Saturday, April 14, 2012

So what's the big deal?

What is God like?  Really?  He is NOT the "man upstairs" that mankind likes to imagine Him to be that winks at sin and just helps us out of tight spots when we become desperate.  The Babe born in a stable and nailed to a cross in His 30's didn't match up with man's idea of what the coming Messiah was going to be like?  Do we care to know the One who created all that is?  What is His character?  What are His aims for this world?  Do we want to know Who put skin over our flesh and makes our heart beat and our lungs take in air?  What pleases Him?  What grieves His heart?  He has graciously revealed Himself in His Word and gives His Spirit to those who cry out to Him.  Are we crying out?  Do we really give a hoot or have the things of this world lured us away from delighting in the incredible glory of our great God and King?

We're studying Ezra together as a family.  God had delivered His people out of captivity, showing them great mercy, and  He instructed them so that they would know how to live as His redeemed ones. "You commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, 'The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land, with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from one end to another with their impurity. Now therefore, do not give your daughters as wives for their sons, nor take their daughters to your sons; and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land, and leave it as an inheritance to your children forever'" (Ezra 9:11-12).

But we have a problem.  A common problem.  Mankind neglects the word of God and exalts his own thoughts as superior...with arguments like "we deserve to be happy" or "God just doesn't want us to have any fun" and other such nonsense, we justify our pursuits of whatever we damn well please (and I use that phrase intentionally because this mindset is indeed damnable).  In chapter 9 of Ezra we see that the people joined right in on the abominable deeds of the peoples, including intermarrying with pagans, and verse 2 tells us that the leaders/rulers were the worst offenders.

So is this a big deal?

Ezra thought so.  "So when I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked out some of the hair of my head and beard, and sat down astonished." ~ Ezra 9:3

The people who trembled at God's word thought so.  "Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel assembled to me, because of the transgression of those who had been carried away captive..." ~ Ezra 9:4

They knew God was patient and merciful...they knew He was the One who had just delivered them by His mighty hand and had given them the favor of kings to rebuild the temple.  They also knew God is just, and the reason they had been in captivity in the first place was because of their rebellion against Him.  And they feared.  They rightly feared.

"At the evening sacrifice I arose from my fasting; and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God. And I said: "O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens.  Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been very guilty, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to humiliation, as it is this day.  And now for a little while grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage. For we were slaves. Yet our God did not forsake us in our bondage; but He extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to revive us, to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.  And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments...... And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this,  should we again break Your commandments, and join in marriage with the people committing these abominations? Would You not be angry with us until You had consumed us, so that there would be no remnant or survivor? O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous, for we are left as a remnant, as it is this day. Here we are before You, in our guilt, though no one can stand before You because of this!" ~ Ezra 9:5-10, 13-15

Ezra may not have personally been guilty, but he cries out "our iniquities."  Do WE see ourselves as part of the "body of Christ" or just as individuals?  We've been talking about this relative to our day.  We have plenty of reason to fear as Ezra did.  The God who delivers the rebellious into the hand of kings, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to humiliation is still on His throne.  Surely He is merciful, and in His mercy alone can we hope...but that does not negate His justice and our reason to fear.  There are plenty of abominations being committed by those claiming to be among God's people: abortions, no-fault divorce, turning a blind eye to child trafficking and all kinds of social injustices, homosexuality, adultery, fornication, and yes, even marrying outside of the faith just like in Ezra's day.  Personally I know people who have married outside the faith and got counsel from parents and pastors saying that it was fine to do so...I know a pastor who is a big-time homosexual advocate...I circulate petitions to get it on our ballet in Oregon to be able to vote against taxpayer funded abortions (because the sad reality is that many still want to argue their "right" to murder infants in the womb and at present taxpayers still must pay for it)...and I know that every time we exalt our own plans over God's commands we forfeit our joy and rob Him of the glory and praise due His name.   We should fear...we should rightly fear.  As God brings us into relationship with people who name Him as their savior and yet live in such a way, are we engaging them, pleading with them to trust His goodness and to live in obedience to Him as God gives us opportunity?  Or do we live and let live without any concern beyond our own personal life?  God's people are called to mission...we are to be His ambassadors of reconciliation, fountains of truth and love, spreaders of the good news of His gospel.  We are His body, and many members of His body are in rampant we care?  Do we care enough to cry out to God?  Do we care enough to reach into people's lives and speak truth in love?  Do we understand our own deliverance so that our approach with others has the aroma of humility versus a self-righteous pride? 

One of my husbands favorite verses is found in Ezra 7:10 which says: "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel."  I need to do a better job of preparing my heart to seek the Law of the Lord, to do it, and to share it with others with humility and love.  I need to be better at seeing myself as a member of His body, not an isolated individual, who cries out to Him because of "our iniquities."

Having read Ezra before, I can be filled with hope in the God of mercy even though our studies this round have only taken us as far as this problem...Ezra cried out...those who feared the Lord cried out...and things changed.

2 Chron 7:14 "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

Let us be people who cry out!

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