This is a collection of devotions and thoughts prepared by various members of the family.

The Darkness Before Dawn

It has been said that “it is always darkest just before dawn.” If you get up very early while it still dark, or have had an occasion to stay up all night, perhaps you have experienced this perception. It seems to get exceptionally dark, just before the first signs of dawn.
As I have researched this, I have found that those who measure the light of the sky say that they get the most questions about this phenomenon the two weeks before a new moon. The reason for this is probably that the moon can be seen after sunset, but not before sunrise.
These experts also tell us that there is no difference in the light of the night sky just before dawn – it is NOT really darker just before dawn; it is simply a matter of perception and perspective. The longer we are without light, the more we notice the dark, especially when there is no moon to brighten our night. It seems we subconsciously question whether the sun will ever come up again!
Just before the dawn of the Promised Messiah being born, there were some moments that must have been perceived as dark and scary for Mary and Joseph, yet the dawn was just around the corner! Let’s look at three, and see how the Lord used them for His glory.
First, there was The Darkness of a Government Mandate. Luke 2:1 and 3 says, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (3) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.”
History tells us that Caesar Augustus was a pompous ruler who was full of himself, thinking of himself like a god. He was intent on expanding his position and the Roman Empire and mandated a first-of-its-kind census and tax that facilitated his agenda. His mandate did not care about the inconvenience that it caused world-wide, or about who was hurt in the process.
Here’s the irony of this mandate: while Caesar Augustus was working on expanding his “godhood” status with this mandate, he facilitated the prophesied birthplace of the true Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Years before, Micah 5:2 had specified that Christ would be born in Bethlehem. In the midst of this government overreach, God was being glorified and prophecy was being fulfilled, because this mandate required Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem for Christ’s birth.
That leads us to the Second thing Joseph and Mary faced: The Darkness of a Difficult Trip. In two short verses we read the words about their trip, perhaps without much thought as to its difficulty: Luke 2:4-5, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) (5) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”
Bethlehem is about five miles South of Jerusalem, and about 70 miles directly South of Nazareth. When the Bible says that they went “up from Galilee,” it is because Bethlehem is higher in elevation. It is likely that Joseph and Mary, who was very pregnant, descended from Nazareth’s 1138 feet of elevation, down to the plains and forest along the Jordan River, then climbed back up the mountains surrounding Jerusalem to Bethlehem’s 2543 feet – all without a car. This route was probably more than ninety miles, and took them several days over every different type of terrain – forest, plains, deserts, and mountains.
The Bible says little about Joseph and Mary during this time. We know that Mary had joyfully submitted to serving the Lord in bringing Christ into the World. I know this: a trip like this had to have been tiring and trying to their joy; yet, God was working through this trip to fulfill in detail His prophetic Word!
Finally, there was The Darkness of an Imperfect Birthplace. Luke 2:6-7 tells us, “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. (7) And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Every new mother that I know makes plans for the way that she wants the birth to go – safely, comfortably, and memorably. This Birth had none of those elements, except maybe the memorable part. There simply was no room in the inn, so Jesus was born in perhaps a stable or cave, without the privacy and security that normally accompanies birth. Instead of that specially chosen first outfit, Baby Jesus was simply swaddled in cloths. Instead of that ideal and beautiful bassinet, He took His first naps in an animals’ manger.
But the dawn had come! The Messiah was born! On a countryside nearby, the angel of the Lord was bringing good tidings of great joy for all people: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (12) And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)
Those moments of perceived darkness for Joseph and Mary were not darkness at all! They were being proclaimed by the angel of God as a sign, pointing the way to the Messiah! The mandate – the trip – the Messiah in a manger – were all wrapped up now into a wonderful, glorious Christmas gift that was pointing the way for the whole world to receive Salvation!
Perhaps you have experienced some dark days, Christian. If you will let Him, God knows how to use those events to turn darkness into His glorious light. Don’t give up the fight – depend upon Him for strength instead. “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:6)

We Are Not Careful

I think that just about every Sunday School child knows the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to bow down and worship the huge golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had made. The alternative, of course, was being burned alive in the fiery furnace. When they refused, they were brought before the King, and I think that their first statement gives us a look at their Godly perspective. They said, "We are not careful to answer thee in this matter."
Perhaps one might think that we should slow down, be careful, and make sure that we are doing right. That is not really what they were saying here. They absolutely WERE doing right. To be careful in those circumstances puts one in more danger of compromise; instead, you should run, not walk, toward the light of God's Word.
More than not being "careful" as we often think of it, however, it seems that there were a couple of things that they were stating:
1) They were not full of care about this. They knew what was right. They knew that it was in God's hands. They were at peace with it.
2) A debate was not necessary. They were determined to do what was right. They king was determined to do what was wrong. Their position was clear and settled and no discussion was necessary.
We should have the same resolve when faced with life's obstacles. There is no need to hesitate. There is not need to be overcome with care. There is no need for discussion. Let's just do what is right, regardless of the opposition.
(Daniel 3:16-18) "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. (17) If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. (18) But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve t hy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."

