Posts Tagged “Ezra”

Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

November is the official start of the holiday season in our house – Thanksgiving is just around the corner and Christmas follows quickly behind it. I love reading the book of Luke in November because it tells the Christmas story so well. It’s the book that will be our New Testament focus this month. Near the end of the month we’ll begin to read the book of Revelation – God’s final words to us.

Our readings take us through the Old and New Testaments over a two year period. We’re winding up our two years this month and next, so here at Apprehending Grace we’re already thinking about our 2014 plan. If you have any thoughts about how you’d like us to organize the readings, let us know. Comment on the blog, send me an email or past a message on our Facebook page.

The following buttons will open PDFs of the November/December bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the Sept/Oct 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

The November Reading Schedule also appears at the end of this blog.

Enjoy your reading! We’d love to hear what God speaks to your heart. Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for November is below.

2013-11Nov RecRdg

Here’s how the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules are organized:

  • The first two columns of the schedule allow you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice over a two-year period. You will typically read about three chapters a day if you follow this reading plan.
  • The “Additional Readings” column put you on a plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. You will read between four and five chapters a day if you follow this plan.

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

October – the month of beautiful trees, a briskness in the air, bonfires and the annoying start of Christmas items in stores! It’s also the month for reading the books of Jeremiah, James, 1 and 2 Peter and Luke.  Throw in 2 Kings if you’re reading the additional readings. And the encroaching coolness outside makes it a great time to curl up and read.

If you’ve fallen behind and are looking for a good place to jump back into the readings, this month is perfect. Start on September 30th and you’ll join us at the start of Ecclesiastes and James. From here, the readings provide a great build up to Christmas. The New Testament readings will put you in a perfect place to enjoy the holiness of the upcoming season.

The following buttons will open PDFs of the September/October bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the Sept/Oct 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

The October Reading Schedule also appears at the end of this blog.

Enjoy your reading! We’d love to hear what God speaks to your heart.  Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for October is below.

Resting at the River's Edge October 2013 Recommended Reading Schedule

Here’s how the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules are organized:

  • The first two columns of the schedule allow you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice over a two-year period. You will typically read about three chapters a day if you follow this reading plan.
  • The “Additional Readings” column put you on a plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. You will read between four and five chapters a day if you follow this plan.

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Resting at the River’s Edge provides an opportunity to participate in reading through the Bible in a systematic way. Here’s more details about the plan and our schedules.

Track your reading along with us using the table below, the the half-page PDF you can download here or the September/October Bookmark you can download here.

We’d love to have you share what God is teaching you. E-mail me, leave a message on the Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Word of God, speak to us this month!
Sandy

Download all 2012 bookmarks here Download only the September/October 2012 bookmark here

Download a half-page PDF of the October Reading Plan here

Here’s the October reading plan:

Oct 2012 RARE Reading Plan JPG

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by guest blogger Phil Hovatter

Reading an entire book of the Bible in one sitting can give you a better perspective of it than dividing it up over more than one day. This morning I had the opportunity and great pleasure of reading the Old Testament book of Ezra in one big gulp.

Ezra was an Israelite priest held in captivity in Babylon.  In fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, the Jews were being released to go back to their homeland. Support for their return and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem came from no fewer than three Persian (modern-day Iranian) emperors — Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. These guys didn’t just support the rebuilding effort with lip service, they also returned temple furnishings stolen by Nebuchadnezzar when he trashed Jerusalem 70 years earlier, and kicked in thousands of pounds of gold and silver, along with herds of animals to be sacrificed at the newly rebuilt temple.

Persian kings supporting the rebuilding of the Jewish temple? When God fulfills a prophecy, He really fulfills a prophecy! Not only did Jeremiah prophesy the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity 70 years before it occurred, Isaiah prophesied the exact name of the emperor who would issue their release — 160 years before it happened. Isaiah 44:28 —[I am the LORD,] who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.’”

