Friday, June 28, 2013

Praising God

Psalm 147
 1 Praise the LORD.
   How good it is to sing praises to our God,
   how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
 2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
   he gathers the exiles of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted
   and binds up their wounds.
 4 He determines the number of the stars
   and calls them each by name.
5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
   his understanding has no limit.
6 The LORD sustains the humble
   but casts the wicked to the ground. 

I have come to learn that praising God is a choice.  Yes, it should be the automatic response of those who have given themselves to Jesus, however, there are times in our lives when problems or weaknesses take over, and praising God seems distant from us. 

In the above psalm, God is being praised for what he has done, what he is doing, and what he continues to do. I suggest to today's Christian, even on the bluest of Mondays, even in the times of despair, and even when we are feeling weak, praising God is the first step toward the remedy we need. 

If our God has determined the number of the stars and calls them each by name, then he knows your problems and difficulties and is concerned about you. If he is great and mighty in power, and his understanding has no limit, then I know he cares and understands me. 

Our God promises to heal the brokenhearted and to bind up their wounds.  He is in the business of making us whole again. 

I love the way the psalmist is talking to God about things like exiles, building up Jerusalem, naming all the stars, sustaining the humble, and his limitless power and understanding.  When I can read of a God that keeps up with all those things, I know he cares for me. So I say to you, Praise the Lord.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Robe of Righteousness

Isaiah 61:10-11
10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and  a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

There is wonderful peace and exceeding joy when we know that God has clothed us with garments of salvation, and arrayed us in a robe of righteousness. Christians today need to know and understand how much the goodness of God is manifest in his people when they know God's salvation and God's righteousness.

 Satan will attack us in an attempt to bring us down by convincing us that we are not worthy, or that we really do not receive salvation from God.  Sinners that we are, Satan will constantly work on us, getting us to believe that God would never save us. 

In addition to the outward attacks of Satan, there are some inward attacks that happen, too. Inward accusations meant to tear down and damage the influence of the church. These may come in several forms, but the most evident movement from within the body of Christ is legalism. It rears its ugly head when Christians, under the guise of being defenders of the truth, try to bind us with a strict adherence to their list of biblical laws. Anyone that steps out of line is immediately suspect of not being a "real" Christian at all. The legalist cannot see that he allows himself to become exactly like the Pharisees, which Jesus continually chastised for making God's rules and laws a burden instead of a blessing. 

None of us will ever be perfect, and for me, I am glad. I can latch hold of the claim of Jesus that he did not come to save the perfect, he came to save the imperfect. Those who are not sick do not need of a doctor, but those who suffer spiritual sickness can always lean on Jesus, the Great Physician. 

Legalism leads to self-righteousness, and those who make such a venture through life will have us believing our salvation is based on something we do, rather than God's grace, which assures us that salvation something God does. My righteousness will not save me. Only God's righteousness can do the job. The legalist will have us believing we are under condemnation because of our sin. God wants us to receive forgiveness through Jesus paying the price for our sins on the cross. "There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:1.  It's time we praise God by celebrating the freedom he has given. 


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Going Home

Elisha was a prophet of God who came to be known as one who performed extraordinary deeds and wonders. He spoke in a way that his words became a powerful testimony  of God's intervention into the lives of his people, and especially his commitment to Israel. 

In a story in 2 Kings, Elisha had become a friend of woman and her husband because of their hospitality toward him when he was in their vicinity. The woman had opened her home to the prophet and provided him a comfortable place to stay. Her generosity was rewarded when Elisha promised her that she would have a child. She had a son, and when the boy was older, he got sick and died.  Elisha came to where the boy was, and raised him back to life. 

The woman had been told by Elisha that she should take her family and move to another place because the Lord had called for a famine on Israel that would last seven years. While they followed Elisha's  instructions, it was during their absence from their home and land, the king's government confiscated everything they left behind. 

When the famine was over, she sought possession of the property and belongings that had previously been hers which caught the attention of the king. It was then the king was told about her history, about her son dying and being raised, and about Elisha's dealings  with her family.  The king realized that this was convincing evidence of Elisha's work being blessed by God. Then the king had a dilemma. Since the property of this woman and her family had been abandoned, it rightly belonged to the king's government.  So would the king keep everything for himself or restore ownership to the woman's family?  How is a king supposed to respond to the evidence of a  miracle?

Knowing some of biblical history and that some kings were good kings and some were bad kings, we must see how this dilemma was resolved.  According to the text in 2 Kings 8, this king was not only a good king, but a smart king. The ownership of the land, house, possessions, and even the value of the crops in the field were restored to the woman's family.  

