Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Saturday,21 July 18:
1. Ezra 1:1 – “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia….” God can stir the hearts of unbelieving leaders to accomplish His purposes and to fulfill His word which God always fulfills. A foreign king ruled, but God still controlled.
– Today, Psalm 82 reminds us of four important things: God is in charge (82:1); God is a God of justice and cares about right and wrong (82:2); God expects His people to be preservers of justice, in part, to protect those without understanding who walk in darkness (82:3-5); if those with understanding do not live justly and demand just behavior from those without understanding, everyone will suffer (82:6, 7). These truths are further revealed in our readings from Ezra: God is in charge and worked through a foreign king to restore his people just as He said He would. God’s people had not been conquered and placed into captivity because Nebuchadnezzar was powerful enough to thwart the plan of God; on the contrary, God used Nebuchadnezzar to punish His people who had failed to live by justice, to preserve justice, to glorify God, and to serve as a light among the nations. The burden of responsibility is not on the godless who walk in darkness but rather on God’s people who have been given the truth along with the responsibility to protect the ignorant with the truth. Today, many Christians look at the world and lament over the darkness without recognizing that what they see is in fact an indictment on God’s people who have failed in their calling to be holy, salt, and light, to subdue the earth as the primary influence on earth. We complain about increased immorality and corruption within our society and blame the godless, those who live in and are trapped in darkness; however, it is those who have the light and hide it that are to blame. We forget that the vast majority of Jesus’ rebukes and calls to repentance where directed at God’s people rather than to the pagans. We forget that the “lost sheep” to which he referred where believers who had gone astray, not unbelievers. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16) The hope for our nation is individual and collective repentance of Christians followed by revival within a church that glorifies God and brings light into the darkness.
– To the above point, the way God restored His people in the book of Ezra is informative: Note that the ‘everyday’ people are listed first, and every head is counted. (Ezra 2:3-35) God uses every person within the church to play a critical role. Professional singers and a whole host of staff personnel were called out and prepared to orchestrate God’s worship services. All these people played such an important role in God’s plan for His people that they are mentioned in the Bible. God’s plan to rebuild included faithful political leaders (Ezra 2:2), faithful priests (Ezra 2:2), faithful professional singers (Ezra 2:2), faithful security personnel (Ezra 2:42), and faithful managers and workers (Ezra 2:42).
– Did you also notice that, in accordance with God’s plan, one of the first people mentioned in the returning party was Zerubbabel, a descendant of that great political leader, David? (Ezra 2:2; see Hag 1:1; Zech 4:6-10) Proclaimers of truth and defenders of justice cannot isolate themselves from the reality of politics and government. Do you want to serve your country? Serve your church. What role are you playing in the body? If God counted every head within your church as he did in Ezra, where would He place you? There are no “innocent bystanders” in God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom of priests.
– To help us understand How the Father works in our lives and how we are to trust in Him for our every need, Jesus uses examples from the animal kingdom: At one point, Jesus asks us to consider the birds and how God takes care of their every need (Matthew 6:26, 10:29), not letting anything happen to them outside of His will – “Are you not of more value than they?” However, most often Jesus compares us to helpless sheep — “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matthew 10:16).”
— “Sheep are gentle, submissive, and literally defenseless animals. Christians are like sheep, the world is also like a wolf pack. Wolves are predators. They are ravenous and dangerous. They run in packs and work together to gang up on their prey. Sheep are helpless before wolves. So, it is with Christians in the world. In one sense, believers will always be at a disadvantage because we don’t play by the same rules. The virtues that our King calls us to cultivate are meekness, gentleness, self-control, kindness, and other sheep-like qualities that no self-respecting wolf would ever desire. Given the disparity that exists between sheep and wolves, why would people who are compared to the former ever associate with those compared to the latter? Jesus told His disciples that He intentionally sent them to be involved in the lives of unconverted people. He sends His sheep on a mission to wolves. Specifically, we are sent to call wolves to become sheep. Though on the surface this seems like an utterly foolish mission, in reality, it is God’s way to accomplish His saving work in the world and to display His wisdom and power in the process. When sheep conquer wolves it is obvious that something supernatural has happened. Our Lord wants His followers to see themselves as inherently helpless as He sends them into the world of unbelievers to preach the Gospel of His kingdom. Such self-awareness will cause us to trust not in our own resources but in Christ (Tom Ascol).” Sheep are helpless without the shepherd, but wolves are no match for a good shepherd. In John 10 Jesus reveals himself as the Good Shepherd. With the Lord as your Shepherd you shall not want (Psalm 23).
