When the sun came up on the first day of the seventh month in 444 bc, Ezra started reading the law of Moses (what we know as the first five books of the Bible). Standing on a platform in front of the people in Jerusalem, he read it straight through for the next six hours.
Men, women, and children had gathered at the entrance to the city known as the Water Gate to observe the Festival of Trumpets—one of the feasts prescribed for them by God. As they listened, four reactions stand out.
They stood up in reverence for the Book of the Law (Neh. 8:5). They praised God by lifting their hands and saying “Amen.” They bowed down in humble worship (v. 6). Then they listened carefully as the Scriptures were both read and explained to them (v. 8). What an amazing day as the book that “the Lord had commanded for Israel” (v. 1) was read aloud inside Jerusalem’s newly rebuilt walls!
Ezra’s marathon reading session can remind us that God’s words to us are still meant to be a source of praise, worship, and learning. When we open the Bible and learn more about Christ, let’s praise God, worship Him, and seek to discover what He is saying to us now.
As I stood in the back of the room at a senior citizens’ center in Palmer, Alaska, listening to my daughter’s high school choir sing “It Is Well with My Soul,” I wondered why she, the choir director, had chosen that song. It had been played at her sister Melissa’s funeral, and Lisa knew it was always tough for me to hear it without having an emotional response.
My musings were interrupted when a man sidled up next to me and said, “This is just what I need to hear.” I introduced myself and then asked why he needed this song. “I lost my son Cameron last week in a motorcycle accident,” he said.
Wow! I was so focused on myself that I never considered the needs of others, and God was busy using that song exactly where He wanted it to be used. I took my new friend Mac, who worked at the center, aside, and we talked about God’s care in this toughest time in his life.
All around us are people in need, and sometimes we have to set aside our own feelings and agendas to help them. One way we can do that is to remember how God has comforted us in our trials and troubles “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). How easy it is to be engrossed in our own concerns and forget that someone right next to us might need a prayer, a word of comfort, a hug, or gift of mercy in Jesus’ name.
The final major historic acts of the Old Testament are described in Ezra and Nehemiah as God allowed the people of Israel to return from exile and resettle in Jerusalem. The City of David was repopulated with Hebrew families, a new temple was built, and the wall was repaired.
And that brings us to Malachi. This prophet, who was most likely a contemporary of Nehemiah, brings the written portion of the Old Testament to a close. Notice the first thing he said to the people of Israel: “ ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord.” And look at their response: “How have you loved us?” (1:2).
Amazing, isn’t it? Their history had proven God’s faithfulness, yet after hundreds of years in which God continually provided for His chosen people in both miraculous and mundane ways, they wondered how He had shown His love. As the book continues, Malachi reminds the people of their unfaithfulness (see vv. 6-8). They had a long historical pattern of God’s provision for them, followed by their disobedience, followed by God’s discipline.
It was time, soon, for a new way. The prophet hints at it in Malachi 4:5-6. The Messiah would be coming. There was hope ahead for a Savior who would show us His love and pay the penalty once and for all for our sin.
That Messiah indeed has come! Malachi’s hope is now a reality in Jesus.
Psalm 100 is like a work of art that helps us celebrate our unseen God. While the focus of our worship is beyond view, His people make Him known.
Imagine the artist with brush and palette working the colorful words of this psalm onto a canvas. What emerges before our eyes is a world—“all the earth”—shouting for joy to the Lord (v. 1). Joy. Because it is the delight of our God to redeem us from death. “For the joy that was set before Him,” Jesus endured the cross (Heb. 12:2 nkjv).
As our eyes move across the canvas we see an all-world choir of countless members singing “with gladness” and “joyful songs” (Ps. 100:2). Our heavenly Father’s heart is pleased when His people worship Him for who He is and what He has done.
Then we see images of ourselves, fashioned from dust in the hands of our Creator, and led like sheep into green pasture (v. 3). We, His people, have a loving Shepherd.
Finally, we see God’s great and glorious dwelling place—and the gates through which His rescued people enter His unseen presence, while giving Him thanks and praise (v. 4).
What a picture, inspired by our God. Our good, loving, and faithful God. No wonder it will take forever to enjoy His greatness!