From Convenience to Obedience

This is interesting to me, from Psalm 105:25:

"He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal subtilly with his servants."

It is in reference to the Israelites just before they left Egypt to return to the Promised Land, just before the ten plagues on Egypt. They had been comfortable; the Egyptians liked them, and they liked the Egyptians.  It was convenient, but they weren't supposed to be in Egypt.

So God orchestrated some events, and according to this verse, even turned the heart of the Egyptians to hate the Israelites. This working in the hearts of the Egyptians and the Israelites prompted the necessary change that moved the Israelites back to where God had called them to go.

What uncomfortable relationship is in your life right now? Is God trying to use it to push you towards Him? Maybe those unkind or unfair things that are happening to you are actually gifts from God to move you from a convenient relationship with Him to an obedient, personal relationship with Him, fully committed and dependent upon His leadership.

What To Do With Troubles

As we open the Book of Nehemiah, we find that Nehemiah learns about trouble in Jerusalem. These were his people, serving God - his God! Yet he was the King's Cupbearer in the palace; he wasn't in Jerusalem. What is he to do about these troubles?

  • He didn't try to solve them.
  • He didn't start talking about them.
  • He didn't ignore the troubles, either.

The first thing that he did with his troubles was that he took them to God! He fasted and prayed and poured out his heart to the One Who knows all, and can provide peace and direction.

  1. He humbled himself in mourning and confessing sins, both his own, and those of his fathers and the children of Israel (vs. 4, 6).
  2. He prayed for those who served God, that they would be strengthened by Him, and prosper (vs. 10, 11).
  3. He kept on doing his responsibilities as a cupbearer (vs 11).

Ultimately God would direct and use Nehemiah in a great way in this situation, but this is where it started.

So what should you do with your troubles? Humble yourself before God; bring your troubles to Him. Pray for God's servants that are around you, such as your pastor and other co-laborers. Keep on keeping on, until God directs further action.

(Nehemiah 1:3-4) "And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,"

There is Hope in Repentance

In Ezra Chapter 10, we see the repentance that followed Chapter 9. In Chapter 9, they were grieving when they realized how bad the situation was, but we see HOPE early in chapter 10, where is says in verse 2, "yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing."

What gave them hope? Repentance! All around us is a world that faces seemingly hopelessness and darkness. The solution? Turning to Jesus. Turning is the act of repentance.

Repentance came with a price. They had to painfully break off wrong relationships and friendships (verse 11). It was a big job that would require determination, diligence, and accountability (verses 13-14). It would take them weeks and months to make this right (verses 16-17).

When the people saw the HOPE that came with repentance, they were ready to what it took, saying "As thou hast said, so must we do." Are you willing to do what it takes to turn from your hopelessness?

If you don't have a personal relationship with Christ, salvation is a free gift - simply trust Christ and His death, burial and resurrection to take away your sin, and call upon Him for salvation once and for all today. He will come into your heart and give you HOPE.

(Ezra 10:2, 10-12) "And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. ... And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel. Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives. Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do."

A Little Space... For Revival

In Ezra Chapter 9, Ezra comes to realize that God's people are in trouble again, for not exercising Godly separation which ultimately led down the path of compromise, and pretty soon they were doing the same abominations as the heathen nations around them (verse 1).

This greatly grieved Ezra. and I am struck by his response in verses 8-10, where he speaks of God giving them mercy and grace, and "a little space" for revival. After the judgment of the Babylonian captivity, in one of the lowests points of their history, God used a heathen king to extend mercy - for the purpose of revival. It was a small window of escape, with a specific purpose.

If we are going to see revival in our hearts and lands, it is not going to be from a position of our own outward strength. It will be from a time when we have been brought low - either through chastisement or by humbling ourselves. It is then that we are too weak to think that we can bring revival ourselves and realize that it is all Christ and none of us; all the power of God, and none of our own strength.

If we are going to see revival in our hearts and lands, we must realize that the window that God gives us is for a purpose. So often we see God give us liberty and abuse it by not recognizing it as an opportunity for Spiritual revival. Liberty is not unbridled freedom - it always has a purpose.

If we are going to see revival in our hearts and lands, we must recognize that the window given is "a little space." God is merciful and gracious, and His mercies are new every morning, but there are opportunities that are lost and lines that are crossed and ground that cannot be regained in this life when we put off too long the prompting of the Spirit of God.

