Second Chances: “Meet Me at the River” – Ezra 8

Old_People_403359885It was a kindly group of people. They loved God. They had their problems, but what group didn’t? They wanted to see great things happen in their community, but now they were but a few – and the great dreams had all settled down. They once had lofty goals, dreams and visions, but it didn’t happen, and it wasn’t happening. It seemed like “out of thin air” God materialized help for them from another city – simply because He had something He wanted to accomplish. The new infusion of life, help and hope took the old ministry and revitalized it… because God wasn’t finished with that work. I hope that is the way some of the churches we are sending help to feel – but I am not talking about them. This is a story from long ago – recorded in the book now named “Ezra” – which fittingly means “help” in Hebrew. You see, Jerusalem was about to get a new vision from another wave of exiles on the return, because the call of God was being answered.

I have a question: “How does an aging and perhaps declining ministry hit the reset button?” Many people have been in churches that sadly had to answer that! How does a group go back into the mode of excitement and regain joy and vision when they have settled into a pattern that seems to lead only to defeat, disappointment and discouragement?

God has a message from the ancient collection of His Word. The book of Ezra is unique, however, in that it is actually two different pieces of writing put together into one “book”.

• The first six chapters detail the work of Zerubbabel as he returned with people from the Babylonian exile.

• Chapter seven through ten, offered the story of Ezra who came many years after the first group. In fact chapter 6 closes in the year 516 PCE, and chapter seven open after the year 464 BCE, some 60 to 70 years later.

This small scroll of Ezra 7 through 10 gives us the details of two events:

• 7-8 Offers the story of the Return of Ezra;

• 9-10 Offers the story of the Reforms of Ezra after he arrived back in Jerusalem.

Stepping back and looking into this part of the book that comes much later than the first part, we learn something significant from a little story about the journey to Jerusalem…

Key Principle: Though God does not hold us responsible for what we cannot do, He delights when we do what He has called us to do.

Here is the truth: We must resist the temptation to spend our energies doing what God has not called us to do.

I mention this because I live in a time when people are throwing their energies at great political movements trying to save the morality of a fallen nation – but they don’t bring the Gospel to their neighbor and they don’t pray for their leaders… As we face yet another election season…I recognize my responsibility to be a part of the democratic process. I recognize my responsibility to be a community leader, an organizer of positive events that underscore a moral path of life. At the same time, there must be limits even in a ministry — we can only do what we were called to do and maintain our peace. There are too many stirred up brothers and sisters who seem to be trying to do things beyond their call and get us to do things that are beyond our ability.

God offers insight in a simple story from long ago. It begins with a focused group of people on a mission.

This will help us focus first on what they did and what we can do as we serve together for God’s purposes:

First, Ezra understood the need for a people-centered view of the work (8:1-14)

The first fourteen verses are a list of people who headed up the campaign of return in this second “wave”. Ezra recorded:

Ezra 8:1 Now these are the heads of their fathers’ households and the genealogical enrollment of those who went up with me from Babylon in the reign of King Artaxerxes: 2of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom; of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel; of the sons of David, Hattush; 3of the sons of Shecaniah who was of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah and with him 150 males who were in the genealogical list; 4of the sons of Pahath-moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah and 200 males with him; 5of the sons of Zattu, Shecaniah, the son of Jahaziel and 300 males with him; 6and of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan and 50 males with him; 7and of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah and 70 males with him; 8and of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael and 80 males with him; 9of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel and 218 males with him; 10and of the sons of Bani, Shelomith, the son of Josiphiah and 160 males with him; 11and of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah the son of Bebai and 28 males with him; 12and of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan and 110 males with him; 13and of the sons of Adonikam, the last ones, these being their names, Eliphelet, Jeuel and Shemaiah, and 60 males with them; 14and of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zabbud, and 70 males with them.

As obvious as it sounds, there are many today who forget that teamwork is people work. God’s vision was set forth, and now people needed to get there and get going. The vision didn’t OPPOSE the people – it was FOR the people. Let me say it this way: There are many in ministry who see the goals of the ministry as greater than the people that work in that ministry. The fact is, ministry is about relationship for people by people empowered by Jesus. I love that Ezra took the time to share the names of so many households. I love that he took the time to tell us that they were from genealogical records that could be verified. I do not want to spiritualize the passage, but look at what he says in verse one. Ezra reminds us that he checked out the people before he involve them in the work.