Here is where we find some direction for our own lives. This good king was wrestling with himself on how to respond to the evidence of God's workings in this family. When the proof was presented, it prompted the king to do the right thing. In essence, the king wanted to be a part of the continuing work of God in the lives of these people. If God was going to bless them with the miracle of raising a son from death, then the king wanted to continue God's work for them and in them by complete restoration. 

The story is an example to us when we see the workings of God in the lives of people today. Are we going to allow human nature to lead us into jealousy?  Are we resentful toward those who seem to have been blessed more than us?  This story  shows us whenever we see the workings of God in the lives of people, in churches, in neighborhoods, that's the place where God wants us, as his ambassadors on earth, to join in and help keep the blessing going. That attitude helped the woman return home. It's closely related to us finding our eternal home, too.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Commands and Traditions

The work of the Pharisees is laced throughout the New Testament as they questioned and criticized Jesus and his teachings. It usually consisted of following Jesus and his disciples and listening to him teach or watching his actions, then accusing Jesus of violating one of the Jewish commands or traditions. 

In Mark 7, the Pharisees were accusing the followers of Jesus for eating without washing their hands. To further understand this, the Pharisees and Jews always made a big deal out of the tradition of washing hands, even to the point of making it ceremonial. This was one of many traditions which had crept into their lives, and it became equal in importance to following the Law.

So the Pharisees confronted Jesus, saying, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”  Did they expect Jesus to confess to some wrongdoing? Could these religious leaders find reason for condemnation of the teachings and activities of this one who was obviously disobedient?

The answer Jesus gave is, no doubt, one that surprised them, but also becomes a point of teaching an important truth. "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" Read his answer several times, and remember it for our study today. 

Later in Mark 7 the travels of Jesus and his disciples brought him to the Sea of Galilee near the Decapolis.  While there, some people brought a man to Jesus who was deaf and unable to speak in an understandable fashion.  The people wanted Jesus to lay hands on this man to heal him. Verse 33 continues the story, " After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.  He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”).  The Bible then tells us the man's ears were opened and he could hear. His lips were loosened and he could speak plainly. 

What do these stories of the Pharisees and a man healed by Jesus have in common?  On the surface, maybe nothing. But there is a reason both of these stories are connected. It has to do with how Jesus answered the Pharisees. 

First, we need to understand the methods and practices of our Christianity are made up of both biblical truth and traditions. Here is a test to see if you understand that. Regardless of the church you attend, there are practices which can be identified with scriptural backing. Then there are practices which have been happening in that church for generations because "that's the way it's done here."  Attend a church with the same affiliation in another town and you will see some differences, not in the practices based on scripture, but in the practices based on tradition. 

Remember, Jesus told the Pharisees they were guilty of observing their own traditions, often at the expense of the commands of God.  Some traditions are good some are not.  You are encouraged to recognize the difference because when our traditions become our priorities, just like the Pharisees we are impeding the work of Christ. 

One thing is clear, in the presence of Jesus, the Pharisees learned he will do and say things which are contrary to "that's the way it's done here."  We need to learn that too.  "Lord, help me to turn from those traditions which I have insisted on observing, without  understanding your way is best.  May I be open and receptive to your love, your grace, and your direction for all of your people.  Amen."


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Forgetting what is behind....Straining for what is ahead

The letter of Paul to the Philippian church has been accurately called the epistle of joy. While Paul was in a Roman prison cell, the delivered messages from his friends at Philippi were sources of great joy as he remembered their faith and dedication to God. He wrote this letter of Philippians to those same folks, to let them know the happiness and joy he experienced when he learned of their work and the testimony of their lives. 

In the third chapter of Philippians, Paul gives a discourse on what it means to really belong to Jesus, even citing some of his own personal history, which he thought at the time to be truthful and an accurate assessment of the things God was expecting of him. He called himself a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, Paul was always zealous for persecuting Christians and the church; and as for knowing and living the absolute truth, he claimed to be faultless. 

Now Paul is saying that all of those accomplishments are nothing but rubbish, because the real substance of attaining righteousness is not of himself, but only through Jesus. Many changes had been made in Paul's life since his encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. He now knows that the sense of righteousness based on his own accomplishments isn't righteousness at all. Only that which comes from God through faith in Christ is the righteousness that saves.  That is what led Paul to proclaim in Philippians 3: 10-11, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

Paul readily admitted that he had not yet achieved those things, nor did he consider himself perfect. He confesses that he is striving to press on and take hold of that for which Christ Jesus had taken hold of him. Then notice verses 13 and 14, "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

There is some good advice for the Philippians in Paul's statement following those words, "But one thing I do:"  Read them yourself because it's pretty good advice for you and me, too. 

