Ezra 7-8 B

“And there by the Ahava Canal, I gave orders for all of us to fast and humble ourselves before our God. We prayed that he would give us a safe journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled. For I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to accompany us and protect us from enemies along the way. After all, we had told the king, ‘Our God’s hand of protection is on all who worship him, but his fierce anger rages against those who abandon him.’ So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer.”  8:21-23

I find this part of the story really interesting (and relatable). He’s hesitant to reach out for help, because he doesn’t want to invite doubt of God’s capabilities. Did he over-promise what God can do? Did pride creep in? Would it be reasonable to need horsemen and soldiers?

Sometimes we make promises for God that he doesn’t want us to, and this can bring more doubt and misunderstanding to people instead of more interest in a relationship with him.  

He doesn’t:

-Promise us safety.

-Guarantee anything (happiness, health, marriage, children, success).

-Need you to embellish his greatness. He is perfectly great.

He does:

-Love us perfectly.

-Know our hearts and how to reach people.

-Always show up.

It’s tempting to want to convince people about God’s greatness. I remember in youth group settings, the speaker or pastor would always urgently exclaim that a life with Christ was a “free gift!” You don’t have to do anything! Just pray a quick prayer and wham bam! The concept is true; we cannot earn God’s love and it’s available to everyone, all the time. But Jesus is the first person to warn us that it’s costly. It will cost you everything to be with him, and he wants us to think that over before we climb onboard (Luke 14). I think their eagerness to convince middle schoolers that God is worthwhile had them sweetening the deal, when it doesn’t need to be sweetened.

This is a bit of a rabbit trail from the text, but it caught my eye and got me thinking.

Do you find yourself hiding unfavorable parts of God’s character and over-promising things? 

Or, has this happened to you? Do you have some past hurt where you felt misled about who God is? Either way, reconcile with him about it today.

 

-Carly

 

Ezra 5-6 B

“Moreover, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of this house of God: the full cost is to be paid to these people from the royal treasury out of the taxes of the provinces beyond the River, and that without delay.” (6:8‬)

Man, what a humiliating day for the “men in the region beyond the river” (4:11). Have you ever “told on someone” and had it really backfire?

These days it seems incredibly easy to get worked up about an event we see (or hear about) unfolding. Sometimes we never investigate, but other times we throw a fit, only to find out we’re on the wrong side of things. Lately, there’s too much being reported to fact check it all.

It’s tough to create a healthy relationship with the news. You want to be informed and maybe you even want to do something. Sometimes, though, it’s just hard to know how to engage, or know what’s true.

Since I am of the tendency to care either way too much (giving in to my tender heart) or not at all (feeding the cynical comedian within), I challenge myself to put down my phone–hide the Facebook or BBC app–and focus on what’s directly in front of me like it’s 1994.

It’s probable most our anxiety comes from overloading ourselves with more than nature would have allowed. We can’t know or care about the whole world, we can only steward what we know. We need to maintain the humility to be wrong, to have our wrists slapped to “mind our own business”, and work to do our best with what we know.

It’s a balance, and it’s one we all need to find for ourselves, with the help of humility and God’s wisdom. Don’t forget He loves to dole that out to those who ask. So ask Him about it today.

-Bethany

Ezra 3-4 B

Do you ever praise God for something he’s done, only to have it come unraveled? A relationship you brag about God redeeming, that ends in divorce. A cancer that shrinks down after relentless treatment and prayer, only to flare up and claim someone’s life. An addiction conquered, only to rear it’s head and consume someone’s life. We probably all have at least one story like that. It’s complicated, God’s sovereignty.

“With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the Lord: ‘He is so good! His faithful love for Israel endures forever!’ Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid.” 3:11

Then, later, as a result of ego and fear, the men are ordered by the king to stop working on the Temple. It sits half-finished for years. What about all the provision from God? What about the resources provided and the prayers answered? (Bethany wonders some of these same things in her post last time around and counters with some great Scripture from other parts of the Bible.)

How does God love us during opposition? It’s never by eliminating hardship and it’s always by making his presence available. He allows hardships. He leaves room for our free will. He doesn’t always stop the cancer from coming back. But, he has sent his son Jesus and bestowed his Holy Spirit to be with us. We have an eternal escape from our suffering, we have everlasting peace and a perfect home to look forward to. In the meanwhile, we have this beautiful book full of scandalous stories of how he loves us and he is with us. 

 

-Carly

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