The only way a church can protect itself from the kinds of waves of attacks that are going on in the media today against good churches continues to be to attempt to carefully check out the people that it places in ministry. That means, when people wish to be involved in ministry, they must open themselves to inspection. There is no such thing as moral privacy when you involve yourselves in communal work. We have individual rights, but we forego many of those when we sign on to be a part of community at this level. I am not suggesting that there is no more privacy. I’m suggesting that my sin affects the whole team, and as a result I must expect that others are paying when I am not walking as I should. As a result, even leaders need someone who can “tag them out” from ministry when it is apparent that there is a deep problem that is not being resolved. Ezra took the time to check the people out. Today, we must not allow the work of the ministry to become so large that we forget to keep our eyes on the people of the ministry.

One of the great blessings of ministry is that it is intended to be a team sport. I think of the words shared by Pastor Skidmore: “Have you ever heard of Lieutenant Hirro Onada? He was the last Japanese soldier to surrender after World War II. He was left on the island Lubang in the Philippines in 1944 — along with three other soldiers. They were left with the command to “carry on the mission even if Japan surrenders.” Eventually the others were killed or surrendered. But Onada continued his war alone. Through the years, he ignored messages from loudspeakers announcing Japan’s surrender. Leaflets were dropped in the jungle begging him to surrender so he could return to Japan. During his 29-year private war, he killed at least 30 Philippine nationals. More than half a million dollars were spent trying to locate him and convince him to surrender. Finally, on March 10, 1974, Onada surrendered his rusty sword after receiving a personal command from his former superior officer. His lonely war was finally over. When he returned to Japan as a prematurely aged man of 52, he made this comment: “There was nothing pleasant during those 29 years in the jungle.” (Newsweek, 1974) Well, that was a bit of an understatement. But people can spend long years fighting lonely battles when they are determined to “go it alone.” The Pastor finished with this insight: “People spend years battling secret sins and weaknesses and addictions — when they could end the battle IF they would let other people help them.”

Second, Ezra got the right people together for the work (8:15-20)

Having a people centered work is only going to be truly effective if you have the right people. Ezra knew who he WANTED – but that isn’t always who volunteers. I think it is clear in the text that he was disappointed that the “right guys” didn’t seem quick to step up and volunteer?

Ezra 8:15 Now I assembled them at the river that runs to Ahava, where we camped for three days; and when I observed the people and the priests, I did not find any Levites there.

No matter what team it is that you are ministering with, we all have to admit that there are times when we are discouraged. Discouragement comes when our expectations aren’t met in reality. Sometimes we have to take a step back, even when we are doing what God desires us to do.

The truth is that God understands setbacks and times of limitation. I remember years ago I first encountered this truth when Philip Yancey wrote a selection in his book Disappointment with God about Jesus and way God understands us. Speaking of Jesus, he wrote:

Imagine for a moment becoming a baby again: giving up language and muscle coordination, and the ability to eat solid food and control your bladder. {In the Incarnation story was see] God as a fetus! Or imagine yourself becoming a sea slug – that analogy is probably closer. On that day in Bethlehem, the Maker of All that is took form as helpless, dependent newborn.”

I guess it would be safe to say that God understands disappointment and limiting setbacks, though it’s difficult for me to understand the feeling of leaving the highest place in heaven, to put on the skin of the baby. Jesus knew what it meant to do the hard thing for the right thing.

Ezra thought the problem through, and delayed moving forward to get the right people in the right positions. What a smart move. We read:

Ezra 8:16 So I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam, leading men, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, teachers. 17 I sent them to Iddo the leading man at the place Casiphia; and I told them what to say to Iddo and his brothers, the temple servants at the place Casiphia, that is, to bring ministers to us for the house of our God.

Because I’ve been a long-time in leadership I can testify to the reality that delay can be one of the hardest disappointments for a leader. Once we ascertain exactly what God wants us to do in some area, we want to reach out and do it right away. Yet, there are many instances in Scripture, where we find God called upon His people to wait on Him — not to rush ahead and accomplish the task even when He has made it clear that is the task He wants completed.

I am struck by the record that shows how Ezra sent for leadership among the priestly class, but he also sent specifically for teachers. He needed people who could work, but he knew that in order to expand the work he needed people that could teach the work. Shortsighted ministry enables workers. Long-term ministry intentionally raises up teachers to build more workers. I came to this conclusion over the years of study of the text — many a church has failed to raise up leaders behind them, and their great work collapsed as a weight upon aging leaders. Jesus told us to make disciples. Some of those disciples must also be teachers. Others, fall into the last category of the text, those who are simply called ministers for the house of God – but are vital to the work!