Forgetting what is behind..... That means if you have accomplished great things, forget them. Your accomplishments cannot save you. If you have been successful in business, or education, or parenting, or generosity, or even ministry, those things are in the past! Forget what is behind you. Remember, we are pressing on. 

Straining toward what is ahead.... What is ahead for us?  It's really a dedication to making the right decision to press on toward the goal; to win the prize in which God calls us toward heaven. Paul was saying this, not only for his benefit, but also for all Christians of all generations. Our main objective is to love and honor and praise God, because he is calling us heavenward. All else is futile, all else is rubbish. 


Friday, June 21, 2013

Heart Trouble

Any reader of scripture will catch on quickly to a recurring problem between God and his people. God is faithful and just throughout all times, yet his people have the tendency to forget God and go after idols. Their sin is called idolatry and it meets with God's judgment over and over again. The idols might be in the form of a golden calf or a false God, but God has decreed the He alone is God.

In the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, there is an abundance of seemingly strange language of visions, being "lifted up by the Spirit," and events that are difficult to understand.  A lot of this is happening during a time when God's chosen people are openly devoted to idolatry.  The Bible chapter of Ezekiel 11 carries a topical title in my Bible that says, "God's Sure Judgment on Jerusalem."  The people which God had chosen as his own, were allowing other things to come between them and God. 

The first part of Ezekiel 11 paints a dismal picture.  God is extending his judgment on them by driving them out of the city. Further, battles will be brought against them and they will be delivered into the hands of foreigners.  The sad summation of God's judgment is seen in Ezekiel 11:11-12:

"I will execute judgment on you at the borders of Israel.  And you will know that I am the Lord, for you have not followed my decrees or kept my laws but have conformed to the standards of the nations around you.”

Even in our lives today, God sees and knows when we place other things before him.  Just as his heart was saddened with those mentioned in Ezekiel 11, he is saddened today when we allow our lives to be motivated by worldly things rather than God's goodness and love. Or sometimes, perhaps we want to have the world AND the things of God. But we know better than that. We cannot serve God and the world's riches.

I'm glad this isn't the end of the story. Ezekiel 11 continues under the topical title of the second half of the chapter, "The Promise of Israel's Return."  God promises to gather his people from the nations and bring them back to the land of Israel again.  He says they will return to Israel and remove all its vile images and detestable idols.  Look at verses 19 and 20:

"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God."

That's what God wants with us, too. To give us an undivided heart and a new spirit.  You see, the heart that is divided between God and anything else, is an idolatrous heart.  The problem for Israel and for us, is heart trouble, but God is a fantastic spiritual cardiologist.  When we turn to him in love and trust and obedience, he blesses us with a new heart and leads us back to him. 


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Your Right-Hand Man

Buckner Fanning tells the story of going to Russia during the 1980's and being invited to preach and teach at several places. After one of those speaking engagements, he was invited to the home of one of the church members, a farmer, and after sharing a meal, was given a tour of the massive farm.  It was obvious this was a farm that had received proper management, tremendous labor, and years of successful production. 

Buckner then inserted in his story that this particular farmer had been involved in an accident while working on the farm and had lost an arm. There were sad times during his recovery and the farmer had considered himself useless to run the farm and provide for his family, since he now had only one arm. The family also had other issues and problems they were having to deal with, so while still in the hospital recovering, the farmer decided he didn't want to be a burden to those who would have to take care of him.  He attempted to open a window in the hospital  and was prepared to jump to his death. The only problem was, he didn't have the strength to raise the window with his one remaining arm. He was angry and prayed for God to let him die. 

I know there were church members and neighbors that chipped in to see that the man's farm work was done. No doubt the love of those around him supported him and tried to help him keep a positive attitude.  It was when he was at his lowest and still wishing for death, God's message came to him and spoke softly to this bewildered heart. God said, "Put your trust in me, have faith in me, and I will be your right arm."

It was much later, after the farmer had fully recovered and was allowed to return home and gradually return to work, he realized his farm was running more efficiently and successfully than ever before. He confessed, "I can accomplish more with one arm now, than I ever could with two, because God kept his promise and has been my right arm."

There are two verses shared in Buckner's story of the farmer, and I want to make sure you read them both.  Isaiah 41:10, "So do not fear, for I am with you;  do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

Psalm 139:7-10  "Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me,  your right hand will hold me fast."

The lesson here for you and for me is that no matter what life delivers to us, we are safe and protected and promised victory as long as God is our "right-hand man."