I get two things from this.

  • First, our help can come from some very unexpected places. Who would expect such lavish support for the Jews to come from Persian emperors?
  • Second, if God says it (even 160 or 2,000 years in advance), it’s a done deal!

So what has God said about you and your situation? Maybe He’s said something specifically about you and future. If so, continue to pray into it and seek the Lord for its fulfillment. Even if He hasn’t said anything specific to you, the Bible is chock full of great promises for those who pursue God  (and some not-so-great ones for those who choose not to pursue God). Search the Scriptures and look for what God is saying to you today. And look for the fulfillment of those promises…even from unlikely sources!

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27Praise be to the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem in this way 28and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials.
Ezra 7:27-28a

As I read through the book of Ezra last week, the thing that made the greatest impression on me was God’s ability and willingness to change the hearts of powerful people to accomplish His purposes. I’m thankful that we serve a God who is active in the lives of men and women and changes the hearts of those in authority to accomplish His will here on earth. It doesn’t even matter whether those in authority recognize or serve Him! It’s easy to doubt that such a thing will happen when those in authority over us seem to be brick walls in our path. When our parents or boss or clients or even spouse have a history of treating us one way, it’s hard to imagine that anything will change.

That’s the situation the Israelites found themselves in after being taken into captivity in Babylon. Yet God moved on the hearts of three different rulers to release the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the city and their temple. First, the Babylonians (Israel’s conquerors) were conquered by King Cyrus of Persia. You can imagine that the Israelites could hardly imagine, barely believe it possible, that a man who had just conquered their conquerors would set them free to return to their homeland. But that’s exactly what happened. It’s described in Ezra 1:

1In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:

2“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:

“‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 3Anyone of his people among you—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.
Ezra 1:1-3

Here is this pagan king acknowledging that God has appointed him to build a temple Him! There are a number of theories about why Cyrus would believe such a thing and release the Israelites, but they are just theories. Perhaps he wanted to ingratiate himself to his new subjects. Maybe the prophecies of Jeremiah were shown to him and he understood himself to be God’s instrument. Maybe he had a reverence for the God of the heaven.

No one knows the mind of the king except the one true King who clearly influenced it. Matthew Henry points out in his commentary that releasing the Israelites to return to Jerusalem went against all common wisdom: It would have been in the interest of Cyrus’ government to continue to have the Jews as slaves; it would certainly not have been in the interest of his country to allow the Jews to establish their own homeland and government again; and in allowing the Israelites to build a temple for worship, King Cyrus was going against the religion of his own country.

But God moved on his heart and he released the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and establish themselves in the city, rebuilding the city walls and the temple. Rebuilding is a long process, however, and after a few years Israel’s enemies tried to hinder the rebuilding. They tried to intimidate the Israelites and wrote letters to the current king, King Darius, warning him of the dangers of allowing the Israelites to regain their autonomy. So God moved on the heart of King Darius. He sent this memo:

Memorandum [from King Darius]:

3In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem:

Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid…The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury. 5Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, are to be returned to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; they are to be deposited in the house of God.

6Now then, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and you, their fellow officials of that province, stay away from there. 7Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site.

8Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God:

The expenses of these men are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop. 9Whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem—must be given them daily without fail, 10so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.

11Furthermore, I decree that if anyone changes this edict, a beam is to be pulled from his house and he is to be lifted up and impaled on it. And for this crime his house is to be made a pile of rubble. 12May God, who has caused his Name to dwell there, overthrow any king or people who lifts a hand to change this decree or to destroy this temple in Jerusalem.

I Darius have decreed it. Let it be carried out with diligence.
Ezra 6:1-12

Did you catch that? Not only did Darius support the work of the Israelites, he commanded that those who had been opposing it provide the Israelites with all they needed to finish the work! Oh, and while you’re at it, provide whatever they need to make offerings to their God, too! What an amazing turn of events. Israel just received “most favored nation” status in the Middle East!