2. Ezra 1:2 — “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.’” Cyrus recognized that his power came from the LORD. What a shock it must have been to the world when the king of Persia proclaimed his dependence on God and proclaimed his commitment to the rebuilding of the Temple. Who could have imagined such a thing? Notice that, similar to the account in Exodus, people also showered the expeditionary Jews with valuable gifts in order to support their mission financially. God is in control and calls us to trust in Him with all our hearts, leaning not on our own understanding. What God is calling us to do is impossible for us to do on our own strength so that God can reveal His power to us and through us. As we step out in faith, we will see God work in miraculous ways through circumstances and in the hearts of others. God encourages us to have the faith to be faithful under seemingly impossible circumstances.
3. Ezra 1:3-4 – “Whoever is among you of all his people… let him go up to Jerusalem… and rebuild the house of the Lord…. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” God wanted some to do the building and some to resource the building. Everyone can add L.I.F.E. to the church – labor, influence, finances, and experience. How are you contributing to your local church?
4. Ezra 1:5 – “Then rose up… everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem.” Only those with a true heart for God’s work will do God’s work. The Spirit-filled believer is the one who drops everything to respond to God’s word when the remainder of the ‘religious’ wont. The Afghans have an old proverbs, “Talk doesn’t make the flowers grow.” Following God’s word required major life adjustments and a willingness to get your hands dirty. (Ezra 1:3-5; 2:1)
5. Ezra 1:7 – “Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods.” God can always restore what was lost in ways we could never imagine. No one could have imagined that Cyrus would restore the temple treasures. It is worth repeating, God moves hearts as God pleases.
6. Ezra 2:2 — Joshua, the high priest, was the religious leader of the return from exile. You never know what God might be preparing for you to do, but it will likely not be what you planned. (see Hag 1:1; Zech 3) God required and prepared a large number of priests to serve His people. (Ezra 2:36-39)
7. Ezra 2:64-67 – “The whole assembly together was 42,360, besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337, and they had 200 male and female singers. Their horses were 736, their mules were 245, 67 their camels were 435, and their donkeys were 6,720.” God’s congregants kept full accountability of their people and property. Does your church? Ezra records the travelers down to the individual. Does your church keep track of every individual and care for them equally? Will they know who does and doesn’t show up for church on Sunday? This sort of accountability is not easy; it must be intentional.
8. Proverbs 21:3 – “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” If you want to show God how much you love Him, do what He says.
9. Proverbs 21:11 – “When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise; when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.” Better to be a person who will follow God’s word than to be a person who requires God’s discipline.
10. Proverbs 21:15 – “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” Justice protects a people from themselves.
11. Proverbs 21:17 – “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.” Wealth comes from daily sacrifice and frugality. Why would God bless you with great wealth if you only intend on using it for yourself?
12. Proverbs 21:25, 26 – “The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.” The righteous are known for both hard work and generosity.
13. Proverbs 21:27 – “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent.” God hates unrepentant worship.
14. Proverbs 21:30 – “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord.” If your plans are God’s plans, your plans are guaranteed to succeed.
15. Proverbs 21:31 – “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.” God is in complete control. Your fate rests solely in His hands and His alone. The only power you have is what God gives you, and the outcome to any situation rests with God and God alone. Replace fear with love, faith, prayer, study, and obedience.
16. Psalm 82:1-4 – “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” God calls us to be rescuers and defenders of justice, to protect the defenseless.
17. Psalm 82:5 – “They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” When a nation’s leaders turn from God and no longer have true knowledge or understanding, everything falls apart as if subject to a massive earthquake which comes suddenly and destroys at the foundations of the institutions.
18. Psalm 82 – God holds leaders accountable for justice and mercy, something that can only be administered by leaders that go the Him and the source of all justice and mercy. In final judgment, God will punish the ungodly and establish justice and mercy personally, once and for all. Jesus will reign on the new earth with His faithful servants.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 21 July 18: Today, consider how well you have kept account of all the Christians God has placed in your life in close relationship. Are you staying in touch with them? Are you praying for them? Are they growing in the Lord, closer to Jesus? Are they serving their church? How can you continue to partner with them for continued service to God? Also, consider how well you know everyone in your church and how well they know you. Who would you notice missing if they weren’t there on Sunday? Who would notice you missing? Who are you discipling, and who is discipling you. God calls us to serve Him as a community of close believers, as close together as stones of a temple, and as closely knit as parts of the human body. Don’t try to serve God independently – He won’t honor that. (Ezra 2:64-67)