READ: Ezra 1-3
THINK: Have you ever felt as if God had forgotten you? Did you almost give up hope? If you stuck with it and stayed faithful to God-even if you didn't-you found that God never abandoned you. Through times like these, God is able to inspire renewed hope and purpose. After seventy years of captivity, God's people had the opportunity to start over. Through a miraculous series of events, He brought them back to their homeland to reconstruct and restore what had been lost and destroyed in the Babylonian invasion. As ground was being broken in Jerusalem, God was working in the hearts of the Israelites-rebuilding their hope for the future and renewing their passion for Him.
RESPOND: Who was Ezra? (See the Introduction to Ezra, p. 579 in the FBSE.) What prophets foretold these events? (See 1:1 first note and 1:2 note.) Though the Babylonians took Judah into captivity, what empire now ruled the land (1:1-2)? Why does God sometimes use people who don't follow Him to fulfill His purposes? (See 1:1 second note.) Who was the first governor of the returning exiles? (See 1:8 note.) What stages of the Israelite's return from captivity are described in Ezra, and when did they occur? (See 2:1 note and map of the Return from Exile, p. 584 in the FBSE.) What do you think it means that the Israelites "assembled as one man"? Why is unity and teamwork with other Christians important as you follow God's plans? What's the purpose of the altar, and what did it represent? (See 3:2 note.) What was the people's highest priority after they returned to their homeland? (See 3:8 note.) Why did the people praise God after the temple foundations were laid? (See 3:11 note.) How can it help people to celebrate at certain stages of a project? Why were people's responses to the finished temple so varied? (See 3:12 note.)
PRAY: Give God thanks for the hope, healing and restoration He provides through difficult and devastating times and for accomplishing His purposes regardless of circumstances. Pray for unified purpose in your church or youth group.
ACT: Do something to celebrate a recent success, accomplishment or milestone-for you personally, someone you know, your family or a group you're part of. Go out for dinner or a special activity. This can provide inspiration for continued success. If you're not already part of a ministry, mission or significant cause, then find a way to join with others who are doing something to honor God and help people.
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