Monday, November 24, 2008


If you’re going to be an instrument of God, you’d better be in tune – and it helps if you don’t quit the band. That was my problem. I quit band. Several times. I was in fifth grade when I quit the first time, and we were just learning how to play those “flute-a-phones.” I think they called them “recorders” when our daughters played them. They’re those black, squawky plastic tubes with holes in them. Anyway, I was first chair flute-a-phonist and I already knew how to play, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or whatever other stupid song we were playing. (I was kind of a brat, can you tell?) Well, the P.E. teacher had gotten a trampoline from the high school for the day. The kids who didn’t have band could jump on the trampoline. I very politely asked my band teacher if I could be excused from my flute-a-phone duties to jump on the trampoline. He said no. I said, “Fine, I quit.” Did I mention that I was a brat? In sixth grade, they got a new band teacher. The other guy probably ran far, far away because of kids like me. My three girlfriends were playing clarinet – so I talked my parents into letting me rejoin the band to play clarinet. They sunk a couple hundred dollars into a clarinet that I played for about a year and then I quit band again because…my girlfriends and I got into a fight and decided not to be friends anymore. Did I mention that I was a brat? Well, Ezra was anything but a quitter. In fact, he became the instrument itself and allowed God to play a sweet tune for us to enjoy…

Ezra 8:21-23 – “There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.”
  • If we’re going to toot our horns for God, we’d better be ready to play the whole song. Don’t put an “I love Jesus” bumper sticker on your car and drive like a maniac. We must be willing to step back and interpret our actions as an unbeliever would view them in order to live in a way that can win them to Christ. And while we’re thinking about that – we may just discover how we should have been living in the first place!

Ezra 8:24-30 – “Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, together with Sherebiah, Hashabiah and ten of their brothers, and I weighed out to them the offering of silver and gold and the articles that the king, his advisers, his officials and all Israel present there had donated for the house of our God. I weighed out to them 650 talents of silver, silver articles weighing 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 20 bowls of gold valued at 1,000 darics, and two fine articles of polished bronze, as precious as gold. I said to them, ‘You as well as these articles are consecrated to the LORD. The silver and gold are a freewill offering to the LORD, the God of your fathers. Guard them carefully until you weigh them out in the chambers of the house of the LORD in Jerusalem before the leading priests and the Levites and the family heads of Israel.’ Then the priests and Levites received the silver and gold and sacred articles that had been weighed out to be taken to the house of our God in Jerusalem” (emphasis added).

  • It is the instrument itself God values, not just the music it plays. Think of the different shapes and sizes of musical instruments, the different sounds they make, the creative minds that invented them. Now, think of the thousands (perhaps even millions) of faces you’ve seen in your lifetime, the different lives they’ve lived, the infinite Creator the formed them. Then, imagine the sheer joy He finds in the music of our voices raised in praise, in prayer, in teaching, or in honest searching, repentance or even anger. He loves the instrument, and when the music plays, He is doubly blessed.

Ezra 8:31-36 – “On the twelfth day of the first month we set out from the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way. So we arrived in Jerusalem, where we rested three days. On the fourth day, in the house of our God, we weighed out the silver and gold and the sacred articles into the hands of Meremoth son of Uriah, the priest. Eleazar son of Phinehas was with him, and so were the Levites Jozabad son of Jeshua and Noadiah son of Binnui. Everything was accounted for by number and weight, and the entire weight was recorded at that time. Then the exiles who had returned from captivity sacrificed burnt offerings to the God of Israel: twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven male lambs and, as a sin offering, twelve male goats. All this was a burnt offering to the LORD. They also delivered the king's orders to the royal satraps and to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, who then gave assistance to the people and to the house of God” (emphasis added).

  • For most instruments, you must take in a breath in order to breathe out the music – and even the drummer must lift his hand to beat the drum. After a 900 mile journey, these people needed rest before they could complete the ministry they’d been called to do. They could have pushed themselves, gone to the Temple immediately, delivered the goods, offered a half-hearted sacrifice and fought with the local magistrates. And their music would have been discordant and out of tune. Instead, they rested first and then offered God the sweet sounds of whole-hearted, faithful, sacrificial worship, and they didn’t quit the band.

