Tag Archives: Ezra 9

Maturity and Personal Responsibility

“What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds ….”
Ezra 9:13a (NIV)

I have a vivid memory from childhood. I was around ten or eleven years old and was embroiled in a competitive neighborhood game of “kick the can.” I don’t know if it’s even played by kids anymore. An empty coffee can was set up in our backyard. One of the neighbor kids was “It” and tasked with protecting the can and tagging anyone “out” who attempted to successfully kick the can before getting tagged. If anyone actually accomplished kicking the can, then all those who had previously been tagged “out” would be free and the game would continue.

I was one of the last chances for all those who had been tagged. I made my approach around the back of the garage and waited for “It” to turn his back. I made my run for the can. I lunged in desperation, executing a feet-first baseball slide to try and avoid the tag. I fell short and was tagged out by my gloating neighbor.

“GOSH DARN IT!” I exclaimed at the top of my lungs.

Only I didn’t say, “Gosh darn it.” I screamed the actual bad phrase, cussing like a sailor in my anger and frustration. Looking up, I saw my father standing on the patio a few feet away coiling the garden hose.

Busted right in front of the judge, jury, and executioner. I was condemned to spend the rest of that glorious summer evening in my room listening to the rest of the neighborhood kids playing outside my window. Desperate, I pleaded the youngest child’s defense.

“But Dad, I’m only repeating what I heard Tim and Terry say! They say it all the time!”

My appeal was summarily denied. There was no mercy for the innocent waif who had been deceived by his elder siblings and led, unknowingly, down the path of sinful exclamations. I trudged up the stairs to my prison cell and an early bedtime like a dead man walking, sure that I had been wronged.

Wendy and I often find ourselves in the fascinating social position of being in a life stage just ahead of many of our friends. As such, we observe our friends parenting children in various stages of personal development from childhood to young adults; stages we’ve already traversed with our girls. I am constantly amazed to watch children develop and go through various stages of maturity.

One of the most critical lessons in personal development is that of taking responsibility for one’s actions. It’s amazing to watch kids in the defensive machinations like my own elder sibling defense (it never works). I have witnessed kids expertly play the excuse, denial, blame, and wrongfully accused strategies with their parents like Grand Master chess players attempting to beat Watson. What’s really interesting to watch is when they finally have to own up to responsibility for their own foolishness, and how they handle it.

In today’s chapter, Ezra and the returning exiles are faced with a social and religious problem. The Hebrews’ faith is unlike any of the local religions practiced by other tribes inhabiting the land. Theirs is a holy, imageless, all-powerful God who seeks obedience, personal responsibility, and moral uprightness. Around them is a plethora of local pagan cults whose worship includes drunkenness, ritual sex and prostitution, child sacrifice, and all sorts of licentious practices. Throughout their history, Hebrew men have intermarried with local women. They soon found themselves participating in the local cults their wives belonged to along with religiously attending to the rituals of their own faith. Eventually, many simply walked away from the faith of their ancestors and assimilated into the local culture

I found Ezra’s prayer of confession and petition is a great example of responsibility. He doesn’t make excuses. He doesn’t point blame. He doesn’t try to minimize. He confesses honestly, takes full responsibility, and places himself at the mercy of the Almighty.

In the quiet this morning I find myself doing a little soul searching. Where in my life am I still playing an adult version of the child-like chess match of excuses, blame, obfuscation, and justification? Where do I need to step up, like Ezra, and confess honestly and forthrightly? What are the areas of life that I need to make a change?

Hangin’ with the Homeys

“But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’”
Ezra 9:10-12 (NIV)

I grew up in a great neighborhood on the northwest side of Des Moines. The neighborhood was packed full of young families, not only on our block but on the surrounding streets. There were a lot of kids running around the area, but you tended to hang with your homeys on the street you lived. You’d stick close to the kids on your own block. They were the nearest to you, you knew them well, and more importantly your parents knew their parents.