(The story is from "God Drives a Pickup Truck" 1999, by Buckner Fanning)


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Prayer of Solomon

 Note: During the coming days I am going to be having medical tests and will be having hip surgery. I will continue with the blog, however, during my down-time, I will be posting messages from our archives. Thank you for your understanding and I cherish your prayers.  --RonB

1 Kings 8 tells the story of bringing the Ark of Covenant to the Temple. King Solomon had called for the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes, and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to make the move. The earlier verses of chapter 8 tell the story of the transition. Our study today will consider the prayer of Solomon after the arrival of the ark.  He had said a prayer of blessing and then he prayed for some specific things. Note the things of his prayer starting in verse 30:

Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

1.  If your people wrong their neighbor, let the issue be settled by you, God. You determine the guilt or innocence, bringing down the guilty and vindicating the innocent. 

2. When your people are defeated by an enemy because they have sinned, and when they repent and give you praise, hear them from heaven and forgive their sin and bring them back to their land. 

3. When the heavens produce no rain because your people have sinned, and they pray and turn back to you, hear them and forgive them.  Teach them what is right and send rains on their land. 

4. When  famine or plague comes or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when an enemy besieges them , whatever disaster or disease may come, and they pray, aware of the afflictions of their hearts, hear them from heaven and forgive so they will fear you all the time they live in their land. 

5. Even when a foreigner who is not of Israel hears your great name, and prays, hear them from your dwelling place and answer their prayer.

6. When your people go to war against their enemies, anywhere you send them, and whey they pray to you, hear them from heaven and uphold their cause. 

7. When your people sin and are handed over to their enemies and taken captive, and then have a change of heart and repent and pray to you, hear their prayer and uphold their cause. Forgive your people of their offenses against you and cause their captors to show them mercy. 

8. May your eyes be open to your servant’s plea and to the plea of your people Israel, and may you listen to them whenever they cry out to you. For you singled them out from all the nations of the world to be your own inheritance, just as you declared through your servant Moses when you, Sovereign Lord, brought our ancestors out of Egypt.

I hope you noticed in each point, when people find themselves separated from God and his ways, it calls for a change of heart, and change in direction, and a renewed devotion. What was true for the prayer of Solomon is true for the believer today. God longs for restoration. He sacrificed the blood of his Son, so you could be made right with him. 


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How Close is God?

The writings of  Paul reflected his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. This one time hater of Christians, fighting against the church, and putting Christ's followers in prison, had a complete change in his life when he personally met the Lord. We knew him as Saul back then, but now, because of his turn to Jesus and his valiant preaching ministry throughout the country, we know him as Paul. 

His ministry included bringing Jews and Gentiles together into one body. There were those Jews, even after they became Christians that felt before you become a Christian you must become a Jew, subject to all the rules and ordinances of the law of Moses. Paul's letter to the Galatians was to dispel some of the teaching they had received. It was a teaching from those who made Christianity conditional on people following tradition and man-made ideas rather than faithfully following Christ. 

Then in Paul's Ephesian letter, he reminded the Gentiles that at one time, they were the outsiders. They weren't God's chosen people and Paul told them "In those days you were living apart from Christ. "  Further, he let them know that they "lived without God and without hope." Those verses are lifted from Ephesians 2:11-12.  Would you care to guess the first word of verse 13?  It is the word, "but."  That's a short little word, carrying an eternity full of meaning. Read the verse carefully.

"But now you belong to Christ Jesus. Though you were once far away from God, now you have been brought near to him by the blood of Christ."  Ephesians 2:13 NLT

Regardless of who we are, we have been in the same situation as the Gentiles which Paul was speaking to. We might be followers of a denomination's list of rules and regulations, or perhaps  some religious leader's assigned set of things we must do. The fact that is powerfully exclaimed by Paul is simple and to the point.  It is the blood of Jesus that brings us near to God. 

The point is further strengthened as Paul continues in the next verses which include this statement, "His (Jesus)  purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups. Together as one body Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death, and our hostility toward each other was put to death." 

If the death of Jesus brings our salvation, and makes peace between these warring segments of society, how much more do we need to know this is our only hope of maintaining nearness to God?  Our small and petty differences which divide and separate us lose their significance when we learn our differences with others also demolishes our nearness to the Father.  Our ceaseless prayer  is, "Draw me nearer, Precious Lord."


Monday, June 17, 2013

Open my eyes, Lord.

If you are reading this, it's obvious you can see.  Having known some that are blind gives me greater appreciation for the ability to use my eyesight.  When a person can see well, he sometimes takes things for granted. For example, the person who cannot see anything, cannot determine the difference between night and day.  He cannot drive an automobile.  He cannot watch television. 

