Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Wednesday, 25 July 18:
1. Ezra 9:2 — “The holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands.” We cannot partner with unbelievers. Holiness is a requirement.
2. Ezra 9:2 – “And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” Israel’s worst sinners were the political and religious leaders. Israel’s leaders were leaders in sin.
3. Ezra 9:3 — “I… sat appalled.” What is appalling today is what no longer appalls us. Ezra was shocked, appalled, and greatly distressed by sin. Are you?
4. Ezra 9:4 — “All who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness… gathered around.” In an age of unfaithfulness, the faithful will unite.
5. Ezra 9:5 – “And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God.” Our response to sin should be humiliation, shame, confession, mourning, fasting, and prayer.
6. Ezra 9:6 — “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you….” What makes today’s generation blush?
7. Ezra 9:7 — “From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today.”
– Ezra, “appalled” at the “faithlessness” of God’s people fell to his knees in earnest prayer, trembling in shame, guilt, and humility before the Lord. God’s people were called to be a holy kingdom among the kingdoms, “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6).” God commanded His people to “take possession” of the land, to subdue it and control it for God’s glory. God expected His holy people to be a “city on a hill,” a light among the nations. However, rather than conquerors, they had become slaves to the world. They had been “given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame.” Both figuratively and literally, God’s people had “inter-married” with the ungodly around them – the bride of Christ had committed adultery. God had given the “remnant” an opportunity for “reviving,” and opportunity to rebuild the “church.” However, immediately, God’s remnant began compromising its holiness for the sake of friendship with world. Today, the Church is largely guilty of the same sin, that of syncretism. We have too often compromised the Kingdom for the sake of the American dream. It is time for us to “separate [ourselves] from the peoples of the land.”
— Matthew 6:24 — No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
— Luke 11:23 — Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
— Revelation 3:16 — So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
8. Ezra 9:9 – “For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love.” Even in your punishment, God shows you love, mercy, and grace.
9. Ezra 9:10-12 – “For we have forsaken your commandments….” Ezra knew exactly what commandments God’s people had disobeyed because He knew God’s word.
10. Ezra 9:13 – “And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved…” If God were ‘fair’ and gave you what you deserved, you would have died eternally long ago. Never complain that God isn’t fair, and don’t take His mercy and grace for granted. Be always thankful for what you have received.
11. Ezra 10:1 – “While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.” Can you imagine a great number of people in America gathering together and weeping bitterly in repentance for the Nation’s sins? When was the last time you wept bitterly over your sins and the sins of your people?
12. Ezra 10:8 – “…and that if anyone did not come within three days, by order of the officials and the elders all his property should be forfeited, and he himself banned from the congregation of the exiles.” Those who were not willing to submit to church discipline were removed from the congregation.
13. Ezra 10:10-12 – “And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, ‘You have broken faith….’” Again, Ezra knew the specific commandments of God the people had broken. (see Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-4)
14. Ezra 10:11 – “Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do his will.” Sin requires confession, repentance, restitution, and changed behavior.
15. Ezra 10:13, 14 – “But the people are many, and it is a time of heavy rain; we cannot stand in the open. Nor is this a task for one day or for two, for we have greatly transgressed in this matter. Let our officials stand for the whole assembly. Let all in our cities who have taken foreign wives come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every city, until the fierce wrath of our God over this matter is turned away from us.” God’s discipline includes mercy. We couldn’t stand the punishment we deserve.
16. Ezra 10:14 — The people were so serious about repentance and renewal that those who did not show up to the assembly were punished.
17. Ezra 10:17 — “By the first day of the first month they had come to the end of all the men who had married foreign women.” Returning to fidelity to God came with great personal sacrifice and pain. The impact was likely felt for generations.
18. Ezra 10:18 – “Now there were found some of the sons of the priests who had married foreign women: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib….” Sin was recorded by name and dealt with publicly. Those who were willing to acknowledge and correct their sin were restored.
19. Ezra 10:44 – “All these had married foreign women, and some of the women had even borne children.” Sin has terrible consequences on the next generation.
20. Proverbs 25:3 – “As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth, so the heart of kings is unsearchable.” There is no way for us to truly know the character, motives, and intent of a leader. Only God knows. We can only judge the deeds of a person, whether they are just and righteous or not. Be very careful not to assume the motives of anyone.
21. Proverbs 25:4 – “Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel….” Remove sin from your life that you may be usable by God for special matters.
22. Proverbs 25:6 – “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great….” Don’t be a self-promoter.
23. Proverbs 25:8, 9 – “…do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret….” Handle conflict quietly, at the lowest possible level.
24. Proverbs 25:15, 16 – “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone. If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.” Be patient; don’t come on too strong. Even a good idea can be rejected if it forced upon someone too quickly without gentle persuasion.
25. Proverbs 25:21, 22 – “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” God expects your love for your enemies to be tangible; if it doesn’t cost you something, it probably isn’t worth very much.
26. Proverbs 25:26 – “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” Accept as much sin in your life as you would accept feces in your drinking water. Don’t pollute yourself with compromise.
27. Proverbs 25:28 – “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Again, Proverbs reminds us that self-control through the power of the Holy Spirit is critical to our security in life.
28. Luke 3:2 – “During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” The word of God came to John rather than the High Priest.
29. Luke 3:5 – “…and the crooked shall become straight.” When God takes control of your life, He straightens everything out, usually not overnight.
30. Luke 3:8 – “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” Religious talk is cheap; God expects obedience and honors and uses the faithful. John embodied that truth, a simple but faithful man mightily used by God.
31. Luke 3:8, 9 — “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance…. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
– A saving faith is a fruitful faith. Genuine repentance is revealed in transformation. John the Baptist’s words are not hard to understand but hard for people to accept. Jesus said it this way, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 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.” (John 15) Is this hard to understand? Christians are fruitful. Jesus said you can judge a person by their fruit – “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7) Concerning being a lady, Margaret Thatcher said, “If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Similarly, genuine Christianity is self-evident, revealed in word and deed.
32. Compare Luke 3:9 with John 15.
33. Luke 3:10-14 – Our “fruit” is measured in how we treat others.
34. Luke 3:16 – “John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’” Real Christians and leaders never point to themselves but always point to Jesus.
35. Luke 3:18 – “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” Preach the Good News with many exhortations.
36. Luke 3:18 — “With many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” The Good News was proclaimed with exhortations.
37. Luke 3:20 – “[Herod] locked up John in prison.” John challenged Herod’s sin and was imprisoned for it. We also are called to challenge sin and be ready to suffer for it.
38. Luke 3:21 – “Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened…” Prayer opens the heavens. Jesus exemplified prayer for us.
39. Luke 3:23-37 — Jesus’ genealogy included many very imperfect people. It is not physical birth and family that matters but spiritual birth and family.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 25 July 18: Today, study God’s word, pray, obey, proclaim, and trust. (See today’s readings).