Ezra

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From Cyrus king of Persia, a Proclamation: God, the God of the heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has also assigned me to build him a Temple of worship in Jerusalem, Judah. Who among you belongs to his people? God be with you! Go to Jerusalem which is in Judah and build The Temple of God, the God of Israel, Jerusalem’s God. Those who stay behind, wherever they happen to live, will support them with silver, gold, tools, and pack animals, along with Freewill-Offerings for The Temple of God in Jerusalem. The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and Levites—everyone, in fact, God prodded—set out to build The Temple of God in Jerusalem. Their neighbors rallied behind them enthusiastically with silver, gold, tools, pack animals, expensive gifts, and, over and above these, Freewill-Offerings. Ezra 1:2-6 (The Message)

I have never really studied the book of Ezra in great detail – or much at all honestly – until recently. It was the first chapter and second through sixth verse that caught my eye right away. A little history is needed to really get the levity of these passages. The Israelites had been captured and displaced to the “sin city” of Babylon for years until Cyrus came into power and issued a decree that allowed them to return to their homeland. Displacing these people from their sacred homeland would be like taking a monk out of a monastery and relocating him to Vegas. However, after all those years of being in captivity many had become successful and had grown accustomed to their new lifestyle. So much so, that when given the opportunity to return to Jerusalem “the number of the exiles that chose to remain was probably about six times the number of those who returned (Eastman’s Bible Dictionary).

BUT, when those who chose to stay in Babylon generously gave to those who were returning home to build the temple and when those who were thrilled the return home  after all those years of captivity and wouldn’t have stayed in Babylon another moment each made a choice there was NO JUDGEMENT from either side. Read the verses again. Did you notice? There was no judgement from either side. Just generosity, grace and joy. Each group seemed thrilled for the other even though they had chosen different paths. Maybe Ezra just left out the back stabbing and judgement part of the story or maybe it really went down without any “drama”.

I haven’t been able to get these first few verses off my mind. Unfortunately, it seems more reasonable (when dealing with people) that Ezra just left out part of the story. There is no way it could have gone that smoothly, right?! But what if it did? What if the firm foundation in Christ they had for years before being taken captive never left and kept their hearts in check? Only God’s love, grace and kindness could penetrate a human heart enough to produce that kind of effect in people. Only God’s promises and peace can produce results that amazing in such an overwhelming situation.

I don’t know about you, but I pray that when I’m in situations that seem unfair or I’m quick to judge that God will bring these verses to mind. We aren’t capable of the patience, love and grace we need to bestow on those around us, but God is! Let Him handle it. We are all a part of the body of Christ and each part is called to something different than the other. God calls us to honor those differences.

If you have a story about a time God gave you the strength, grace and patience to deal with a difficult situation share it with us.

Hidden

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Our children just got home from camp and have shared all the songs they learned while there. One of their favorites is “Dynamite”. It’s a catchy song with fun lyrics, but not one we have listened to before. I usually only play contemporary Christian music for them. I figure I’ll do it as long as I can. Those of you who are parents know what I mean! The world is tugging for us and our children everyday.

Today, as we got in the car with the windows down, they requested to hear their new favorite song. As my husband played it for them my daughter told our son, “Quick! Roll up the windows this is not a Christian song.”

“Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. Matthew 23:11 (The Message)

I was convicted as I thought about her statement and all the things we try to hide from others (and ourselves). Whether it’s an addiction, a “worldly” idol, an unpure thought, habit or lack of faith we all have something we aren’t proud of and would like to hide. The paradox is the one we try to hide from and the one who loves us the most is the one we can never hide from. He knows our hearts and minds better than we know ourselves.

