How to Obey When You’re Afraid

Relevant Text: Ezra 3:3
Full Text: Ezra 3, Acts 3

Fear | When your boss asks, “Have you done such-and-such yet?”, you only have a moment to respond. It’s either yes or no. It’s that simple … or is it? When I was working on Capitol Hill for then-Congressman Joe Scarborough, there were always a hundred things going on. Constituents and lobbyists were arriving for meetings, bells were ringing for votes, deadlines were approaching for articles, planes were being reserved for travel. Each day was a chaotic whirlwind. Thus, there were times when Joe asked, “Have you done such-and-such yet?”, and the truth was, “No.” If the task was simple, however, I always wanted to say, “Yes,” and then do it as soon as he walked away without him ever noticing. Yet, in the moment between his question and my answer, I was making a major decision: Whose opinion did I care more about – Joe’s or God’s? I knew that Joe wanted me to get the job done, but I also knew that God wanted me to be truthful. How could I choose to obey God when I feared losing my job? [1]

Despite | In 586 BC, the Babylonians conquered Judah, exiled the Israelites, and destroyed the Temple. Fifty years passed, during which time the Babylonian Empire fell and the Persian Empire grew. Then, in 539 BC, Cyrus the Great of Persia sent the exiles home [2]. When they returned to Judah, they “assembled as one man in Jerusalem” [3] and began rebuilding the temple. But they ran into a problem – their neighbors set out to intimidate them because they didn’t want the temple to be rebuilt. Nonetheless, the Israelites continued despite their fear of the peoples around them[4]. Yes, they were afraid and their fear was real. Yet, their fear didn’t keep them from obeying God. They obeyed in faith because they longed for the joy of the presence of the Lord in the temple more than they feared their neighbors.

Prayer | Lord, Thank you for the testimony of the Israelites because it foreshadowed the obedience of Jesus. In the garden, as he anticipated the suffering and death that would happen if he obeyed you, he sweat blood in agony. Yet, in that moment, he prayed, “Not my will, but yours, be done” [5] – because he longed for the joy of our salvation that would come through obedience [6]. Today, we pray that our joy in you and in obeying you would overcome our fear of others. Amen. [7]

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Footnotes

[1] No, Joe never threatened to fire me over a task forgotten! Yet, I’m sure, depending on the level of importance of any given task, I would have definitely gotten in trouble! We were – and remain – great friends because he is such a delight to work with! Nonetheless, I was a nervous 22 year-old with her first job when I worked for him. There is fear in such a heart no matter how great the boss is!  |  [2] See Ezra 1  |  [3] Ezra 3:1 NIV  |  [4] Ezra 3:3 NIV  |  [5] Lk. 22:42 ESV  |  [6] See Heb. 12:1-2.  |  [7] For an excellent sermon on how to confront all kinds of fear, see Charles Spurgeon, Fearing and Trusting – Trusting and Not Fearing (10 January 1913).


Advent – A King Who Chose Poverty

Advent Reading: Isaiah 61:1-2 (underlined below)

Promise Made | During the decline of Israel, the Lord called Isaiah to prophesy about the coming Messiah, saying, The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor [1].

Promise Kept | In his first public act of ministry, Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and spoke those words from the scroll of Isaiah. Every eye was fixed on him. Then he said, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” [2]. In other words, “The time is fulfilled. I am the one being spoken of. My ministry is the arrival of the long-awaited kingdom of healing and salvation and freedom from oppression. God is now revealing himself as king to save and deliver and help like he never has before” [3].

Promise Meant | Yet, Jesus did not use mere words to proclaim good news to the poor and oppressed. He used his life. In heaven, the King of kings intentionally decided to come as a pauper, not a prince. Rather than choosing a wealthy family to be his own, he chose Mary and Joseph – a couple so poor that they could afford only a poor man’s sacrifice at the temple (pigeons in lieu of a lamb) [4]. Jesus did not embrace poverty and oppression, however, as a clever means to rationalize his otherwise undesirable circumstances; he embraced those values because they said something about his kingdom. His life was a testimony that God’s kingdom was not about money, power, status or celebrity; rather, it was about the riches of knowing God and the freedom of being found in Christ [5].

Prayer | Lord, In the incarnation, Jesus moved from immeasurable wealth to voluntary poverty and – ultimately – to absolute destitution on the cross [6]. And he did this for our salvation. Yet, we confess that we oftentimes seek comfort and ease without thinking too much about what our choices say about your kingdom. Forgive us and incline our hearts away from the riches of this world. Help us make different choices about how we live so that our lives – not just our words – testify to the riches of knowing you and the joy of being in your presence. Amen.

