Monday, September 22, 2008


Girls are mean. If you’re a man, you need to find a woman a shake her hand. Congratulate her on surviving her childhood and teenage years – because girls are downright mean. So much so that Hollywood made a movie called, Mean Girls, and it grossed over $86,000,000 because every scarred female in America went to see it! I, too, have been scarred. In fifth grade I was included in a tight-knit group of four friends: Annette, Julie, Janice and me. Two of the girls’ last names were “Scott.” Well, over one weekend, the two “Scotts” spent quality time at each other’s homes, and when they came to school on Monday, they had formed a tight bond, calling themselves the “Scott Sisters.” They produced a box of Scott tissues and proclaimed it their symbol of solidarity (They of course didn’t call it solidarity in 5th grade, but you know what I mean…). Well, Janice and I felt terribly left out, and we responded to their taunting with a little taunting of our own. We began calling them (quite appropriately, I thought) the “Snotty Scotty Sisters.” Get it? Scott tissues – Snotty Scottys. See? Girls are mean. Boys on the other hand simply punch each other in the nose and get over it…that is, until they grow up and get into politics. Then they turn into girls. They get mean. They turn into Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The remnant in Jerusalem had to deal with some of these mean political scoundrels, and it’s good to analyze some of the common tricks of the enemy. Because our enemy still uses some of the same ones today.

Ezra 4:6-7a – “At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem. And in the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes.”
  • TACTIC #1 – THE ENEMY IS RELENTLESS – Twenty years separated these two kings, and the enemy renewed the accusations with Xerxes new administration. Oftentimes the enemy’s plan is simply to wear us down.

Ezra 4:7b, 18 – “The letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language…the king sent his reply…The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence.”

  • TACTIC #2 – THE ENEMY SPEAKS HIS OWN LANGUAGE – The enemy fills our minds with his words – negative, fearful, self-loathing, cynical words. Then, too often we translate it into our own lives.

Ezra 4:8-11 – “Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows: Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary, together with the rest of their associates--the judges and officials over the men from Tripolis, Persia, Erech and Babylon, the Elamites of Susa, and the other people whom the great and honorable Ashurbanipal deported and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates. (This is a copy of the letter they sent him.) To King Artaxerxes, From your servants, the men of Trans-Euphrates…”

  • TACTIC #3 – THE ENEMY EXAGGERATES HIS POWER – Rehum and Shimshai wrote this letter, but it sounds like many more, doesn’t it? Satan was defeated when Jesus rose from the grave! Our enemy blusters and makes himself sound far more powerful than he really is. He’d like us to forget the power Christians possess in Jesus’ Name.

Ezra 4:12-13 – “The king should know that the Jews who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations. Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and the royal revenues will suffer.”

  • TACTIC #4 – THE ENEMY EXPLOITS OUR FEARS – A king’s treasury meant success or failure, life or death. What are you most afraid of? That’s where the enemy will most likely attack – or where he’ll threaten attack.

Ezra 4:14-16 – “Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king, so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place of rebellion from ancient times. That is why this city was destroyed. We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.”

  • TACTIC #5 – THE ENEMY SPEAKS FLATTERY AND A FORM OF TRUTH – In this letter, the enemy assures the king of his allegiance before accusing the remnant of treason. They say Jerusalem was “a rebellious city, troublesome to kings…from ancient times.” But there were a lot of facts surrounding Jerusalem’s history that weren’t included, so the twisted truth takes root in the king’s mind as a lie that seems factual.