Ezra knew he needed people who could do more than build, clean and fix – he needed those who could teach the people of the Holy One of Israel. They needed to know how the Temple was to function and what God said about pleasing Him. Nothing else would do. I cannot pass this moment without offering the words of A.W. Tozer, in “The Divine Conquest”, where he chided us to do this once again – to think about how we could serve God and not make Him serve US:

While few would dare thus to voice their secret feelings, there are millions who have imbibed the notion that they hold in their hands the keys of heaven and hell. The whole content of modern life … contributes to this attitude. Man is made large and God small; How deeply do men err who conceive of God as subject to our human will or as standing respectfully to wait upon our human pleasure. Though He in condescending love may seem to place Himself at our disposal, yet never for the least division of a moment does He abdicate His throne or void His right as Lord of man and nature. He is that Majesty on high. To Him all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein: … heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.” … before Him prophet and Patriarch and saint have knelt in breathless awe and adoration. Our God has now become our servant to wait on our will. “The Lord is my SHEPHERD,” we say, instead of “The LORD is my shepherd,” and the difference is as wide as the world.

Beloved, we must remember that we are called to serve him and He is not called to serve us. Whether we are leaders, teachers, were servants, whatever we do is for Him – His glory and His kingdom. We did not earn our way onto the team, nor do we choose the others that are on it. We request that God would give to us those that are necessary to do the work he is called us to do.

What is so important is that Ezra recognized God’s provision when it arrived. He recorded:

Ezra 8:18 According to the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of insight of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, and his sons and brothers, 18 men; 19 and Hashabiah and Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, with his brothers and their sons, 20 men; 20 and 220 of the temple servants, whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites, all of them designated by name.

Someone has said, “There are more prayer meetings for requests than for celebration.” Why is that? I suspect we often ask for things, hoping that God will answer us, and forgetting to praise Him when He does! I think it’s interesting that Ezra constantly pointed out that the good hand of God was upon him and the people. Note especially what Ezra was thankful for: each of the points of praise were attached to the names of brothers in the Lord.

Mahli was a man of discretion (seh’-kel: prudence, insight). The word denotes someone who is shrewd, disciplined, and loyal. Ezra gave a special note of thanks to God for this man — I suspect any really good leader would have. This was a man who knew when to speak and when not to speak. This was a man who knew how to look at a situation that would cause others to panic and be careful to lead with diligence and confidence. Along with this man of discretion Ezra points out the temple servants were those who belonged to the specific named group or appointed group of King David. Ezra had a big enough project on his hands that he insisted on leadership with a heritage and track record. When God provided the right people Ezra raised his hands in praise.

Third, Ezra called them to get their hearts ready for the work ahead (8:21a)

Ezra 8:21 Then I proclaimed a fast (tsom) there at the river of Ahava,

In order to move people from their busy lives into the work of God, Ezra took the time to separate them from their daily life. Fasting was an outward show of the “time of consecration” to the new work to which they were called. May I say something that must be pointed out here: Brothers and sisters, we are far too often rushing quickly into the world without carefully heeding the need in our own hearts to take the time before the Lord. We need to stop and examine our hearts and prepare more for our mission outside these doors. We too quickly lose vigor when we are not careful about our examination process. Dr. Martin Luther King penned in his book The Strength of Love:

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” The man was a modern day prophet.

Fourth, Ezra placed his trust in God’s providential power for the success of the whole endeavor (8:21b-23).

He called upon the Lord for the specific needs.

Ezra 8:21b “…that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions.

Look carefully at the subject of his prayer. Ezra wanted God to meet him, lead and guide him and all his people. As a result, he humbled himself along with all the other people and got specific with God about what their needs were. My eyes were drawn to “our little ones”. How desperately they wanted to reach Jerusalem safely with the gold and silver and properties of the temple. How much more desperate they were to make sure that even their children arrived well. Prayer need not be a lofty thing — God answers the heartfelt cry of one who simply calls “Help!”

During the US Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln was a man of deep, if at times unorthodox, faith. At one point one of the ministers said, “Mr. President, let us pray that God is on our side”. Lincoln’s response showed far greater insight, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.” If we want to know what God wants us to do, then we must first strive to live a life of conformity to Him. ( We must not ask God to bless our vision – but rather that He would give us His.

I think it is also significant that he recognized the weaknesses of their flesh.

Ezra 8:22 For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, “The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him.

I love the integrity of Ezra that is revealed in his words of shame. Ezra did not think more of himself than he should, but he was rethinking words that he spoke to the king. He wanted God’s name to be elevated, and he wanted to explain the testimony of Who God is and how powerful He is. As a result, he spoke of God’s power before the king. What is striking to me about verse 22, is the candor with which Ezra admits what he had done. To admit shame is to admit human weakness. Many men do not show emotions easily. Still others, because of ego, refuse to admit that they are as weak as all others.

