Ezra 1-2 B

“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” (1:1-2‬)

This story line of the exile always dazzles me. The LORD was very specific about every detail.

Who: Everyone (except the extremely poor)

What: Forcibly removed from the promised land and taken into Exile by Babylon

When: 70 years, to make up for all the sabbatical years ignored

Where: Babylon, Media, Persia

Why: Because after hundreds of years of patience, the LORD had enough of their idolatry and disobedience

How: Initiated by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, to be completed and returned by Cyrus, King of Persia

If the people of Israel were paying attention, they’d know what to expect.

Do you know what this reminds me of? Great parenting. Patience, hedged in my clear expectations, consequences and follow through; followed always by restoration.

It’s some new level of impressive to me that the LORD foretold what He was going to do through Cyrus and then it happened in a pretty generous way. He gave them so much freedom and resources, along with incredible wealth.

I want to know more about Cyrus’ relationship with the LORD. This “pagan” king knew he was appointed by God, and he took it very seriously. How else did that manifest in his reign, I wonder?

Was it this relationship that laid the groundwork for Magi to keep looking to the stars for centuries, waiting for a star to tell them the Jewish Messiah had arrived? I’m fascinated by all things Exile. When we, who until now have only seen the workings of God in the people of Israel, get a glimpse at His workings among the Kings of the East.

We often focus in on the places we expect God to be working. Places like a temple in Jerusalem or in our modern day churches. I love to remember that He is not bound. He is at work everywhere. And sometimes He anoints people we wouldn’t expect.

What a mighty God we serve.

-Bethany

Ruth 3-4 B

“Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own.” 4:16

I love this beautiful, happy ending we get of Naomi and Ruth. Think of how the story started. Naomi was not only widowed, but lost her sons and was, according to the culture at the time, worthless. She was so heartbroken, she wanted to change her name to Bitter. “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty.”

And now, the book ends with her more filled up than she could’ve ever imagined. Instead of starving, she’s fed. Instead of widowed and childless, she’s snuggling her new grandson. Instead of her family ending, it’s continuing (and continuing and continuing and continuing until Jesus!).

Sometimes life empties you out. You are at the bottom and things are very, very dark. Where is God? Why has he let this happen? Why is he allowing us to suffer so much? (1:21)

The short book of Ruth offers us a glimpse into the redemption God offers through his gospel. He is our family Redeemer. He is Boaz; filling our growling stomachs with rich food, providing security and making unqualified people part of his royal family.

Take heart! This is our story too.

 

-Carly

Ruth 1-2 B

“But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.'” (1:16)

I’ve seen a lot of people use this verse at weddings. It’s a beautiful sentiment, and I don’t think it’s wrong to be recycled in this way; I just think it’s beautiful to consider that one of the most romantic lines in the Bible was said from one gal to another.

Life is full of relationships, and I think we do a disservice to them by placing all the attention on marital relationships. At that time, marriage was more about financial stability than love. Many awful things have been committed in the name of financial security.

Yes, tomorrow we will delve into how cool it was of Boaz to take these women in, but today, I want to celebrate this moment when the love of the LORD was demonstrated in the self sacrificing love within a very unpopular relationship: in-laws.

It takes a lot of guts and heart to say, “I don’t care what happens to me, I’m sticking with you.” Self-preservation is a powerful force, yet it is opposite of the love of God. Self-sacrifice, that’s what we see in Him. That’s what we are to notice in this little family. It is not something to be limited to marital love. It is the way the LORD teaches us to love.

The subsequent favor, mercy and blessing of the LORD, in this story, is accredited to this self-sacrificing act of Ruth.

“Boaz replied to her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.’” (2:11-12)

This reminds me of something Jesus said,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” (12:24-25‬)

The Kingdom of God is about doing the risky thing for the sake of another. It’s about putting the interests of others before our own. It’s about loving unto death. Staying with Naomi was a very risky move for Ruth, but she didn’t care. She loved her mother-in-law.

The next time you’re faced with a major decision, think: am I motivated by self-preservation or love?

Love often looks (and honestly is) foolishness, but we are fooling ourselves if we think self-preservation is a path to life.

-Bethany

2 Chronicles 35-36 B

I love all the details we’re given of Josiah observing the Passover for the first time in years. Josiah has cleaned house, removing all the pagan idols and renewing the covenant between God and his people. You guys, 30,000 cattle and 2,600 lambs? That’s a lot. The details of the ceremony, the sprinkled blood and the urgency to serve the food while still hot…this event is no small task.

