Thoughts on Ezra and God’s provision

 

I’m reading the book of Ezra right now. This description of him reminded me of the ladies of IF:Gathering and his story I think has many applications for what is happening now with the IF movement. I hope to keep this fairly short, but I believe it’s a word some of you might need. Especially Jennie Allen, Amy Brown, and the whole Austin Staff team.

Ezra was part of the remnant of Jews still in exile in Babylon. At some point during the reign of Artaxerxes (after a group had already returned to build the temple and after the events recorded in the book of Esther), Ezra is called by God to go back to Jerusalem to serve in the temple. It appears that he asks the king for permission to go and for the resources he and the volunteers who go with him will need for the journey and for their service in the temple. (See Ezra 7: 6)

The king responds incredibly generously, providing the equivalent of millions of dollars of resources.  The group going with Ezra ends up numbering almost 2,000. (See Ezra 7:12-23, 8:1-20).  It occurred to me while reading this that it’s possible Ezra had no idea just how BIG this call was going to end up being. I imagine that he was grateful for the incredible generosity of the King, but also somewhat daunted by the complications of such overwhelming generosity.

I know Jennie has talked about God’s call on her life to ‘disciple a generation’ and how ridiculous and big and undoable that seems. It seems that Ezra had a similar call. In verse 25 of chapter 7, we see that Ezra’s call is to teach the law of God to “any who do not know them.” Hmm, that sounds familiar!

In chapter 7, verse 10,  he is described this way: “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” All of these words are just reminding me so much of the mission and descriptions of the goals of the IF:Gathering. He was a devoted student of scripture.  But here’s the main word I feel like some of you need to hear. Over and over and over again in this book, Ezra says of himself and his group that the gracious hand of God is on them. Because of his assurance that God’s hand is on him, he says he took courage, gathered his people, and went on his way walking towards the call God gave him. And in the end, those 2,000 plus people, plus the TONS of treasure made the dangerous 900-mile journey with ZERO losses. Our speaker said it this way – God’s work done God’s way never lacks God’s supply.  (I wanted to stand up and shout Amen! but it’s a pretty calm Bible study…)

Anyhow, I could not stop thinking about all the pieces of the IF:Gathering in Austin and all the IF: Locals. Here’s my prayer for all of you this weekend: Lord God, may your gracious hand of favor rest on each person leading this weekend. May your favor show up in incredibly overwhelming ways so that we see that it is not by our own strengths that your work is done but by your vast well of grace. May we lead with courage, armed with the knowledge of your word and that you go before us and that you are with us. May we arrive to our destinations with everything accounted for. We believe you are able to provide the resources, the leadership, the wisdom, and the courage we need. You have given us everything we need and we believe you for your protection over our families and our hearts as we step into your calling. AMEN.

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Jesus as bridegroom?

I’ve been doing a Bible Study on Revelation since the fall. This week we were asked to think about some of the ways Jesus is described in the passages and discuss which one appeals to us more. The images we were to choose from were Jesus as the Bridegroom and Jesus as Warrior King.
As I pondered both these images, I realized I actually couldn’t really picture or identify with Jesus as Bridegroom. There is plenty of imagery in the gospels describing Jesus as such – in John 14 when he tells the disciples that He’s going to prepare a place for them, in many parables about the kingdom of God for example. Paul uses the analogy of marriage quite often to describe the relationship between Christ and his church. And then in Revelation we read how the Apostle John has visions of a great wedding banquet – the feast prepared for the church by the Bridegroom. Given my familiarity with all this imagery, I was surprised that I did not identify very much with he Bridegroom. I wondered why that was. Then I realized that in our day, the groom is very often seen as secondary in importance (if even thought of at all!) in preparations for weddings. I remember distinctly (even though it’s been a while…) people talking about our wedding in terms of “my day” or to make sure that I got what I want because the “Bride is always right!” Our culture of weddings and marriage is almost completely opposite of what it was in Bible times. We have somehow relegated the grooms to the bumbling side – spending so much of our preparation for marriage on things like table settings, color coordinated attendants’ outfits, flowers, decorations, THE DRESS, that we neglect some of the most important parts of marriage preparation. Even when the bride and groom wish to live a Christ-centered life and strive to not put too much financial pressures on themselves with a huge, expensive wedding, they are still so swamped with wedding details that it seems hard to find time to do pre-marital counseling, or to spend time discussing the future beyond the honeymoon.

In my own wedding preparations, I did try to push back on the idea that it was “my day” and include my now-husband in the planning. But still, because of events outside our control, most of the wedding preparations and details were handled by me not him. His main role was to buy the honeymoon tickets, pack his bag, and meet me at the church on time. His schedule was dictated by me, not the other way around.

I think this reality makes it hard to identify with Jesus as the groom. Even when the husband is not the caricatured variety that culture so often puts in front of us, we have very little real life experience with a groom as described in scripture.

I don’t mean to suggest in any of this that our husbands and boyfriends have done something wrong or that we’re doing it wrong really. It’s just an interesting change in culture that makes relating to this particular scriptural analogy difficult for me. Like every analogy that scripture gives us to help us understand more about God’s nature, the one of bridegroom can fall short, not because of a lack on God’s part, but because our own human experience is limited. I shared this thought with my bible study leader and she shared with me how this picture of Jesus as Bridegroom was actually very powerful for her because of her experiences. I’m grateful that God has given us so many glimpses of Himself in scripture – little pictures that mirror in some way our experiences here on earth – so that we can begin to comprehend truth about Him. I’m also grateful to have fellowship with other believers, who expand my understanding of God when they share their perspective of scriptural images through the lens of their own experience. What a blessing!

As for me and my husband, he did “go and prepare a place for me” in that I did not see our first apartment until we actually moved in. This was mainly due to our long distance relationship, which I would not wish on anyone! 🙂 It’s a sweet thing to think about him going to look at apartments and visualizing our new life together. When I picture him doing that, I can picture my savior now preparing a place for his followers, finding delight in how we will spend eternity together.