But God wasn’t finished. Some time after the temple was finished, God moved on the heart of King Artaxerxes to release Ezra and all Jews remaining in Babylon to return to Jerusalem to worship the Lord.

11This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra the priest and teacher, a man learned in matters concerning the commands and decrees of the LORD for Israel:

12 Artaxerxes, king of kings,

To Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven:

Greetings.

13Now I decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including priests and Levites, who wish to go to Jerusalem with you, may go. 14You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand. 15Moreover, you are to take with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisers have freely given to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16together with all the silver and gold you may obtain from the province of Babylon, as well as the freewill offerings of the people and priests for the temple of their God in Jerusalem. 17With this money be sure to buy bulls, rams and male lambs, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and sacrifice them on the altar of the temple of your God in Jerusalem.

18You and your brother Jews may then do whatever seems best with the rest of the silver and gold, in accordance with the will of your God. 19Deliver to the God of Jerusalem all the articles entrusted to you for worship in the temple of your God. 20And anything else needed for the temple of your God that you may have occasion to supply, you may provide from the royal treasury.

21Now I, King Artaxerxes, order all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you—22up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit. 23Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and of his sons? 24You are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God.

25And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. 26Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.
Ezra 7:11-26

Three kings, all who’s hearts were changed to favor the Israelites. I’ve included lengthy passages here to illustrate how completely their hearts were changed – how incredibly favorably disposed they were toward the Jews.

Many years ago I sat across the desk from a potential client. We had completed a couple of small projects for him and had quoted on a very large project. He looked me in the eye and said “We’ve had the budget approved for this large project for a very long time, but I’ve never given the job to anyone because I never trusted anyone to do it well. I’m ready to give the project to you.” I wanted to respond by saying “Why?” Instead I graciously accepted the large project, went back to the office and did the happy dance!

From an earthly perspective, this new client had no reason to trust me with his large project. Performing well on a couple of small projects in our line of work is not a strong indicator that a firm will perform well on a large project. The skill set is significantly different. Additionally, I had only met with him a couple of times, so we hadn’t had enough interactions for him to truly gauge my integrity. I like to believe we’re nice people and comfortable to work with, but still…“Why?” was the question in my mind.

Almost as quickly as the question was formed, the answer came…nothing but the grace and favor of God. God wanted to make it clear to me that our business would grow by His grace. My job was to do my best, lead and work with integrity, and trust Him for grace and favor with clients.

Sometimes I forget that. When clients seem impatient or make unreasonable demands I can fall into the trap of feeling like I have to “do it all” to please them or to keep our business afloat. It’s times like that when I am glad that I serve a God who changes the hearts of those in authority.

How about you? Are there situations in your life that where it seems hopeless that someone in authority will change their mind or behavior? God can change their hearts! Take a few minutes today to ask God to forgive you if you’ve been responding poorly to that person’s leadership or if you’ve doubted that God can change the situation. Then ask God to change the person’s heart and ask Him how you should be responding to the situation. Is some change required on your part? In each of the examples above, the Israelites were serving the king before God changed the king’s heart. Are you serving well?

Remember, friends, that no situation is hopeless. Our God changes the hearts of men (and women).

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Construction Jobs, Queens, an Unfaithful Wife, the Love of God, and Wisdom on a Plethora of Subjects – all in the month of June!

As we Rest at the River’s Edge in June, we’ll be reading five different Old Testament books and read portions of Romans and 1 Corinthians. Sounds like a lot, but we’re still reading only three chapters on most days. Here’s just a hit of some of the things that await you in June:

  • Construction, construction and construction – You’ll read about the rebuilding of the temple after the Babylonian captivity in the book of Ezra. In Nehemiah you’ll read about the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
  • Everyone knows the story of Esther – the young Jewish woman who would become queen and save her people. We’ll follow Esther’s story with the story of Hosea and his wife Gomer. The story of Hosea and his unfaithful wife Gomer provides a beautiful picture of how God takes us back again and again even when we are unfaithful to Him.
  • I hope you’re enjoying the reading we’ve been doing in Romans. We’ll finish the book coming to such favorite passages as “Nothing can separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8) and Paul’s great prayer “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15).
  • Paul will provide wisdom about all sorts of things in 1 Corinthians: Spiritual pride, sexual sin, marriage, public worship, gifts of the Spirit, and more.

