November 27, 2015

Ezra - 
History had not treated the people of Israel well and they were in decline...They were hanging on by their fingernails.  And then Ezra arrived.  

This is an extreme case of a familiar story, repeated with variations in most centuries and in most places in the world.  Men and women who find their basic identity in God as God reveals himself in Israel and Messiah; don’t find an easy time of it....the people of God have come perilously close  to obliteration several times.  We are never out of danger.  Because of Ezra, Israel made it through.  

God didn’t leave Ezra to do this single-handedly, he gave him substantial and critical help in the rescue operation in the person of Nehemiah...Ezra used worship and text to help the people of Israel recover.  He engaged them in the worship of God, the most all-absorbing,comprehensive act in which men and women can engage.

Ezra 1-3  
In the 1st year of Cyrus, King of Persia - which fulfilled the message of God preached by Jeremiah - God prodded Cyrus to make an official announcement throughout his kingdom which stated:  God, the God of heavens had given me the kingdoms of the earth.  He has also assigned me to build him a temple of worship in Jerusalem.  Who among you belongs to his people?  God be with you!  Go to Jerusalem and build the Temple of God....

The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin...set out to build the Temple of God in Jerusalem.  Their neighbors rallied behind them enthusiastically with financial & moral support.  Also, Cyrus turned over to them all the treasures from the Temple of God that Nebuchadnezzar had taken.  He put Mithredath in charge of the transfer and provided a full inventory for Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.  The total number of Israelites who returned to Jerusalem was 42, 360.  That did not include the male and female slaves which numbered 7, 337.   

When the 7th month came and the Israelites had settled into their towns, the people assembled in Jerusalem, Jeshua and his brother priests, along with Zerubbabel and his relatives went to work and built the alter of God.  Even though they were afraid of what their non-Israelite neighbors  might do, they went ahead anyway.  They began offering whole-burnt offerings the very first day of the 7th month, even though the Temple’s foundation had not yet been laid.  They gave $ to hire masons and carpenters.  They gave food, drink, and oils in exchange for cedar...then they got started in the 2nd month of the 2nd year after their arrival.  They appointed the Levites twenty years of age and older to direct the building of the Temple...When the workers laid the foundation of the Temple, the priests stood up with trumpets and the Levites with cymbals, to praise God in the tradition of David...They sang antiphonally praise and thanksgiving to God....All the people boomed out hurrahs, praising God as the foundation of the Temple was laid...many of the older priests, Levites and family heads who had seen the first Temple wept loudly for joy...The sound of their voices reverberated for miles around.  

I John 3
What marvelous love the Father has extended to us!  Just look at it --we’re called children of God...What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him---and in seeing him, become like him....

No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin.  None of those who do practice sin have taken a good look at Christ.  They’ve got him backwards....It’s the person who acts right who is right, just as we see it lived out in our righteous Messiah.  

Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children.  The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister.  A simple test.

For this is the original message we heard:  We should love each other....the way we know we’ve been transformed from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters...this is how we’ve come to understand and experience love:  

Christ sacrificed his life for us.  This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves.  If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love?  It disappears.  And you made it disappear.

My children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.  This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.  It is also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it.  For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. 

And friends, once that is taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God!  We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. 

Again, this is God’s command:  to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ.  He told us to love each other, in line with the original command.  As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us.  And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.