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What is the non-advent reading for today? 2 Kings 18:1-8 + 2 Chron. 29:1-2 + 2 Kings 17:1-6
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Footnotes:  [1] Is. 61:1-2 ESV   |  [2] Lk. 4:18-19 ESV  |  [3] John Piper, “The Importance of the Kingdom Today.” 28 January 1990.  |  [4] See Luke 2:22-24 (Under the law, the regular sacrifice was a lamb. If a person could not afford a lamb, however, they could offer two turtledoves or two pigeons. See Leviticus 12:8). Mary and Joseph offered two turtledoves or pigeons.  |  [5] See Phil. 3.  |  [6] See 2 Cor. 8:9.

Advent – He Would Have a Price

Advent Reading: Rom. 15:8-9 (underlined below)

Promise Made | After the exiles returned to Jerusalem, God sent two prophets – Haggai (to encourage them to rebuild the temple) and Zechariah (to encourage them to prepare for entering the temple through repentance and renewal). Yet, the exiles were discouraged because squatters who had settled in their land were opposing them. Thus, God called Zechariah to rekindle their hope in the Messiah [1] – prophesying that he would be betrayed by a friend for thirty pieces of silver that would be cast on the temple floor and given to a potter: “The Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’ – the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter” [2].

Promise Kept | Judas handed Jesus over to the chief priests for the negotiated sum of thirty pieces of silver [3]. Yet, when he saw Jesus being prepared for death, “he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed … But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers” [4].

Promise Meant | Jesus was priced at thirty pieces of silver because, under Jewish law, that was the price of a slave [5]. Jesus was a slave [6]. To whom? Israel. As Paul wrote, “Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” [7]. Jesus was a servant of Israel to satisfy the law for them and, thereby, show mercy to the Gentiles as well – for no one could satisfy the law except Christ alone [8].

Prayer | Lord, You are Lord and King over all. Yet, Jesus became a slave to serve us by living a sinless life and then offering himself as a sacrifice [9]. Help us, therefore, to offer ourselves as living sacrifices as we serve one another in the light of your life and love. Amen.

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FAQs
What is the non-advent reading for today? 2 Kg. 15:32-38 + 2 Chron. 27 + Mic. 1:1-16
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[1] See Zech. 14:9.  |  [2] Zech. 11:12-13 ESV  |  [3] Matt. 26:15 ESV  |  [4] Matt. 27:3-7 ESV
[5] See Ex. 21:32  |  [6] See Is. 53; Mk 9:25; 10:45; Acts 3:13.  |  [7] Rom. 15:8-9 ESV
[8] See Rom. 3:9-20Ecc. 7:20.  |  [9] See Phil. 2:1-11.

the purpose of this blog

This blog aims to show how various personalities and minds approach the Word and, through it, come to know God. Therefore, each posting on this blog will be anchored to a particular verse or a passage of the Bible and how that verse or passage has impacted the author’s life or thinking. In addition, there will be many authors from various cities all over the country, so that a diversity of writing styles and life approaches can be represented. Through this, we hope that you will be inspired to “play” in the Word and find joy in coming to know God through it. [Note: If you would like to be a contributing author, please send a writing sample of no more than 350 words.]

Stay tuned: daily postings will begin in September.

the meaning of 843 acres

843 acres is the size of Central Park – an area that constitutes less than 6% of the entire island of Manhattan. Despite its small bite out of the Big Apple, however, the Park has a huge impact on the lives of New Yorkers. As soon as the winter weather gives even the slightest spring smile, New Yorkers crowd the Park – to run the loop, get painted faces, stroll with baby carriages, toss footballs, and have picnics. After spending winters trapped inside matchbox apartments and having no private backyards in which to play, New Yorkers come alive every spring in the vast expanse of Central Park.

img_09634[caption: the Bethesda Water Fountain on the 72nd street traverse in Central Park]

Similarly, the Word is life-restoring for Christians. Confronted with uncertain and confusing circumstances in our lives, we get trapped inside small-minded thinking. The Word, however, sets us free. Despite its small size, the Bible’s impact on our lives far exceeds that of any other book on our shelves. In it, we can run about in joy, explore meaningful truths, and delight in God’s promises. Although our circumstances can seem claustrophobic, the Word breathes new life into those who abide in it.

Thus, as the Park is to the City, so the Word is to Life.

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