Lord, when I referred to “the enemy,” in most instances I was speaking in the spiritual sense of my eternal enemy, Satan. But, just as the remnant in Jerusalem faced human enemies that sought to destroy their efforts toward You, I have faced people who sought to harm me physically, emotionally and spiritually. Show me how You want me to act in those relationships. Show me how to see them through Your eyes as worthy of Your love and yet protect myself from further harm.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


How do you know who to trust? When should forgiveness also be coupled with renewed relationship? Who is a true friend, and who is “fair weathered?” These are questions we all grapple with at some point – or many points – in our lives. My husband came home with a story he shared in one of his college classes. A fable of sorts. “The Little Bird In The Barnyard.” There once was a bird in a barnyard on a cold and snowy winter’s day. The poor little bird was freezing to death, and its little beak was chattering. “If only I had a friend to warm me,” it said. Along came a cow and pooped on the little bird, warming it and bringing new life. “Gross!” said the little bird. “That stinks!” But the little bird’s beak no longer chattered and its wings were warm – sticky, but warm. (Okay, I threw in the sticky part – actually, I’m making a lot of this up as I go.) Then along came a cat and asked the bird, “Would you like me to rescue you from the poop?” The little bird was so relieved. “Oh, yes!” cried the little bird. So the cat ate the bird. Moral of the story: Those who poop on you aren’t always your enemies, and those who get you out of the poop aren’t always your friends. Words to live by, don’t you think? Well, the Israelites thought so....

Ezra 4:1-3 – “When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, ‘Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.’ But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, "You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.’”
  • Zerubbabel identified his enemies as cats – they were offering help, but he saw their hidden motives. But how did he recognize their deception?
  1. They spoke divisively – they mentioned an Assyrian king of the past. Any hint of divided allegiance might jeopardize the remnant’s favor with the current king of Persia.
  2. Actions always speak louder than words – they said they’d been sacrificing to the LORD. Where was the altar, the faithful sacrifices, festivals and offerings? No action = no truth.

Ezra 4:4-5 – “Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.”

  • Time reveals true colors. Had these people’s hearts been truly committed to Zerubbabel and the remnant, to building the Temple and worshiping the LORD, they wouldn’t have responded so maliciously. A person’s response to our decision tells us as much – or more – about that individual as their original request.

Lord, thank You for giving me a gauge with which I can check my decisions. Time is a great gift that I often grudgingly endure with impatience. However, in testing a relationship, time is my best friend. Teach me the patience of proving a relationship over time before I offer my whole heart as the prize.

Monday, September 08, 2008


This is our daughter, Trina, on the day she returned home from her vacation in Indiana. While back in Indiana, she spent time with her college friends and grandparents. She saw the endless fields of corn and the changes to the house and community where she grew up. It was a wonderful time, a hard time, bittersweet. And then she came home. She had missed home, was glad to be home, but...mixed emotions.

A daughter’s wedding. A Christian’s funeral. These are events in which my friends and I have experienced mixed emotions. Many proud fathers are reduced to a puddle of tears, while marching their lace-gowned daughters down the aisle. Parents pray for God’s choice of husband for their daughter, and then cry a river of tears when our little girl grows up and leaves the nest. Mixed emotions. A Christian’s home-going is cause for celebration – their eternal release from deterioration and pain. But those who remain live with the gaping reality of loss. Mixed emotions. How about less monumental occasions? Like children going back to school? We love them, and summers are a wonderful time of family building. But there’s just something about putting them back on that school bus that brings a sigh of relief. Mixed emotions. Our spiritual journey is also full of mixed emotions, too. The remnant in Jerusalem experienced a whole gamut of feelings as they took the next step in building the Lord’s Temple…

Ezra 3:7-11a – “Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and gave food and drink and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre, so that they would bring cedar logs by sea from Lebanon to Joppa, as authorized by Cyrus king of Persia. In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Jeshua son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work, appointing Levites twenty years of age and older to supervise the building of the house of the LORD. Jeshua and his sons and brothers and Kadmiel and his sons (descendants of Hodaviah) and the sons of Henadad and their sons and brothers--all Levites--joined together in supervising those working on the house of God. When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: ‘He is good; his love to Israel endures forever’” (emphasis added).
  • After two years of faithful sacrifice on the altar, the remnant of Israel had more work ahead. They secured the workforce of laborers and foreigners, and they did it with praise. We don’t know if they did it with joy, but we know that they did the work that was authorized by King Cyrus with the praise songs prescribed by King David. They were faithful, and it bore fruit even if they did the work with mixed emotions.
Ezra 3:11b-13 – “And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.”
  • Everyone shouted praise at first. Then, the older ones remembered the glory days and began to weep and wail their regrets. The younger ones let hope raise their volume. Two important concepts here:
  1. People far away were watching – people pay attention to our example, our reaction to God’s working in our lives.
  2. Tears look the same, whether they fall in joy or sorrow.

