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.
Tomorrow morning, thirty nine boxes of toys and goodies will be given to the first graders of Carreta Elementary School. It will be our church’s third wave of sharing the love of Jesus to their community (the clean-up drive was first, and the school supplies pack was second). It’s a joy to be part of it and so my husband brought home two boxes for us: one for a girl recipient, the other for a boy. I took the list last weekend and shopped for all ten items. When I got home, somehow I felt very uncomfortable with the two blue shirts I found on sale. God has been speaking to me about giving ‘better’ gifts lately and I know a pink shirt would fit a young girl better. But when I look inside the box, with all nine other good items in it, my depraved mind was saying, ‘It’s already good enough’. I struggled for days and especially in light of my very thin Christmas budget. Then this devotion brought me light.
Chapter three of Ezra talks about the fifty thousand, first wave of exiles coming home to Jerusalem from their seventy years in Babylon. Here, after settling in their own towns for seven months, they gathered as one man in the capital city to build an altar for God. It may seem easy at first glance for it only requires some acacia wood and an overlay of bronze. Each one gave to the treasury for this work and so the financial side wouldn’t be much of a problem. But our verse above noted one big roadblocker: fear. Before their coming, the land was inhabited by pagans who were determined to stay for good. And these squatters weren’t just numerous. They even had connections to the Persian government who were powerful enough to send them away. Building an altar in Jerusalem was a big statement of reclaiming their land as God’s people. It’s like an opening arrow in war. Their fear was real and valid, but despite its paralyzing threat, they stood their ground and did God’s will. After all, if fear was at their door, all the more they needed God’s favor and protection.
‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ What fear seeks is to deny us the truth of this verse. It tells us that God is NOT with us, and will NOT strengthen and help us. Fear whispered to me that my budget couldn’t allow a better gift for a little girl. Dig deeper and it meant, God is not a good provider. And so in faith, I went back to the mall, decisive to buy a pink shirt. There I was sidetracked again with a rack on sale but the ‘better’ word tapped me back. Finding the best one finally, I rushed to the cashier for the pay. Guess what? When she swiped the shirt, I was surprised it registered a discounted price. Even lower than the one on the sale rack! It was so humbling and reassuring. I cried in praise to my amazing God!