On occasion, kids from another street would migrate over to play and hang out. I can remember the rare occasion when my mom would tell me that certain kids were “bad news” and she didn’t want me hanging out with them. In fact, I was to steer clear of that kid altogether. Looking back, I know exactly why mom gave me the order and it was a wise thing to do. Some of those kids were, in fact, bad news.

In the melting pot of modern America, reading a chapter like today’s regarding the strict commands the Hebrews had not to intermarry with neighboring peoples can feel strange and prejudiced. “Pureblood” wasn’t an idea J.K. Rowling dreamed up for the Harry Potter series. The truth of the matter is that history is full of examples of peoples and socio-economic groups desperately trying to remain homogeneous; Sometimes rabidly so.

Ancient Egyptian royalty, who believed themselves divine, would sometimes only marry their own immediate family members to keep the bloodline pure. European royalty, who would only marry their children to other royals, became so intertwined that to this day the royal families of Europe are all related to one another. Living in a small Iowa town settled by a handful of Dutch families, I experience the same thing at any community social event as people constantly play a game we call “Dutch Bingo” discovering how community members are related to one another (and, they usually are).

I found it interesting, however, that as I read today’s chapter Ezra pointed to the motivation God had for telling them not to intermarry. Just like my mother back in the ‘hood, Father God knew that some of these other tribes were bad news. In many cases, the area religions were glorified excuses for sexual indulgence and got into some really nasty stuff including child sacrifice. The command not to intermarry was not some elitist attempt to keep bloodlines pure but about cultural and spiritual self-protection.

This morning I am once again reminded that reading ancient sections of the Great Story is often difficult in light of the immense changes of culture and civilization over time. As an adult, my parents would never tell me who I can and can’t hang out with, but as a child they knew that hanging with the homeys from our block was a wise thing and that I needed help in discerning that some kids were bad news. So it is that I believe God’s relationship with humanity changes as civilization matures and as the relationship itself has changed between God and humanity through the person and work of Jesus.

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Chapter-a-Day Ezra 9

The Rebuilding of the Temple Is Begun (Ezr. 1:...
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“My dear God, I’m so totally ashamed, I can’t bear to face you. O my God—our iniquities are piled up so high that we can’t see out; our guilt touches the skies.” Ezra 9:6 (MSG)

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about shame, lately. My friend and I are preparing a weekend workshop for men that explores the impact that shame has on our lives and relationships (more about that in a subsequent post today). Because of that, Ezra’s prayer leaped off of the page as I read it this morning.

In the Garden of Eden, Shame was the first result of Adam and Eve’s sin. Having disobediently violated the one and only prohibition God gave them, they immediately saw their nakedness and were ashamed. In response to the shame, they covered their nakedness and hid themselves from God. Some scholars believe that shame, that nagging sense that deep down there’s something horribly wrong with me, is the root issue from which all of our other troubling issues blossom. I feel shame, so I seek to hide it in a false self. I feel shame, so I try to escape from it in any number of unhealthy distractions. I feel shame, so I try to tear down those around me so that they will be at my level. I feel shame, so I attack myself constantly. I feel shame, so I obsessively strive for perfection.

There is, however, a healthy side to shame when we choose to face it honestly and courageously. Shame can make me more aware of who I truly am. Shame can alert me to something wrong in life that I can address and change to the betterment of my self and my relationships. Shame can foster humility, humanity, autonomy, and competence in my life.

When Ezra felt the shame of his people’s iniquity, his response was not to brush it aside and pretend it didn’t exist. He didn’t act out in rage against them. He didn’t give his followers a million new rules intended to create some legalistic goodness in them. He didn’t withraw into solitary depression. He didn’t become hyper-critical of himself and his people. Ezra hit his knees.

In his gut-level, honest prayer, Ezra acknowledged that improper actions from previous generations to his own day had resulted in the disastrous consequences which led to the fix they found themselves in at that moment. He took the first step toward seeking a positive change of heart, a positive change of life, and a restoration of relationship with God.

Today, I’m thinking about my own nagging feelings of inadequacy and failure. I’m identifying the unhealthy ways I try to escape my own shame. I’m seeking to be more like Ezra, and humbly respond by taking healthy steps forward.

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