One of the things that impresses me about those who cannot see, is the ability they have to increase the use of their other senses.  They usually have a very keen sense of smell, to the point of identifying when a friend is present, simply by the cologne they wear. They also depend a lot of their ability to hear, and often hear things the average person dismisses.

In John 9, there is a story about a man who had been blind since birth.  In the events of this story Jesus makes the claim, "I am the light of the world."  Jesus spit on the ground and made a paste of the mud and smeared it on the man's eyes. The blind man was told to go and wash off the paste in the Pool of Siloam.  He followed the Lord's instruction and the Bible says he went home seeing. 

The previously blind man's friends and neighbors saw him and began questioning him as to how all this happened.  They knew him as a blind man and now he could see, so probably like us, they wanted to know how that came about. 

His explanation was simple, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”  A miracle of the Lord had occurred and this man had been the recipient of a great blessing.

In contrast to the blessing of this story, Jesus mentioned spiritual blindness in Matthew 13 when he described his hearers as those who had "closed their eyes" when they were really capable of seeing and realizing spiritual truth. 

We can close our eyes and know the frustration that a blind person faces.  We might even go further by keeping our eyes closed, thereby understanding more about blindness, as we try to maneuver from room to room in our houses. 

It isn't quite as easy, but perhaps an exercise in determining our spiritual blindness would be good for us.  Are their spiritual realities to which we have closed our eyes?  Jesus lets us know it's possible.
One example that comes to mind is in the area of prayer.  If we are taught from the Scripture to be people of prayer and we neglect praying as we should, have we not closed our eyes to spiritual reality? 

You make the personal examination yourself and learn of those areas in your life which may need some changes.  Then pray with me the prayer I am going to pray myself.  "Open my eyes, Lord. I want to see Jesus.  Amen."


Friday, June 14, 2013

Finding Real Comfort

In his book, REFORMED SPIRITUALITY, Howard L. Rice begins his introduction of the book with the question taken from The Heidelberg Catechism, "What is your only comfort in life and in death?"  He takes the next paragraph to quote this profound answer. 

"That I belong--body and soul, in life and in death--not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him."

Many people in today's world are searching for something.  They want to find those things that will sustain them while they are living and giving solid assurances for the afterlife. Even the church leaders of old recognized the need for mankind to seek and find Jesus Christ for that sustaining power during our lives, and the assurance of eternal life after we die. 

The points of emphasis which are presented in the answer to the question asked earlier, focus on Jesus and the supportive description of his work on earth. "At the cost of his own blood he has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil."

If you have never committed a sin, then you can skip that part. The truth, however, is given in scripture, "We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  So the blood of Jesus, freely given for us, pays for our sins and delivers us from the dominion of Satan.  Just that truth should make us shout for joy and devote ourselves to serving the Lord. But there is more.

The life that is devoted to Jesus lives under loving and tender care. That protective care from above is seen in that not even a hair can fall from our heads without the will of the Father. Remember Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, talked about this care when he mentioned the lilies of the field and the birds of the air being cared for by God. And if He cares for them, we have his assurance he will care for us.

Because of all these things God does for us through Jesus Christ, the word "therefore" brings us to the final points of the answer. Read again the final sentence, "Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him."  When we consider all that Jesus accomplished throughout his earthly ministry, and ultimately his defeat of Satan and victory over the grave, we can know with great assurance eternal life is ours.  I am reminded of Paul writing to the Ephesian church, telling them the Holy Spirit is given to us as a guarantee. 

May we remind ourselves daily of the great cost which brought about our salvation, and may we wholeheartedly devote ourselves to live for our Lord. Everything fits into his purpose for our salvation.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Another look at God's love

After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”  3 When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.
So begins Chapter 9 of the Old Testament book of Ezra. Things were not well with God's chosen people. Their unfaithfulness had led them to violate the commands of God, and not only was their sin a picture of horribleness before God, their leaders were continuing to direct them down a path of unfaithfulness.

The scripture continues with the prayer of God's prophet, Ezera.  Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed: “I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.
Could things be worse than this? Wouldn't it be understandable if God completely dismissed these people as a lost cause because of their continued unfaithfulness?  Aren't we glad God has not written us off as a lost cause because of our sins?

The key to all of this is seen in the very nature of God. Yes, his wrath was stirred because they were not obedient to him. But in spite of their unfaithful ways, God loved them. That love is shown in the verses that follow.

“But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem."

Look again at the verses to see the blessings God's love provided for them.....and for us.
1.  A firm place in his sanctuary.
2   Light to our eyes.
3.  Relief in our bondage.
4.  Kindness in the sight of our aggressors
5.  New life so we can rebuild and repair.
6.  A wall of protection.

Thanks be to God for his unending love.