Loud weeping. Louder laughter!

In the second and third chapters of Ezra, 42,360 husbands? with their households and animals answered the call to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. Under the instruction of King Cyrus, and the prophetic word of God, Israel was being established again.

This mass migration back to the homeland is a miraculous act of patriotism and worship. (Patriotism is corollary to worship in this sense, as Israel was God’s chosen nation.) Forty-two thousand households uprooted themselves toward a land almost all of them had never been to, in order to fulfill the promise of God. Hard work, danger and failure were perils that would surely await them. But they went forward with a worshipful faith in the promise and purpose of God.

 Fearful. Once arrived, the danger of reclaiming the kingdom ground became clear. “What if the new neighbours aren’t friendly?” Their response was inspiring; build an altar! Trembling with nervousness about their new neighbourhood, the Israelites found someone bigger and bolder to stand in awe of. YHWH, who had brought them out of they kingdom of captivity into the kingdom of freedom and purpose. They made sacrifices to him with confidence in his power and promise.

Overwhelmed. Once the work had begun another inspiring phenomenon occurred; weeping for what was, and laughing for what is to come! The old men had witnessed the house in good order. To them, the new beginning was a reminder of the failures and dishonour that brought shame to their honourable call in an age passed. Everyone else laughed and sang. God is doing a new work. Restoration is established by the Lord!

And the sound of praise rises above the weeping.

The church learns from Israel’s restorative experience under the prophetic word of God. While there is much to be grieved about when reviewing the state of the church, her purpose remains in the truth of God’s word. “I will build my church,” he says. “Just as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you… And I am with you, even to the end of the age!”

At this point of my life in ministry, church leadership is hard and church-planting sometimes appears to promise nothing but failure. There may be grief over the loss of what was (or what was supposed to be). But grief will not drown out joy! Because God’s promise has been made. And even his own Spirit is laying the foundation through those whom he indwells. The church.

? Taken from Ezra 2:44. I’m not entirely sure whether this number householding men (father, mother, children and servants) or individuals within each household that are of bonafide Jewish decent. No margin notes were taken for this passage.

No Human Heart Can Escape Him

“…the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia…” Ezra 1:1

I don’t know why I do it. But sometimes I bring myself to think that God’s purpose is captive to the willingness of humanity to carry it out. I find the task of reporting the good news of Jesus Christ to be an honour and a privilege. But sometimes I make more of that honour than is right. I convince myself that God has made me (and every other disciple) the gate-keeper of the gospel, so that if we neglect it — it fails to persist. But here I am reminded that God needed nothing more than the word of his mouth to bring the myriad of miracles that formed every intricacy of the universe. He is by all means capable of fulfilling his purposes for it by the same means. Yet he brings us in! 

In Isaiah 44:28 God speaks to the pagan king Cyrus before he was born, saying that God has chosen him to be a shepherd. One who would foster God’s Kingdom come among the Israelites who were living in exile under his rule. It is audacious for a king to say to another king, “you will be my shepherd” and “you will build my house.” It is boggling that such an instruction can come into history from outside the realms of time and space. It is divine that the spirit of King Cyrus would be stirred by God to do precisely what God intended! This is the power of God’s will. So when we pray “Your will be done, your kingdom come” we are not asking God to let it be. It will be. Rather we are praising him for making us aware of his purposes, and for the place he’s given us in its unfolding.

God’s word does not merely reflect truth; it creates truth. When Jesus says to his disciples “go and make disciples” or “I am sending you” he is not merely pleading with the redeemed to join his cause. Rather he is authoring the stories of those whom he calls to follow him.

  • Does that change the way we think of obedience?
    • Is obedience a desperate struggle to bring God pleasure?
    • Is obedience a faithful pursuit of a what God has already secured?
      • Is it possible that obedience is both/and rather than either/or?

“And all who were about them aided them with
… silver … gold … goods … beasts … costly wares … gifts.”

