WEEK 29, Day 7, Sunday, 22 July 2018

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Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Sunday, 22 July 18:

1. Ezra 3:6 – “From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.” Life’s challenges did not stop the people from putting worship first and being faithful with worship.

2. Ezra 3:8 – “Now in the second year after their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the Lord.” The entire community joined to rebuild the temple. What role are you playing in the building up of God’s people?

3. Ezra 3:8 — “Now in the second year… Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning.” Change in large organizations takes much time. After the first year, you may feel like you are just getting started.

4. Ezra 3:11-13 – “And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.” New beginnings can be bitter sweet as you reflect upon what was lost while rejoicing in what you now have. Rebuilding may bring mixed emotions – perhaps your joy in Jesus is still hindered by guilt and regret concerning past mistakes and subsequent consequences. God wants you to learn from the past but to look forward and to trust Him with the future; and you must trust Him to take care of what is out of your hands to fix from the past. You can’t plow a field or drive a car looking backwards. Your present joy must replace your past sorrow. The Bible uses the word “rejoice” 220 times in the English Standard Version. The prefix “re-” is Latin for “again” or for “again and again.” So, rejoice can mean “joy again,” to return to joy again and again. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) This is a Biblical command that had to be repeated for a reason – we sometimes have a hard time doing it. Sometimes we must force ourselves to return to joy, to posture our minds for joy, to drive out all negativity. Take action – pray for joy; recite memorized Scripture verses on joy; sing hymns of joy, recollect all the ways God has blessed you; seek strength from other Christians, get busy serving others, etc. When you are feeling down, return to the joy you have in Jesus, despite apparent circumstances. Trust that God is exercising Romans 8:28 in your life and drawing you closer to Him every day.

5. Ezra 3:12 — “And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” The most important part of any building is the foundation; the most important part of any organization is the foundation; the most important part of your life is the foundation. If the foundation of your life isn’t Jesus Christ, what you build is irrelevant. It will all come crumbling down. Build your house upon the Rock of Jesus!

6. Ezra 4:1-5 – “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, ‘Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.’” The enemies of God were a “new church” with a very short, modern history. God’s people were careful to avoid syncretism, keeping worship holy before the Lord.

7. Ezra 4:2, 3 — “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do…. You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God.” We are called, appointed, and empowered by God to love Him, serve Him, obey Him, and glorify Him on this earth. We are a separate Kingdom under Christ living amongst other earthly kingdoms, engaging them, ministering to them, but not partnering with them. The gods of the kingdoms of darkness are not our gods, and we can have nothing to do with other “paths to heaven.” We are called to be Ambassadors of Christ to the other kingdoms, faithful to an uncompromised message. We serve as messengers, proclaiming the need for repentance and salvation through Jesus Christ alone. Under the LORD-ship of Christ, we have no partnership with those of the dark kingdoms who are at enmity with God. We make no appeal to the rebellious attitudes of mankind. Many will call us to live in peace through compromise and will blame us for a lack of peace when we refuse to respect their false beliefs or compromise to them. The Bible says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) However, the context of this verse reveals that this is not a ‘peace’ in compromise, but rather a willingness to suffer gracefully in the tribulation Jesus said we would experience as sheep before wolves. Our message is there is no peace but through Jesus. We are called to be peacemakers who call people to the Prince of Peace, not peace lovers who avoid conflict at all costs.

8. Ezra 4:4-6 – “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.” Again, when God’s people refuse to compromise, they will be attacked psychologically, politically, legally, economically, and physically. Are you prepared to resist while you continue to advance the Kingdom of God on earth? In Ezra, the enemies of God’s people attempted to use the government and the law to stop their progress, and they also attempted to slander God’s people. In the face of opposition, God’s people began to become discouraged and afraid. This went on for many years. We must be willing to persevere, enduring trials and tribulations for the long-haul, perhaps for generations. Don’t worry too much about progress, rather focus on fidelity.

9. Ezra 4:7-16 – In order to remain faithful to God and His work, God’s people refused to partner with the local community and risk compromise. As a result, they were labeled and rebellious and dangerous; interestingly, those who opposed God’s people claimed to share their faith at first (v2), but later proclaimed their allegiance to the king over Israel’s God. God’s people are often labelled as enemies of the state. “They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city.” (Ezra 4:12)

10. Ezra 4:14 – “Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king….” The enemies of God, considering themselves religious, claimed that they were doing their duty to the kings but never mentioned any concern for the God of Israel.

11. Ezra 4:23, 24 – “Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read… they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” Using the government and legal processes, the enemies of God’s people were able to stop all work on the Temple for 15 years, 535 to 520 B.C. From our perspective, that is a long time to get stuck in political red tape with continual threats of violence. How many do you think abandoned all hope during that period? Would you remain faithful to God’s calling though seeming defeated? Legal challenges against God’s people are nothing new. They are certainly no reason to compromise or to quit. How is your endurance and perseverance?

12. Ezra 4:23-24 – “Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” Israel had to struggle with obeying Persia’s king while obeying God first.

13. Proverbs 22:3 – “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” Inevitable consequences are not hard to predict or see coming if you are willing to listen to wisdom.

14. Proverbs 22:15 – “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” Punishment provides incentive where you lack self-discipline. This is for your own good and the good of those who would be victimized by your selfishness.