I pray that God speaks to you each day as you read. Remember to pause and pray before reading – ask God to join you and open your heart, mind and spirit as you read.

Blessings, friends,
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for June is below.

To download a PDF of June’s recommended reading plan, click here.

Watching the Church Grow & Develop and Reading some Poetry

As we Rest at the River’s Edge in May, we’ll spend most of our time doing two things:

Watching the church grow and develop as we read through the book of Acts

Enjoying poetry as we read some Psalms and the Song of Songs (often called Song of Solomon)

As spring develops, don’t lose focus on what’s important, but feel free to take your Bible and notebook outside and enjoy some spring weather!

Blessings,
Sandy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Saturday’s blog, one of the points I made is that when God wants to accomplish something on earth He usually inspires one person. What an awesome thing to be used by God to accomplish His purposes. Paul, in speaking to the Corinthians, goes so far as to refer to himself and his fellow workers for Christ as “partners with God.” I love that He doesn’t save us just to have us sit around and enjoy the free gift of salvation. I love sitting around and enjoying the free gift of salvation, but I love it even more that He values me enough to want me to partner with Him to accomplish eternal purposes while I am here on earth.

In the book of Ezra, we saw God use many people. The first (in this book) was King Cyrus, an unbeliever. God gave him the desire to help the Israelites rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But a King’s decree is just that – an order for something to be done. And building a temple is a huge job. So God inspired and enabled the leaders if the Israelites to move to Jerusalem, settle there and rebuild the temple. Zerubbabel emerged as a leader and lead the building effort and stood against Israel’s enemies when there must have been great temptation to let them join in the effort. (After all, more hands would have meant easier work for everyone.)

The rebuilding of the temple was not a short-term or easy assignment. It took seven months just for the people to relocate. Then the rebuilding began. After building for some period of time, opposition forced the work to stop…for about sixteen years! Imagine how disappointed Zerubbabel must have felt. Imagine how defeated he would have been tempted to feel. But it was Zerubbabel who again started the building process sixteen years later.

The outcome would have been much different if Zerubbabel had not been obedient to the call of God.Zerubbabel’s life would have been much different if he had not been obedient to God’s call. There were many places in the story when he could have said “Me? No thanks! I’ll let someone else do that job!” At the beginning it must have seemed like an insurmountable task. When facing the attacks of Israel’s enemies, he must have been as tempted to be discouraged as everyone else. When work stopped, it would have been easy to give up hope. When it was prophecied that they should begin to build again, it would have been so tempting to say “been there, done that! It didn’t work the first time, why should I stick my neck out and try it again? Find another sucker.” But that’s not Zerubbabel’s story. His story is one of faithful servanthood.

God changes the world through faithful servants. People like you and me who say “Yes!” to God. I’ve focused on Zerubbabel, but each person who moved to Jerusalem and helped rebuild the temple and each person who provided finances to make it possible were used by God to accomplish His purpose. In each case, the outcome would have been a bit different if they hadn’t said “Yes.” Maybe a portion of the temple would have been built differently or wrongly. Maybe some of the work would have been delayed or altered because of lack of finances. God desires to use all of us, according to our gifts and talents. But he gives us the option. We can be the faithful servant like Zerubbel or we can hinder God’s work by saying “I think I’ll sit this one out.”