Ezra 1

See my margin notes for this chapter.

What’s exciting for me is that God not only stirs people to fulfill his purposes; he also lines the path with every necessity for a faithful answer to the call. Speaking of the audacity of God; it is one thing for exiles to be sent to establish a kingdom in their homeland. It’s another thing for their oppressors to send them off with an inheritance of the kingdom they are leaving. God’s purpose is good. His Kingdom is coming! His will is being done. And he brings us into it. 

It is an honour and a privilege to be crafted by the Word of God.


When church kids become church teens

When Maggie and I became part of the Converge Church family, we were coming from a youth ministry background. Both of us having a strong affection and passion for shepherding people on the verge of adulthood. At that time Converge Church had only 2 teens. However, over 50% of our regular attenders were under the age of 12. Maggie and I served in the kids ministry eagerly awaiting the day we would start to lead the kids around us into the misty woods of adolescence.

It wasn’t going to be the same as what we were used to. Converge Church has one mandate. Make disciples, who makes disciples. Keeping things simple helps us stay on task. But it also means saying no to things that some other churches enjoy. From the beginning we were determined to integrate our youth ministry seamlessly into the rest of our discipleship strategy — gospel shaped communities living on mission. (GCM) A steep curve for youth discipleship lay ahead for Converge teens and preteens.

When your church resembles a elementary school, needs are high, resources are scarce and things change quick. We had noticed our children were growing up fast. Faster than we could strategize for. We tried to keep the youth with the younger children during the sermon, but they were bored (and slightly insulted) by the play-school flavoured format. We moved them in to listen to the sermon, but they were lost in the many words and became easily distracted (and distracting!) Worst of all, they were feeling like unwanted disciples. They didn’t fit into our plans and they knew it. We hashed and rehashed our options at planning meetings to little avail. Eventually we gave the youth a sermon based worksheet each week to help them stay on track while seated with the adults. Our youth snatched the worksheets up eagerly — and made many paper airplanes.

Meanwhile, in my own (adult) GCM, I noticed that people were much more likely to participate in small group discussion, and even develop their personal spiritual growth at home, when subject matter reflected the Sunday sermon rather than a separate curriculum. The preacher had ignited something in them them on Sunday and most disciples were eager to fan it into flame during the week. Those who weren’t so keen were soon inspired by those others during discussion. It is welcome evidence that God’s Spirit is active in his people, through the Sunday sermon — I wanted to go with it. So my GCM started using sermon based worksheets.

Still anguishing over the neglected discipleship of our youth and next-to-none resources, we decided to give the youth their own GCM. Using a sermon based worksheet as the main discipleship tool meant that: 1) Youth had a little extra incentive to pay attention during the sermon, and 2) The only extra resources needed was a place to meet and a person to lead. Excitedly, I raised my hand to the task. The next Sunday our preteens and teens were told that after the service they were invited to come hang out with Maggie and I for lunch and discipleship; the first gathering of Youth GCM. It was a success!

The extra incentive was more effective than I could have imagined! Partially because the youth were thrilled to finally be included in the Converge Church ministry strategy. Partially because it was something to do together as a group of young disciples on the verge of adulthood. We used the same worksheet designed for the youth a few months before hand. It was simple; take notes and draw illustrations to put the sermon in your own words as you go. Write down your questions and answer 4 questions in sequence: Based on the sermon 1) Who is God? » 2) What has he done? » 3) Who are you? » 4) What will you do?

In 4 weeks the Youth GCM was firmly established as a healthy, growing fully functioning GCM of Converge Church. The transformation in the youth themselves is actually breathtaking! I’ll post more about that in a story on the Converge Church website titled “Our youth are real disciples.”

The worksheet we use has been slightly adapted since its launch. I’ll upload our recently revised worksheet (which is currently used for all GCMs) just incase anyone wants to use it. »» GCM Disciple Guide (Worksheet)