1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:
2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel— he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”
Ezra 1: 1-4
The end of 2 Chronicles are some of the most gut-wrenching passages of the Old Testament. We read of Josiah’s faithfulness… right up to the point that he disobeys God and gets killed in battle. We hear of 2 or 3 ineffective kings. And then Babylon shows up. They burn everything, steal all the gold out of the temple, break down the wall of Jerusalem, and carry off all the inhabitants as captives.
…until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. [2 Chronicles 36.22]
Such an ironic note of rest, beauty and stillness in the midst of destruction, judgment, and desolation.
Ezra and Cyrus
A new chapter begins for Israel at the end of 2 Chronicles 36 and the beginning of Ezra 1. They are front and back of the same page in my Bible. The words are repeated. After 70 years of captivity and 70 years of the land keeping sabbath(!), hope comes in the form of a Persian King named Cyrus. He is used by the LORD to rally a remnant of the people of Israel to go back to Jerusalem and to rebuild what was lost. It is quite a story of miraculous provision, heartfelt repentance, unexpected enemies, long nights, and faithful hard work.
So we start a new year. For our church, we will go through a major transitional season in our corporate life. Most of us will get a new worship time on Sunday [5pm] and lots of new faces as we gather together in one place at one time. We will say good-bye to this building that has served us [and many others] so well. At the same time some things don’t change: we have more small groups this trimester than ever and some very creative topics. Our relationships with mission partners are growing– we’ll send a team to Asia and West VA again this year; we’ll send more volunteers to Casa Chirilagua, AFAC, and ASPAN. We are thankful for the rich vibrancy that characterizes Restoration.
A new year is a good chance to make some new goals– to imagine what might happen in 2013. Here are some categories in which I have been praying and imagining:
- Scripture. I love the M’Cheyne Daily Bible Reading Plan. [Ok, I just really love a plan]. Takes me through the NT twice and the OT once every year. It starts in 4 different spots in the Bible. One of those is Ezra, which might motivate you if you are intrigued by this story of Cyrus and rebuilding Jerusalem.
- Prayer. I am thinking through daily, monthly, annual ways to grow my conversation with God. Our staff team pauses for a few minutes at 11:30 every day to pray together. We have a weekly prayer meeting as a church. I am trying to grow my discipline of daily by myself prayer. I have scheduled one entire day to pray every month. For me, prayer does not ‘just happen’. Or if it does– it’s only the desperate kind that doesn’t build a friendship. I have to be intentional.
- Reading. So many good books. I want to read more of them. I have a plan…
- Finances. I always take some time to give thanks for what I received in the past year. I look at which budget categories I had a hard time keeping. I change some budget allocations. Restoration offers a great course on budgets, debt, and giving called Financial Peace University.
- Personal. For my hobbies, the entry fees go up on Jan 1, so I’ve registered for a few. I am always scheming to get more time with Laurel [just the 2 of us] and more time with my kids [a sweet mix of chaos and fun]. I want to say yes to friends.
What are your hopes for 2013?
God always speaks words of new hope into the reality of our present. I am praying for you as we move into this year. May God find us faithful– trusting in His provision and waiting to respond.