I hope you won’t sit this one out. Say “Yes” when you feel God stirring your heart about something. That’s how He usually speaks – by starting a process in our hearts so that we begin to feel a draw toward something that maybe we wouldn’t naturally pursue. Like relocating and rebuilding a temple. Like giving offerings of money and personal property to see the work of the Gospel move forward.

God wants you to partner with Him on an upcoming project. Will you join Him? The results will be God-enabled. And that’s a pretty cool thing! No, that’s a WAY cool thing.

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Resting at the River’s Edge in August — Some Reading for a Hot Summer Day

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
Ephesians 1:3-4

Ephesians is one of the great books we’ll read in August. It’s truly one of my favorites. I quoted the above two verses, but trust me, I had to restrain myself from quoting the whole first chapter.

We’ll read another book that is many people’s favorites: James. It’s a book chock full of practical advice and favorite verses…or at least verses you know well. How about these?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,… (1:2)

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (4:6b)

Come near to God and he will come near to you. (4:8)

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (5:16b)

We’ll also continue reading in the Old Testament, finishing the last two chapters in 1 Chronicles and then moving on to 2 Chronicles. Ezra and Nehemiah are next — you’ll read not only about the re-building of the Temple, but also about how the hearts of the Israelites were turned again toward God.

Throw about twenty Psalms into the mix and one minor prophet (Obadiah) and that’s our August reading.

Some of you may find yourself beginning to fall behind. Let me encourage you to continue reading. It’s OK to be behind. Maybe you’ll finish reading through the entire Bible in fifteen months instead of twelve — and won’t it have been wonderful to have accomplished such a thing?

Or who knows — perhaps God will provide you with a window of time in September or October or November and you’ll find yourself catching up just in time to read the Christmas story in December!

Take a summer break and read some Scripture! The beach would be a nice location! Enjoy!

To download a PDF of August’s reading schedule, click here.

08AugReading

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And I said to these priests, “You and these treasures have been set apart as holy to the LORD. This silver and gold is a freewill offering to the LORD, the God of our ancestors. Guard these treasures well until you present them, without an ounce lost, to the leading priests, the Levites, and the leaders of Israel at the storerooms of the LORD’S Temple in Jerusalem.” So the priests and the Levites accepted the task of transporting these treasures to the Temple of our God in Jerusalem.
                Ezra 8:28-30, NLT

As I read this, I was struck by the way that Ezra spoke to the priests – reminding them that they were set apart as holy to the Lord and the treasure they were carrying was holy to the Lord. I couldn’t help but be awed by the honorable responsibility given to them and to be challenged that God has given me this same responsibility. Because I know Him, because I have a relationship with Him, He’s given me His awesome Holy Spirit to live within me. I don’t know how that happens, but I know that everywhere I go, He goes. In a sense, I am transporting or carrying God into every place and every situation I find myself today, tomorrow, the next day and the next day, until He calls me to be with Him. He is the treasure in the earthly vessel of my body. Let me paraphrase Ezra – this is how I heard it in my spirit as I read the passage:

“You have been set apart as holy to the Lord. He has given you a free will offering – His Son for your salvation and the Holy Spirit within You to help you become more like Him. These gifts are more precious than silver and gold offerings. Guard them well as you walk through life, until one day you present yourself to God and hear Him say ‘well done.'”

Am I taking liberty with Ezra 8:28-30? Absolutely! But I am also being true to Scripture. Christ has come to live within each of us who follow His leadership – who give Him lordship of our lives.

This is my “Thursday” Christmas blog this week – I’m delivering it on Tuesday – so that you can begin to pray about and see the awesome task you have before you this week – to carry Christ into every situation you find yourself. For many of you, that will mean those difficult Christmas gatherings where Aunt Betty will do nothing but criticize you and Uncle Bart will be obnoxious and boorish.

Enjoy yourself! Christ lives in you and wants to bring joy in the midst of criticism and boorishness. He wants to bring it to you and those who seem unlikely candidates for it!

Have a wonderful, Christ-centered (at least in your heart) Christmas!

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