Ezra 1-5 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  Styles come and go, but He never changes

My laptop PC had served me well for several years.  I understand most of the nuances and foibles of my Windows PC, and I’m comfortable with it, like a pair of well broken-in shoes.  It was with reluctance that I accepted the necessity to buy a new laptop, but it was time. Voices were encouraging me to make a change, a change for the better they said, change to a…Mac.  Help! They promise no viruses, user-friendly computing, amazing video editing and on and on.  I like things the way they are, and who needs change?  Maybe…no…well, I just don’t know…but it may be the way to go…but it’s just not me…I could learn to like it…to Mac or not to Mac. Hmmm… 

@ Ezra 3
“When the builders completed the foundation of the Lord’s Temple, the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets…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. But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy.  The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.” (3:10,11-13)  Change can be difficult.

I am almost positive I have heard the “joyful shouting and the weeping mingled together” in some of our church services throughout the land.  Church just isn’t the same as it was years ago.  Newer music, relaxed style of dress and quicker paced services are just a few of the changes that many churches have grown into over the past few years.  Many seasoned believers feel disconnected from the church where they had experienced so many wonderful moments with the Lord – the new Temple is just not the same, not as magnificent as Solomon’s Temple.

History reveals quite a shake-up in the church world when the now somewhat disconnected believers were younger.  Coming out of more liturgical services, they started to accept gospel songs, clapping, raising hands to God and even shouting at times.  I’ve read that the elders from their former churches thought they had lost all respect and reverence for God; but of course, they had not.  Their new-found freedom in the Lord was in keeping with the day in which they lived, and it was like a breath of fresh air to the church.  But to some, the new Temple was just not the same, not as magnificent as Solomon’s Temple.

After 40 years in youth and young adult ministry, I can say that the current generation, with very few exceptions, does not really understand the style of the past.  As a rule, it doesn’t touch them, it doesn’t reach them and without some new wineskins for the new wine God is pouring out today, they may be lost for eternity.

When I worship in church today, beyond the music and the style, I am most blessed by seeing people’s lives changed by the power of God, and that is really the bottom line for me.  If I didn’t see this taking place in my church, I would find a place where it was happening.  Methods and music style, whether new or old, without the touch of God are simply entertainment.  The temple may not look anything like the temple of my youth, but I’m not going to weep because too many young lives are finding the Savior.  Hear my joyful shouting!

Moving Forward:  I’m rejoicing today over lives being changed by the power of God.  It may be a different approach, but it’s the same God and the same power. 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 131-133

Nehemiah 5-9 NLT)

Discover His heart: He is blessed when we show respect and honor to His Word

Sometimes we forget the impact of scripture on our lives.  If we take a moment to think about it, we will remember occasions when we were distraught over a situation but a verse from the Bible brought comfort and strength to us.  Then, there have been numerous times in my own life when I have been reading His Word and a particular scripture gets all up in my business, if you know what I mean.  This is when the conviction of the Holy Spirit invades my life, and I am reduced to tears of repentance.  I really don’t enjoy the process, but the peace and joy that follows makes it all worthwhile.  The entire nation of Israel experienced the convicting power of the Holy Spirit when the Levites read from the Book of Moses. 

@ Nehemiah 8
“Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform that had been made for the occasion… they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet.” (4-5)  As Babylonian captives, 42,000 plus Israelites returned to their home of Jerusalem.  Their Temple had been rebuilt under the guidance of their spiritual leader, Ezra, and the walls of their city had been rebuilt under the direction of their wise governor, Nehemiah.

With purpose in their hearts, they had assembled together for the reading of God’s Word, and as the book was opened, they rose to their feet to show honor and respect for His Holy Word.  Perhaps this example is why we often stand for the reading of God’s Word when we assemble together in our churches.  It’s only right that our position and demeanor should distinguish between man’s words and God’s Holy Word.  Nothing we say in our own strength can compare to the perfect, trustworthy and pure words of God. (Psalm 19:7-8)  At the very least, our hearts should stand at attention when we read or hear His powerful Word.

Apparently the Israelites had a lengthy Bible Study that day as they stood assembled together.  Over the 70 years of captivity, Aramaic rather than Hebrew had become the first language for many of the younger Israelites.  Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levites went to great lengths to translate and interpret the scriptures so that all could understand their meaning.  This is the role of our pastors today as well, to read the Word of God and explain it in a way that all will understand.  Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”(4:6) Thankfully, the Holy Spirit anoints His Word and the lips of His servants, and He touches our hearts as we listen.

“Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, ‘Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.’ For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law” (9)  Just like King Josiah when he heard the words of the law for the first time, the hearts of the people were tender to God’s Word and they were remorseful for their many sins of the past.  The scriptures had revealed to them the high cost paid for their low living.

But now the people had repented, the Temple was standing and the walls had been rebuilt – it was time for celebration!  “And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (10)  With sins forgiven, it was time to celebrate the goodness of the Lord in their lives.

God doesn’t want us to live in guilt over our past sins and mistakes.  “If we confess our sins to him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (I John 1:9)  It’s time to celebrate and put on the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness! (Isaiah 61:3)  Then His joy will be our strength to celebrate His goodness and to live in obedience to Him.  It’s difficult to sin against God while celebrating His goodness and mercy with great joy in our hearts…it really is. 

Moving Forward:  With joy in my heart for His forgiveness and grace, I move through this day celebrating His goodness. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 140-142