Lord, give me wisdom to balance my rest and service. It’s so hard to know when to breathe and blow, to lift my hand and beat the drum. Perhaps that’s the problem. I’m the instrument trying to tell the Great Musician how to play me. How utterly ridiculous! I rest in Your hands, waiting to feel Your gentle touch, feel the Breath of Your Spirit flow through me and know that any music I play is by Your hand alone. Thank You, Lord, for choosing me as part of Your band.


Now, you see, these cats have been praying for a fish to eat. Do they expect one to miraculously jump out of the water or should they pounce on the one the man with the pole will catch? When is it time to get off our knees and roll up our sleeves? What’s the difference between active faith and meddling with God’s plan? In pastoral ministry for fourteen years, my husband had lots of opportunities to wait on God to fill leadership positions and provide volunteers for various ministries. I once asked him why he didn’t just make an announcement that he needed a volunteer for a Sunday school teaching position. His answer? “Because I might get one.” Roy’s approach was similar to that of Ezra – pray ‘em in and then seek ‘em out. Pray, and let God send someone to fill the position. If no one shows up in time, use godly wisdom to seek out the best person for the position. But most of church ministry is based on volunteerism. One of the churches we served held a fish fry twice a year as a fundraiser. We needed lots of volunteers because this was a community event that drew people from adjoining towns. Well, one particular family had always been in charge of frying the fish. It just wouldn’t be a Jonah Fish Fry without the Stump family slaving over the frying vats! Two brothers, their wives and kids – all huddled in the back lawn, rain or shine, twice a year. Guess what? As sign-up sheets for the fish fry were posted one spring, not a Stump family name appeared in the frying section! The earth shifted on its axis! Ice crystals formed on the Lake of Fire! Pastor Roy, the designated volunteer hit-man, was immediately dispatched for a home visit. Why? Because years of godly fish-frying was on the line! I’m kidding, but I’m not. My husband did talk to the Stump family to ask why they had suddenly bowed out of this ministry. He encouraged them to use the skill and wisdom they’d gained in their years of service to train their replacements, and he pushed them to serve even though ministry fatigue had set it. Yep, pushy Pastor Roy. So they fried fish. With glad hearts. They did it for God, not for Roy.

Ezra 7:13 – “Now I [King Artaxerxes] decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including priests and Levites, who wish to go to Jerusalem with [Ezra], may go.”
Ezra 8:1-14 – “These are the family heads and those registered with them who came up with [Ezra] from Babylon during the reign of King Artaxerxes: of the descendants of Phinehas, Gershom; of the descendants of Ithamar, Daniel; of the descendants of David, Hattush of the descendants of Shecaniah; of the descendants of Parosh, Zechariah, and with him were registered 150 men; of the descendants of Pahath-Moab, Eliehoenai son of Zerahiah, and with him 200 men; of the descendants of Zattu, Shecaniah son of Jahaziel, and with him 300 men; of the descendants of Adin, Ebed son of Jonathan, and with him 50 men; of the descendants of Elam, Jeshaiah son of Athaliah, and with him 70 men; of the descendants of Shephatiah, Zebadiah son of Michael, and with him 80 men; of the descendants of Joab, Obadiah son of Jehiel, and with him 218 men; of the descendants of Bani, Shelomith son of Josiphiah, and with him 160 men; of the descendants of Bebai, Zechariah son of Bebai, and with him 28 men; of the descendants of Azgad, Johanan son of Hakkatan, and with him 110 men; of the descendants of Adonikam, the last ones, whose names were Eliphelet, Jeuel and Shemaiah, and with them 60 men; of the descendants of Bigvai, Uthai and Zaccur, and with them 70 men.”
  • King Artaxerxes asked for volunteers, and these are the ones who showed up. Approximately 1,500 men registered to make the trip from Babylon to Jerusalem with Ezra. Now, v. 21 mentions children, and with children come mothers to corral them on this 900 mile adventure. So you can see, Ezra has his hands full of far more than 1,500 calm, determined, capable, qualified men. He had a wild, excited horde of humanity with various passions, strengths, weaknesses and motives for their journey. Sound familiar to any of you pastors and leaders out there?

Ezra 8:15-17 – “I assembled them at the canal that flows toward Ahava, and we camped there three days. When I checked among the people and the priests, I found no Levites there. So I summoned Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam, who were leaders, and Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of learning, and I sent them to Iddo, the leader in Casiphia. I told them what to say to Iddo and his kinsmen, the temple servants in Casiphia, so that they might bring attendants to us for the house of our God.”