(Ezra 9:8-10) "And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem. And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments,"

The Power of Preventative Prayer

It has been several weeks since I have written about the book of Ezra. The reason is this: as I came to Ezra chapter 8, I was excited about the powerful lesson learned in this chapter; but as I began to write, I didn't have peace about it, and felt that I was missing something; and so I have read this chapter over and over in conjunction with my devotions over the last few weeks, asking the Lord to show me what I was missing. Early this morning, I realized what I had missed: Ezra's enemy was as of yet unknown and unseen - he was preparing in advance for the unknown. I had realized that he was preparing for the enemy, but it wasn't until this morning that I realized that it was the unknown "enemy in the way" (vs 22, 31).

Several years ago, I had faced a troubling, overwhelming, life-changing problem. After going through it, I faced terrible Satanic attacks that left me in very dark, weak, scary places, battling horrible memories from the past. The main problem was that I didn't know when these attacks would come; often I would awaken in the night, and I didn't know how to fight something that was already upon me. It was then that my pastor and some other men of God taught me the power of preventative prayer: the all-knowing, loving God can go before us and help us even before we know what is going on, and we should praying to this end.

That type of preventative prayer is what we see in this passage in Ezra chapter 8. Ezra was leading a group of people to Jerusalem. He knew that there were enemies along the way; he didn't know when or where the attack would be, but we see here how he handled it - IN ADVANCE.

  1. He Refused to Accept Man's Solutions (vs 22) - Ezra said that he "was ashamed" to get help from the king, because they had told him of the hand of God and the power of God. Do you know the hand and power of God on your life? Have you sought him yet to the point that you would be ashamed to seek man's help in His place? When it comes to the spiritual battles that man faces, the world can offer seemingly good advice in the form of counselling and psychology, but its time that we become ashamed to seek man's answers, so that we can know the power of hand of God.
  2. He Did What it Took to Do Things the Right Way (vs 21) - They had a long journey to take and a job to do, yet they stayed there by the river for 3 days (vs 15) and fasted and prayed (vs 21, 23) to find the way to go, in God's direction and protection. Are we willing to do what it takes to get God's heart on the matter? Are we willing to give up what is necessary to hear from God, and pause and wait on Him for guidance?
  3. God Protected Them (vs 31-32) - God was intreated of them (vs 23) and they went on their journey without incident in the protection of God! It should make us shout with excitement to see the power of God in this situation, and to know that the same God is our God, and the same solution is available to us, if we will follow the same pattern!

(Ezra 8:21-23, 31-32) "Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. (22) For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. (23) So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us. ... (31) Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way. (32) And we came to Jerusalem, and abode there three days."

Outside-in or Inside-out?

(Proverbs 16:2-3) "All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits. (3) Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established."

Are you overwhelmed with knowing what to do, how to make a decision, how and what to accomplish? How do you get to where your ways and thoughts are established and following God?

First, we see the solution cannot be solved by outwardly doing more good stuff - simply because starting from the external, that is from the flesh, you are always going to justify whatever it is that you choose to do: "All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes." It is here that religion exists. It is here that performance exists. It is here that the "checklists" of "every good Christian" exist.

Secondly, we see that God's priority is the spiritual: "but the LORD weigheth the spirits." God looks at us from the inside-out, and is concerned about our relationship with Him first. Simply put, we can't know if we are pleasing God if we are not in fellowship with Him. You can religiously read your Bible every day, even memorize it, but without a personal, daily relationship with Him, it won't help you.

Finally, we see in verse 3, we see the practical summary or answer - "Commit thy works unto the LORD." When you commit your works to the Lord, you dedicate yourself to finding out what God wants you to do and only doing that. Instead of trying to do good things from the outside-in, this requires you to seek God's Word first in order to get answers - not to check off a religious box. This requires the help of the Holy Spirit, and a personal, ongoing relationship with the Lord.

Man's Way: Doing "good" things in the power of the flesh, hoping to satisfy God and find peace within.

God's Way: Seeking God first, and being empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit to accomplish God's plan for your life.

Joy Came After the Storm

In Ezra chapter 6, we see the conclusion of the storm that the builders went through in chapters 4 and 5. In chapter 4, the bad guys came in, first trying to trick their way in, then by outright attacks, to stop the building of the temple. The builders were so overcome that by the end of the chapter, they stopped working. In chapter 5, the prophets preached to the people, and they were encouraged and went back to work, writing a letter to the king about the problem.