I love celebrating. I love worshiping alongside other people, I love gathering together for a meal or throwing a big party. But it doesn’t happen without rolling up your sleeves and serving. Bethany and I worked at summer camp into young adulthood, and it was probably just as much fun for us as it was for the hundreds of middle schoolers showing up. But one thing I took away from it was the work that goes into setting the scene for others to meet with God. Details, logistics, sometimes costumes, planning, hard work, less sleep, lots of prayer and never enough fresh coffee. You have to anticipate problems, you have to invite God into it and you need to roll up your sleeves and work. No, summer camp is not like a Passover feast. But also summer camp is exactly like a Passover feast. Anytime you’re setting the table (metaphorically or literally) for people to sit down and meet with God, recognize who he is and what he’s done, is a feast worth having. Don’t be afraid of the work it takes (it couldn’t possible be more than slaughtering thousands of cattle) ! It’s worth it, and God will show up.

This wraps up our time in Chronicles! Revisit Beth’s wrap up post from last time.

-Carly

2 Chronicles 33-34 B

This story of Manasseh gets me every time. A lot of people point to the conversion of Paul to exemplify the incredible mercy of God, but this.

I think it’s important to note the strange things people do when they don’t fully weed out their past issues.

“Nevertheless the people still sacrificed in the high places, although only to the LORD their God.” (33:17‬)

The people shifted to worship the LORD, but did so in the way they knew how to worship idols.

Sometimes I wonder about the way we worship the LORD, nowadays, in church. I don’t at all want to come off condemning or critical, I’m just thinking out loud here. No fully formed opinion. It’s crazy to me how much people fight about how to worship. It’s a very sensitive subject.

Maybe passages like this is why. We don’t want to be our own authorities about how to worship the LORD. We do, and we don’t (mostly don’t like it when we notice others doing it).

Carly has experienced something I have not, which is churches who don’t allow instruments. In fear that we may somehow worship the LORD in a way He hasn’t prescribed, we sometimes over correct and paint ourselves into weird corners.

It shouldn’t be like how we worship other things. Music, itself, is powerful, and sometimes a popular complaint is that a worship service can look too similar to a Coldplay concert. Or maybe we get down on ourselves because sports get us much more excited than the LORD does. I don’t think we are meant to carry shame around about this, I think the West is just way too far removed from the way the LORD prescribed worship in the Torah to know what’s Biblical and what’s cultural.

Maybe it’s not bad to be both? It’s tricky. We want to bring devotion to the LORD, and we only know certain ways to bring devotion.

Here are some verses commonly used as indicators for worship:

  • “Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling.” (Psalms‬ ‭2:11‬)
  • “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in holy array.” (Psalms‬ ‭29:2‬)
  • “Worship the LORD in holy attire; Tremble before Him, all the earth.” (Psalms‬ ‭96:9‬)
  • “Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing.” (Psalms‬ ‭100:2‬)
  • “Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, With the lyre and the sound of melody.” (Psalms‬ ‭98:5)
  • “Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; Sing praises to our God on the lyre,” (Psalms‬ ‭147:7‬)
  • “Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.” (Psalms‬ ‭33:2)
  • “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans‬ ‭12:1‬)
  • “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah‬ ‭6:8‬)

How do you worship the LORD? Have you ever given it much thought? How do you tend to worship other things (on purpose or otherwise)? Ask the LORD for His way He’d like to be worshiped and glorified in your life. It probably has something to do with obedience, but obedience about what?

-Bethany

2 Chronicles 31-32 B

“But Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown to him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem.” 32:25

Out of all of Hezekiah’s ups and downs with the Lord, I find this one the most relatable. Receiving God’s mercy and responding ungratefully, with pride. I wonder what the details are here. Did he brag about special treatment he received from the Lord? Did he try to take credit for something only God can do?

Later, in the book of Luke, this concept comes up again. Jesus heals 10 men with leprosy and only one turns back to thank and praise him for this miracle.

It’s not too late to turn back and thank God for something he’s done in your life.

“Then Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime.” 32:26

When has God healed you?

Where have you let pride move in? Is there something incredible about your story that you are trying to sneak credit for?

God is gracious; but he doesn’t tolerate pride. Ask him where you need humility in your life. (And brace yourself, because he’s sure to point it out!)

-Carly

2 Chronicles 29-30 B

Hezekiah is a big deal. He gets a lot of coverage in Kings and Chronicles for how he’s able to turn the ship around after a horrible king. Unfortunately, he’s sandwiched by another horrible king. He stands alone.

He’s a contemporary of Isaiah, and it’s generally accepted (if my memory serves) that they were related: First cousins, maybe.

I love Hezekiah and how to sends out Kingdom wide invites to a Passover. He takes his time, making sure the temple is properly consecrated. After all these many days of extreme overhaul, it says this:

“Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced over what God had prepared for the people, because the thing came about suddenly.” (‭‭29:36)

It happened suddenly, by their count. One day, you’ve got a menacing king who offers human sacrifice, and the next, the temple is clean and worship of the LORD is reinstated.

This gives me hope that with a few weeks of earnest work, a nation can be changed suddenly. It’s not promised to last forever, but just as “too good to last” can be true, the opposite also applies.

Nothing truly lasts. The world changes up and down, back and forth. Patience, endurance and hard work when opportunities come is important. Where do you find yourself today?

-Bethany