  • Ezra registered the volunteers and affirmed their service; however, he recognized a gap in the practical ministry need. Should he have simply accepted those who presented themselves as God’s provision and moved on? He didn’t think so. Ezra affirmed the passion of those whose hearts God had stirred to volunteer, but he also pursued those who would provide vital leadership in Jerusalem. Passion and proficiency are both necessary components of successful ministry.

Ezra 8:18-20 – “Because the gracious hand of our God was on us, they brought us Sherebiah, a capable man, from the descendants of Mahli son of Levi, the son of Israel, and Sherebiah's sons and brothers, 18 men; and Hashabiah, together with Jeshaiah from the descendants of Merari, and his brothers and nephews, 20 men. They also brought 220 of the temple servants--a body that David and the officials had established to assist the Levites. All were registered by name.”

  • What if the Levites had not agreed to come? What then? Does that mean God is no longer gracious? Or could that mean Ezra had rolled up his sleeves when he should have stayed on his knees?

Lord, I believe You call me to walk on my knees, continually taking one step past my ability. When the answer comes, as it did for Ezra, You receive the glory. When the answer doesn’t come, I simply remain on my knees and know that You have said, “No, my child,” or “Not now.”

Monday, November 10, 2008


This is the great group of people from Mt. Hermon, who taught me some basics of fiction writing. Then, there are three special women, who read every word of my manuscript before it was sent to the publisher - sometimes reading it twice or three times, actually. Amazing people. Thank you so much....
I recently got the incredibly good news from a publisher offering a book contract on my Song of Solomon novel. Thinking they were being magnanimous, they even offered me a 2-book deal, asking that I write one of the “future projects” listed in my original proposal. I should have been thrilled, right? Wrong. Months before, right after turning in the proposal, I had researched that “future project” topic and came up totally blank. Instead, my heart had been drawn to a different topic for my next book. The publisher had no way of knowing this, of course, but the great news of my first book contract was now tainted with worry over how I would produce a manuscript on a topic I had no research or passion to write. Well, it’s a good thing my daughters knew CPR (heart-to-heart talks with mom) and my husband knew resuscitation techniques (a few kisses always help) – because I needed reviving several times before I called the editor, asking to change the topic of the second book. She took the decision before the publishing committee. My faithful team of prayer warriors battled on their knees, and by the time the committee made their decision, the Lord had opened my heart to either choice for that second book. But by God's grace, the committee changed the contract to the book of my passion, and they still offered the 2-book contract. “Good news, bad news” became pure, unabashed great news! Our friend Ezra experienced the same kind of roller coaster emotions, when the great King Artaxerxes offered a gift he couldn’t refuse….

Ezra 7:21 – “Now I, King Artaxerxes, order all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you…”
  • Imagine if you were one of the treasurers of the Trans-Euphrates, and this little Jewish guy walks up with a letter from the king, ordering you to fulfill every whim of the man standing before you. What would be going through your mind? Wouldn’t you wonder how he managed to bamboozle the king so thoroughly?

Ezra 7:22-23 – “…up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit. Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and of his sons?”

  • A good healthy fear of the Lord is one reason King Artaxerxes is being so cooperative. He must have read the part about the Exodus/Moses, the plagues of Egypt and Pharaoh’s firstborn son, huh? But fear is a short-term motivator. This kind of long-term commitment drips with respect – for Ezra and the “God of heaven” to which the king refers again and again.

Ezra 7:24-27 – “You [treasurers of Trans-Euphrates] are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God. And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates--all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment. Praise be to the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king's heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem in this way…”

  • The king has just taken away both gold and government from the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates – both of which mean power. As a general rule, how eager are men to give up money and power? Hmmm. How popular do you think that would make Ezra among the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates? Hmmm, again. Ezra is not stupid. He sees the great news of the king’s generosity toward the Jews – and the bad news of the dissension he faces when he arrives in Jerusalem. But his first response to the impending struggle is praise. He realizes IT’S ALL ABOUT GOD. IT’S NOT ABOUT EZRA AND HIS COMFORT OR HIS STRUGGLE.

Ezra 7:28 – “…and [the LORD] who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king's powerful officials. Because the hand of the LORD my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.”

  • When Ezra’s attention did finally turn inward, he focused on how God’s faithfulness had been displayed in his life. He admits his fear (“I took courage”) and uses his God-given wisdom to surround himself with top-notch people. Thinking of God first doesn’t mean we belittle our own needs. It means we move forward in a power beyond ourselves.