Notice the pattern in this trial:

  1. They went about their work, with the help of God (ch 5, vs 2,5). It may be difficult in a hard trial, but keep moving; keep doing what God has called you to do. Go in His strength and the power of His might, but don't quit.
  2. They appealed to the king, instead of retaliating (ch 5, vs 7-17). Be in a position to act instead of reacting when necessary. When in the middle of a trial, if some type of problem needs to be dealt with, follow the correct Biblical pattern, with the right spirit. Using Biblical principles and the right spirit to interact with others through my trial will allow me to be a good testimony in the midst of a dark time. The reality is that our lives touch other people's lives, and so our trials will, too, so even if the trial that I'm going through shouldn't involve other people, its likely to affect other people. If I retaliate every time I feel attacked, not only do I risk losing my testimony, but I also get distracted from doing the job that God has put before me.
  3. God gave them a clear victory (ch 6). The appeal to the king resulted in him looking at the records, and protecting the builders. He told the bad guys to "Let the work of this house of God alone" and that anyone who disobeyed his decree would be hanged with wood from his own house. The chapter ends with great joy as the Jews kept the feast of unleavened bread; this was what it was all about - serving God with joy!

Do you want the story of your trial to end in great joy? Simply keep moving in God's strength, serving Him. Ask Him to give you the right spirit in dealing with conflict, seeking the Biblical pattern for resolve. Rest in the Lord, knowing that in His timing, this trial will pass, and great joy will return to your life again.

(Ezra 6:7, 11, 21-22) "Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place. ... (11) Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this. ... (21) And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat, (22) And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel."

Preaching Solved the Problem

Ezra chapter 5 shows us the solution to the problem of chapter 4. The bad guys had come in chapter 4 and deceived and attacked and discouraged the builders to the point that they stopped building.

Ezra chapter 5 starts with the prophets Haggai and Zechariah preaching to the people. The result was that they got back up and started building again. By the end of the chapter, they had written a letter to the king, challenging the bad guys. They had become encouraged and revived by the preaching of the prophets.

Are you discouraged? Are you ready to quit? Perhaps you have already given up and decided to stop fighting for what is right. Our adversary the devil is a deceitful enemy, but "greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world." (I John 4:4)

Get under the preaching of God's Word and be encouraged. Be in church for every service and hear what God has prepared for you through the preaching; it just might give you the strength to get up and get fighting again. Will you allow the preaching of God's Word to work on your problems?

(Ezra 5:1-2, 17) "Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. (2) Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them. ... (17) Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made in the king's treasure house, which is there at Babylon, whether it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter."

The Bad Guys' True Colors

Everything was going along fine until the bad guys showed up in Ezra 4. When they first showed up, they pretended to be "all for" the Jews, and wanted to build with them and claimed that they worshipped the same God. But the leaders saw right through them, and stood up to them.

We have an enemy, who will sneak in and pretend to be something that he is not. Consider 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, "And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. (15) Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works." Be on guard, and be like the leaders of Israel in Ezra 4 - cut off the conversation before it even begins.

When you refused to play games with the devil, then he will show his true colors and the deception will fade. The wicked men began to trouble those who were building. Then they hired lawyers. Then they sent a letter to the king; it was a deceitful letter with no context concerning the Jew's past and predicting their future.

(1 Peter 5:8) "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:" When the devil can't get his way by sneaking in to your life, watch out, for he will attack like the pouncing of a lion. He'll bring up your past, taking it out of context, and leaving out the part about the blood of Christ cleansing you from all sin. He'll predict your future, void of the power of the Spirit of God in your life.

The story doesn't end here - as we will soon see as we progress into the book of Ezra. The story doesn't end here for us, either, at a spiritual attack from the devil. Overcome his attack in your life by resisting him and submitting to God instead, and the Bible promises in James 4:7, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."

(Ezra 4:1-3, 23) "Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; (2) Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither. (3) But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us. ... (23) Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power."

Praise God for Your Past, Your Present, and Your Future

In Ezra 3, we see that the work began. They began to rebuild and to sacrifice and keep the feasts and give. Then, in the second year and the second month, they began to rebuild the temple, and when the foundation was done, there was great singing and rejoicing and praising God and giving thanks!

There were some that were praising God because of what they could do now - they could go on to build the rest of the temple and continue on with the great future that lay before them. Praise God for what is ahead of you. God already has the future!

There were some that were rejoicing for the present. The foundation was laid before their eyes. They were making progress and working together right then and there, and they were unified as one man (verse 1) to accomplish this. It was a good time to be alive! Rejoice in what God is accomplishing right now. Appreciate those around you. Relax and serve God, thanking Him for what He has for you in "the now."

And then there were the "ancients" - those who had seen the first temple, and now were here to rebuild it again. They wept and thanked God for His mercy; for bringing them back out of judgment; for bringing them through to where they could serve Him again. They remembered the "glory days" and could see that the God of the past is the God of the present and the God of the future.

Verse 13 tells us that if you were there, you would not be able to discern the weeping from the joy and the shouting. God is good! Give Him glory for the past, serve Him in the present, and seek Him for the future. His mercy endureth for ever!

(Ezra 3:11-13) "And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. (12) But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: (13) So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off."