I don’t know how these people find me, but I keep getting more and more flyers in the mail from folks asking me to show up at their events so they can teach me about retirement benefits. It started several years ago when I began getting invitations to join an organization that works on behalf of retirees. These reminders all serve to say: “You’re getting older. Get ready!”
I have ignored them all along, but soon enough I’m going to have to break down and go to one of their meetings. I really should be taking action on their suggestions.
Sometimes I hear a similar reminder in the wisdom of Scripture. We know that what the passage says is true about us, but we are just not ready to respond. Maybe it’s a passage like Romans 14:13 that says, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another.” Or the reminder in 2 Corinthians 9:6, which tells us, “Whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Or this reminder in Philippians 1: “Stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened” (vv. 27-28).
As we read God’s Word, we get vital reminders. Let’s take these seriously as from the heart of the Father who knows what honors Him and is best for us.
The citizens of Israel were having some trouble with the government. It was the late 500s bc, and the Jewish people were eager to complete their temple that had been destroyed in 586 bc by Babylon. However, the governor of their region was not sure they should be doing that, so he sent a note to King Darius (Ezra 5:6-17).
In the letter, the governor says he found the Jews working on the temple and asks the king if they had permission to do so. The letter also records the Jews’ respectful response that they had indeed been given permission by an earlier king (Cyrus) to rebuild. When the king checked out their story, he found it to be true: King Cyrus had said they could build the temple. So Darius not only gave them permission to rebuild, but he also paid for it! (see 6:1-12). After the Jews finished building the temple, they “celebrated with joy” because they knew God had “[changed] the attitude of the king” (6:22).
When we see a situation that needs to be addressed, we honor God when we plead our case in a respectful way, trust that He is in control of every situation, and express gratitude for the outcome.
Watching my young grandson and his friends play T-Ball is entertaining. In this version of baseball, young players often run to the wrong base or don’t know what to do with the ball if they happen to catch it. If we were watching a professional baseball game, these mistakes would not be so funny.
It’s all a matter of maturity.
It’s okay for young athletes to struggle—not knowing what to do or not getting everything exactly right. They are trying and learning. So we coach them and patiently guide them toward maturity. Then we celebrate their success as later they play with skill as a team.
Something similar happens in the life of those who follow Jesus. Paul pointed out that the church needs people who will “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). And we need a variety of “coaches” (pastors, teachers, spiritual mentors) to help us all move toward “unity in the faith” as we strive to “become mature” (v. 13).
The goal as we listen to preaching and teaching and enjoy life together in the church is to grow up to maturity in Christ (v. 15). Each of us is on this journey, and we can encourage each other on the road to maturity in Jesus.
When a good friend suddenly lost her husband to a heart attack, we grieved with her. As a counselor, she had comforted many others. Now, after 40 years of marriage, she faced the unwelcome prospect of returning to an empty house at the end of each day.
In the midst of her grief, our friend leaned on the One who “is close to the brokenhearted.” As God walked with her through her pain, she told us she would choose to “wear the label widow proudly,” because she felt it was the label God had given her.
All grief is personal, and others may grieve differently than she does. Her response doesn’t diminish her grief or make her home less empty. Yet it reminds us that even in the midst of our worst sorrows, our sovereign and loving God can be trusted.
Our heavenly Father suffered a profound separation of His own. As Jesus hung on the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Yet He endured the pain and separation of crucifixion for our sins out of love for us!
He understands! And because “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34:18), we find the comfort we need. He is near.
Several years ago I received a letter from an Our Daily Bread reader after I had written about a family tragedy. “When you told about your tragedy,” this person wrote, “I realized that the writers were real people with real problems.” How true that is! I look across the list of men and women who pen these articles, and I see cancer and wayward children and unfulfilled dreams and many other kinds of loss. We are indeed just regular, real people writing about a real God who understands our real problems.
The apostle Paul stands out in the Real People Hall of Fame. He had physical problems. He had legal issues. He had interpersonal relationship struggles to deal with. And in all of this messy reality, he was setting an example for us. In Philippians 3:17, he said, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”
Those around us who need the gospel—who need Jesus—are looking for believable people who can point them to our perfect Savior. And that means we must be real.