15. Proverbs 22:17-21 — “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. That your trust may be in the Lord, I have made them known to you today, even to you. Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge, to make you know what is right and true, that you may give a true answer to those who sent you?” The Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for from it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23).” Today’s Proverbs remind us that in order to guard your heart, you must “incline your ear” to God’s word, and you must also “apply” it to your heart, storing it up within your heart. You must live by God’s word, decide from God’s word, respond to life’s challenges with God’s word, and respond to others solely from God’s word. Today’s Proverbs say that it is “pleasant” to keep God’s word “within you.” Jesus said that living in Him and in His word was the key to life, love, and joy — “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Today’s Proverbs also say that remaining in God’s word will build your “trust… in the Lord,” which will give you more and more confidence to walk in faith, rely upon God’s provision, and live in peace. The peace of God will guard both your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus (see Philippians verse below). How important is God’s word in your life? Is time in God’s word and time in prayer your top priority today?

– Philippians 4:4-7 — Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

16. Proverbs 22:21 – “…to make you know what is right and true, that you may give a true answer to those who sent you?” The Bible is provided to show you what is “right and true,” but it is also provided so you can share with others what is right and true.

17. Psalm 83:3 – “They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones.” This verse was demonstrated in Ezra 4 and is being demonstrated against the church today in many ways.

18. Psalm 84:1, 2 – “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.”

– How important is it to you to be close to God today in His church with His people? If you don’t feel like going to church this morning, check your heart, and go anyway. Be where God intends you to be, and pray that God will use the experience to convict your heart.

– Psalm 84 proclaims an intense passion for the Lord, a total reliance on the Lord, and a complete surrender to the Lord. I love Psalm 84:10 – “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” The Psalmist is genuine, and if we had the advantage of knowing the Psalmist personally, that genuine love would, no doubt, be evident in all he did. As is says in today’s Proverbs, “Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.” (Proverbs 20:11) If you knew the Psalmist, you might seek to learn from him how he acquired such a deep and enviable love for God. However, a close examination of the Bible will give you some very important insights into just that: Psalm 84 is identified as “A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.”

— Korah was the grandson of Kohath, one among the 250 who challenged the rights of Moses and Aaron to the priesthood as recorded in Numbers 16. You may recall from Numbers 16 that God wrathfully opened the earth and consumed Korah and all associated with Korah, his household and possessions. (Numbers 16:28-35) However, we learned in Numbers 26 that the sons of Korah did not die; God spared them in His mercy. God purified the house of Korah. Seven generations later, the prophet Samuel arose from the line of Korah (1 Chronicles 6:31-38; 1 Chronicles 38; 1 Samuel 1:1, 20). The Korahites became doorkeepers and custodians for the tabernacle. (1 Chronicles 9:19-21, 1 Chronicles 2) Some became expert warriors and joined King David in various military exploits. (1 Chronicles 12:6) Pertaining to the Psalms, the Korahites became David’s music ministry leaders in the Tabernacle and Temple. There are many Psalms attributed to the sons of Korah (About 25). All mirror the heart for the Lord that is revealed today in Psalm 84. For example, you may have been touched by Psalm 42:1 — “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” – another praise from the Sons of Korah. Perhaps the most revealing verses from the Sons of Korah are found in Psalm 46:1-3: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” The heart of the Korahites so beautifully revealed in the Psalms is a heart of genuine gratitude, praise, and worship that comes from true salvation.

— The Korahites were descendants of men who “despised” God, an infamous group who brought a level of wrath from God the likes of which the people had never seen before (“something new”). (Numbers 16:28-35) The ignoble beginnings of the Korahites were, of course, known by all and recorded for eternity in the Bible. But more importantly, what was also evident to all and recorded in the Bible for eternity is what God did in the Korahite family with the Sons of Korah. As Paul Harvey use to say, “Now you know… the rest of the story.” God’s justice combined with His mercy and love transformed the Korahites, and this is their very public testimony that brings great glory to God. The Sons of Korah loved much because they had been forgiven much. They could not help but proclaim their love in both word and deed. Perhaps you have a similar testimony. Your story of salvation brings glory to God when you proclaim it publicly. Your story is your witness of the Truth of God. Proclaim it with passion today!

– Is Jesus your ultimate desire and your joy? Is he your strength? Do you trust him implicitly? Do you desire a heart that is more desiring of God, more loving of God, and more obedient to God? Perhaps, like me, you can relate to the man who said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief (Mark 9:24)!” I am struck by the fact that it is God that softens our hearts and gives us a heart that seeks Him (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 24:7; Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26), while at the same time, God’s greatest command to us is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).” In fact, the Bible warns us to “be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God (Joshua 23:11).” God gives us the ability to love Him and to love others, and God also gives us the responsibility to do both. But if I have the desire to love, do I need a command to love? No. In perfect love, there is no need for commands, and obedience is inevitable. As John said, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).” But in my imperfection, God’s commands guide me in my pursuit of love – they are a lamp unto my feet as I seek to walk with God. Paul reminds us that we have to “fight the good fight” and “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22).” I am thankful that God has enabled and equipped us to grow in our love for Him and others.

– Jeremiah 29:13 — You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

19. Psalm 84:3, 4 – “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah” We can be at home without a home when we are in the presence of God.

20. Psalm 84:10 — “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” What is your life’s ambition? How do you define life success? Does your joy depend on anything other than merely being in God’s presence? Would you rather be a nobody with Jesus or have everything this world can offer? What is your ultimate goal in life? What does the Bible say your goal should be?

21. Psalm 84:11, 12 – “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!” What guarantees joy, prosperity, and security in life?

“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 22 July 17: Meditate today upon this verse from today’s readings: “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalm 84:2) Pray the Holy Spirit will continue to increase your knowledge and love for Jesus as well as your obedience to Him, and pray that your love for Jesus would unite you with His people as Jesus prayed for in John 17.

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