Lord, You never said this life was supposed to be easy; in fact, just the opposite. You have called us to take up our cross daily. The Good News is that the Cross is empty – because You conquered it 2000 years ago. The bad news is I must carry it for as long as I live in this sin-sick world. The Great News is that one day I will see You face to face, and there will be no more crosses to bear.


I have a friend I’ll call “Joann.” She’s given me permission to share her stories as long as I don’t use her real name – to protect the innocent…and the guilty – ha! I’ve only recently gotten to know Joann, but she’s kept me in stitches with the hilarious recounting of her life’s ebb and flow. Most of all I’ve been amazed at the single golden thread that’s woven through each story – the thread of the Gospel shared with a needy soul and God’s transformative power in that person’s life…and in Joann’s. Her first story began with her arrest due to a false accusation. Then a crooked lawyer gave faulty advice, and she was given a yearlong sentence on a work-release crew on weekends, while living at home and working a full-time job Monday through Friday. The result? The work-crew foreman gave his life to Jesus, and revival swept through the county work-crew officers. A few years later, she answered her door and found a policeman standing there with an apologetic smile. “I’m here to arrest you again,” he said. This time she didn’t cry. This time she even put on make-up for the mug shot. After being led to the cell block, when it was the second tiered cells’ turn for walk about, she yelled at the top of her lungs, “Alright, who prayed that God would send someone to pray with them tonight? Because I didn’t do what I’m accused of doing, and I shouldn’t be here, so somebody must have prayed for help. I’d like to go home, so if you could just tell me who you are, we could talk about the Lord, and then I can go home.” A little voice in a corner cell said, “I prayed.” Before the night turned to day, that little voice was raised in the sinner’s prayer. And from that night’s experience, Joann began a women’s Bible study at the jail on Sunday mornings at 6:30am. Sometimes God puts us in places we can’t imagine in order to do BIG things for Him. Joann influenced in a prison, Ezra influenced in a palace. We don’t usually get to choose where or when we have or use our influence, but how we handle the opportunity is our own to determine...

Ezra 7:11-12 – “This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra the priest and teacher, a man learned in matters concerning the commands and decrees of the LORD for Israel: Artaxerxes, king of kings, To Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven: Greetings.”
  • Artaxerxes, a pagan king, is about to use a considerable amount of papyrus to ensure this foreign priest/teacher safe passage on a journey to worship a god that’s not the king’s own. However, it’s clear that Artaxerxes has spent much time with Ezra learning about this “God of heaven.”

Ezra 7:13-14 – “Now I decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including priests and Levites, who wish to go to Jerusalem with you, may go. You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand.”

  • These verses tell us WHY Ezra was sent to Jerusalem – to ensure the Law of God was being taught and followed in Jerusalem. They also tell us how a copy of the Law found its way back to Jerusalem – in the capable, safe hands of Ezra the priest and teacher.

Ezra 7:15-17 – “Moreover, you are to take with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisers have freely given to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, together with all the silver and gold you may obtain from the province of Babylon, as well as the freewill offerings of the people and priests for the temple of their God in Jerusalem. With this money be sure to buy bulls, rams and male lambs, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and sacrifice them on the altar of the temple of your God in Jerusalem.”

  • This part of the letter reveals Artaxerxes’ familiarity with the Law of God. The specific terms he uses for offerings, “freewill…grain…drink,” and his specific reference to bulls, rams and male lambs for sacrifice shows some familiarity with Ezra’s teaching.
Ezra 7:18-20 – “You and your brother Jews may then do whatever seems best with the rest of the silver and gold, in accordance with the will of your God. Deliver to the God of Jerusalem all the articles entrusted to you for worship in the temple of your God. And anything else needed for the temple of your God that you may have occasion to supply, you may provide from the royal treasury.”
  • This pagan king just wrote a blank check and gave it to Ezra – without an itemized receipt for the supplies. And he did it based on his belief that Ezra would hear and KNOW the will of his God.

Lord, You haven’t placed me in a palace, but You have placed me in a circle of people that only I can influence. There are people in my life that will hear my voice, people in whom I’m supposed to plant seed, some whose seed I’m supposed to water, and perhaps some I’ll even be blessed to harvest the fruit of others’ planting. Help me to be a faithful influencer of those in my life, Father.