Lord, why did You make all tears the same but my emotions so different? I can feel such a range of emotions in the same teardrop. Two people can look at the same object or circumstance and feel two completely different emotions as well. Help me to love those who feel differently than me, and help me not get stuck in my disappointment, but somehow turn it to praise.

Monday, September 01, 2008


Did your mother make you eat your vegetables? When my husband and I started dating, the only vegetables he ate were corn and salad. Actually, he considered potatoes a vegetable, which I suppose technically, they are. However, I came from a family in which something green graced the table at every meal – except breakfast. And green jell-o didn’t count. Green leafy, green crunchy or green smooshy. We always ate our vegetables. So I grew into the habit of eating my vegetables first, get it out of the way before I feasted on the really good part of the meal. I could skarf down brussel sprouts and spinach if I knew steak and macaroni and cheese was next. When Roy and I had children of our own, our first daughter was raised according to my heritage. Her infant tummy was introduced to strained peas before she ever tasted the delicacy of mashed peaches. Something peculiar occurred. To this day, she actually likes vegetables better than fruit! When our second child came along, we decided to experiment (Sorry, Em, that happened a lot). We introduced fruit before veggies. Sure enough. To this day, our second born would rather snack on peaches than suffer through peas, while Trina craves asparagus and cringes at pineapple. Sometimes in our spiritual lives, we’re called to start with the vegetables of sacrifice and end with the sweet blessing of God’s felt presence. Sometimes our taste grows accustomed to the rigorous vegetables of spiritual discipline, and we forget to enjoy the sweet blessing of His presence. The remnant of Israel ate a lot of spiritual spinach…

Ezra 3:1-3 – “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled as one man in Jerusalem. Then Jeshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices” (emphasis added)
  • We can always find something to keep us from worshiping God, some excuse to interrupt our quiet time. For the Israelites, 1) the seventh month meant plowing and sowing of seed in order to eat in the spring. 2) They had just gotten settled in their new homes. 3) Building a new place of worship was an overwhelming task, especially in a new land where 4) the current residents were hostile to newcomers. All these excuses could have kept them from building their altar to the LORD. But it didn’t.

Ezra 3:4-6 – “Then in accordance with what is written, they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles with the required number of burnt offerings prescribed for each day. After that, they presented the regular burnt offerings, the New Moon sacrifices and the sacrifices for all the appointed sacred feasts of the LORD, as well as those brought as freewill offerings to the LORD. On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, though the foundation of the LORD's temple had not yet been laid.”

  • They built the altar of sacrifice before they experienced the Temple of God’s presence. Sometimes we spend many hours in God’s Word or in prayer without any goosebumps, without any brilliant revelations. But spending time on that altar of sacrifice is necessary preparation to experience His presence. But don’t misunderstand. It’s not a bargaining chip. God doesn’t come because we spend a certain number of hours reading the Bible or praying. We may feel those dry times for any number of reasons. But we feel the sweetness of His presence in a completely different – more spectacular – way, when we’ve faithfully prepared our hearts on the altar of worship beforehand.

Lord, I’d like to have a whole plateful of Your presence all the time. I don’t particularly enjoy the dry spiritual vegetables of hard-to-interpret Scripture and uninspiring prayer times. Remind me that it’s not about what I enjoy. It’s about my sacrifice of worship to You. Let me set my mind and heart on You alone – and then be awed by Your presence, when it comes.