again, because it is so important:

You were created to glorify our King. He rescued you from the depths of hell, clothed you in royal clothes of white, called you His, and promised you His Kingdom as an eternal inheritance.

One day, your time will come too. You’ll be asked to stand in front of an audience and stand up for the Truth and the One in whom you believe. It might be in a King’s court, a court room, in front of a firing squad, in a classroom, or in the living room of a friend’s house. But when it does happen, and it will, may you remember this passage and your purpose. To stand up for the Truth of the Gospel. To proclaim that you are the daughter of the one true King with pride. Even if means social exile, name calling, or even death. Because you were created for such a time – and such a purpose – as this.

 

Day 160: Leading By Example (2 Chronicles 29-31; John 18:1-24)

“Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God.” -2 Chronicles 31:20 (ESV)

“Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’” -John 18:4 (ESV)

In 2 Chronicles 29-31, we finally see a king who does right by God. He cleanses the temple of all filthiness caused by the kings before him. Once finished, he holds a celebration with burnt offerings for the Lord. They had so many offerings, even the Levites had to help the priests until the work was finished. Hezekiah led in such a way that he inspired these great acts of sacrifices and even brought the people of Israel and Judah to celebrate together – something that hadn’t been done in many years. All because he led by example by being faithful to God and doing right by Him.

In the first half of John 18, we see another example to follow – the greatest example of all. Jesus was betrayed and a band of soldiers came to arrest him. Knowing all that was going to happen to him, Jesus boldly stepped forward to accept the will of God. He was so confident in God’s will and His glorification that he put all his fears aside to accept his fate. His love for the Father far outweighed anything that would stop him walking out God’s will. And here’s the simple fact – Jesus trusted the Father.

When I think of all the things that hold me back in fear rather than stepping out in faith, they all seem incomparable to what Jesus did boldly. Trusting the will of the Father led to the greatest act of all mankind – salvation brought through Jesus’ sacrifice. Think of the decisions we can make in faith that could potentially lead to something great!

What are some ways in your life that you can lead by example?

What does your “step of faith” look like?

Day 159: Jesus Prayed For You (2 Chronicles 26-28; John 17)

Day 159

Isn’t it amazing how we can read something in the Bible two or three times but it only becomes real and personal on the fourth (or perhaps fifth or sixth) time? That’s what happened to me when I read John 17, which has become one of my most favorite chapters in the Bible.

During Jesus’s ministry on earth, He went away many times to have communion with His father but those conversations were always private. In this chapter, we see Him pray more fully than at any other time. There is almost a fervency in His prayer as He knows that the time is very close to the fulfillment of His death. He prays to His Father as He instructed His disciples to do in Matthew 6. He prays for His disciples who are with Him who will be dispersed after His death. And then He prays for you and me, those of us who would make up the church in the future.

What did He pray for us?

  1. One in heart and mind. Whatever we are on this earth is a reflection of the relationship Jesus has with His Father and the Holy Spirit. They are the Tri-Unity, three in one. We are the church and although we are many, we should live in the same unity as the Godhead.
  2. The world will see Jesus in us. Whatever your thought may be on this, remember that His word never comes back void and the prayer of a righteous man avails much. What Jesus prayed is the very center and desire of His Father’s heart. Throughout Christian history, the world may have seen glimpses of this through men and women like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie Ten Boom but one day it will see it in all of us.
  3. We will be with Him. No matter the pain or the trials, we continue to press on toward the prize of Christ. The relationship that sin broke between God and man was made new by the blood of Jesus. Although we are parted from Him physically, there’s a coming day when we will be united, living eternally in the joy of our Lord.

Friend, you were thought of and prayed for by our Savior. His love for you goes beyond time…it is eternal.