If we had forgotten to pray to our God or made fools of ourselves with store-bought gods, Wouldn’t God have figured this out? We can’t hide things from him. No, you decided to make us martyrs, lambs assigned for sacrifice each day. Psalm 44:20 (The Message)

What if we used all the energy it took to hide from God and others and put it towards becoming better disciples? What if we allowed God’s strength and power to reign in us. What if we dwelled on his word daily so we had God’s direction and peace so instead of hiding from Him we allowed Him to protect and hide us from our enemies and the evil of this world? God has plans to “prosper us not to harm us” (Jeremiah 29:11) His plans are “immeasurably more than we could ever imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). I pray we are able to stop hiding and place it all on God’s altar so that we don’t miss out on the plans he had for us before we were created. God will help us overcome our strongholds if we allow Him to. If we can’t, our full kingdom potential is at risk.

God is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight. My God—the high crag where I run for dear life, hiding behind the boulders, safe in the granite hideout; My mountaintop refuge, he saves me from ruthless men. 2 Samuel 22:2 (The Message)

Rut

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That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming. 2 Corinthians 5:6

One of the things I love about summer is that our schedule is different everyday. There is no worry of getting into a rut because every week is different and the activities can change minute by minute.  However, this lack of routine can hinder my scheduled time with God. In the Summertime, I am always at high risk of letting my relationship and time with God suffer.  The kids are home, we are traveling and it’s difficult to find any time alone much less time to study, reflect and pray.

A “rut” is defined as “a fixed or established mode of procedure or course of life, usually dull or unpromising, any furrow or grove”

It pains me to think that my relationship with God could be “dull and unpromising”. We have to get creative. Find new routes, new methods and avenues to incorporate God in our daily lives. Just because our schedule changes doesn’t mean we put God on hold until our schedule returns to normal. Praise God! He doesn’t put on on hold while He handles something else. To have the power, strength, discipline and peace to live our lives in a way that pleases Him and produces Kingdom fruit we must be connected to His vine (His Word).

When we are living within the vine, God takes care of everything else. That’s what God does when we allow Him in. His son’s blood covers our ruts, fills our holes and corrects our blemishes. He covers them and paves the way for salvation, peace, grace.

Oh, how I love all you’ve revealed; I reverently ponder it all the day long. Your commands give me an edge on my enemies; they never become obsolete. I’ve even become smarter than my teachers since I’ve pondered and absorbed your counsel. I’ve become wiser than the wise old sages simply by doing what you tell me. I watch my step, avoiding the ditches and ruts of evil so I can spend all my time keeping your Word. I never make detours from the route you laid out; you gave me such good directions. Your words are so choice, so tasty; I prefer them to the best home cooking. With your instruction, I understand life; that’s why I hate false propaganda Psalm 119:97 (The Message)

I pray you are able to”avoid the ditches and ruts of evil” by taking a few minutes to ponder new and creative ways to incorporate God into your summer schedule. Start by praying and asking God to reveal and create time for you to spend with Him. I promise He will make it happen. He desires time with you more than anyone else. Whether it’s Bible study instead of a magazine by the pool, a 30 minute walk with God on the beach, listening to a sermon while you drive to your next travel destination or kid swapping with a friend so you can each have 30 minutes of quiet time with God. Stay out of the rut!

What My Savior Means To Me

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A few weeks ago I shared a poem written by Helen E. Phillips (2/4/1911 – 5/7/11) This week I share another one of her touching poems written so many years ago.

What My Savior Means To Me by Helen E. Phillips

How I wish I could tell you what my Savior means to me. How He gave His life on Calvary that the world might be set free. Oh! How great the Savior’s love which He had for you and me, That He gave His life a ransom, on the cross of Calvary.

When I heard the Savior calling, “Sinner, come and live for me,” “No”, I cried, “your cross is heavy; I can never live for Thee”. Then I heard His sweet voice calling, as I lay awake at night, “Come to me, my yoke is easy, and my burdens they are light”.

Then I came to Him repenting, for the evils I had done, And I never have been sorry; I the Christian life begun. How I lived so long without Him in my life, I cannot see. Now I couldn’t rest a moment, unless the Savior lives with me.

How I wish the world would know Him, He is all the world to me. Always giving joy and comfort, as I travel on life’s sea. When life’s burdens come upon me, like the mighty billows roll, No matter what the situation, He’s the Captain of my soul!