In 1960, Israeli undercover agents orchestrated the daring kidnapping of one of the worst of the Holocaust’s masterminds, Adolf Eichmann. After capturing him in his South American hideout, they transported him to Israel to stand trial. There, prosecutors called a string of former concentration camp prisoners as witnesses. One was a small haggard man named Yehiel Dinur, who had miraculously escaped death in Auschwitz. On his day to testify, Dinur entered the courtroom and stared at the man in the bulletproof glass booth. The man who had murdered Dinur’s friends, personally executed a number of Jews, and presided over the slaughter of millions more. As the eyes of the two men met – victim and murderous tyrant – the courtroom fell silent, filled with the tension of the confrontation. But no one was prepared for what happened next. Yehiel Dinur began to shout and sob, collapsing to the floor. Was he overcome by hatred? By the horrifying memories? By the evil incarnate in Eichmann’s face? No. As he later explained in a riveting “60 Minutes” interview, it was because Eichmann was not the demonic personification of evil that Dinur had expected. Rather, he was an ordinary man, just like anyone else. And in that one instant, Dinur came to a stunning realization that sin and evil are the human condition. ‘I was afraid about myself,” Dinur said. “I saw that I am capable to do this – exactly like he.” (Donnie Martin, illustrations).

Those are the words of a real man – one who came to know himself. He wasn’t a pompous man, filled with righteous indignation about the actions of others – He was a man broken by the sameness of another’s sin.

I think it is also telling that Ezra and the others were not presumptuous with God. Just because they had a call to do something, didn’t mean they didn’t need to be very careful about HOW they completed the vision God gave them. Ezra recorded:

Ezra 8:23 So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter,

Previous fasting wasn’t sufficient for this new call. They were Jews, and they knew fasting. They could have said: “I just finished fasting”. I wonder if some thought yesterday’s sanctification was sufficient for today’s problem. They would have been wrong. The fact is, we must constantly return to the Lord to seek Him. Note that Ezra says they sought Him concerning this matter specifically – to be sure about what He told them to do and how to do it.

Note that Ezra spotted the blessing and empowering of God when it came. He wrote:

Ezra 8:23b…and He listened to our entreaty.

Isn’t the confidence inspiring! Ezra prayed, God answered, Ezra celebrated. I’m not suggesting that Ezra knew that moment but God answered, because the passage is reflective – it recalls the story in a truncated way. I simply make note that nothing escaped the leader when it came to being able to point back to God’s blessings. I wonder if Ezra ever had to be prodded to have more time for testimonies of God’s goodness – but I doubt it. Good leaders celebrate a GOOD GOD often.

Ezra divided tasks for the work (8:24-30) and that is one of the most important and yet difficult tasks for any work. How should it be done? The text offers the steps:

First, he identified the key leaders (8:24)

Ezra 8:24 Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and with them ten of their brothers;

Ezra had a choice as to how to proceed with the work. He could have put all of the gold and silver and utensils for the temple together into wagons and surrounded them with all the men. Sometimes the best way to minister is to collect everyone together on a single project. In this case, Ezra thought it safer and wiser to split up the people in teams, and divide up the goods and spoils for the temple amongst them. This meant that there was no single place where bandits could get all of the goods. Yet, Ezra needed trusted man — and indeed leading priests he found them.

Second, Ezra distributed the work (8:25-27)

Ezra 8:25 and I weighed out to them the silver, the gold and the utensils, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his princes and all Israel present there had offered. 26 Thus I weighed into their hands 650 talents of silver, and silver utensils worth 100 talents, and 100 gold talents, 27and 20 gold bowls worth 1,000 darics, and two utensils of fine shiny bronze, precious as gold.

President Ronald Reagan used to say of the weapons treaties of the US with the former USSR: “Trust, but verify”. Ezra trusted these men, but everything was carefully weighed and checked so that each man could report to Jerusalem with exactly what was given to him. In order for the ministry to restart in Jerusalem, many people had to do what they could do. Each one had to take responsibility for their part of the body. Failure of any one leader to lead properly, or anyone’s servant to betray the others, may have led to disaster, or at least hindered the work significantly. The body has many members — each one must do their part. Yet, each part counts on the other parts!

Third, Ezra charged the workers with the tasks (8:28-29)

Ezra 8:28 Then I said to them, “You are holy to the LORD, and the utensils are holy; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the LORD God of your fathers. 29 “Watch and keep them until you weigh them before the leading priests, the Levites and the heads of the fathers’ households of Israel at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD.”

I think it’s significant that Ezra reminded them verbally of their commitment to the Lord and to his things. There must be calls to holiness — they must be frequent, they must be strong, they must be convincing. A ministry filled with information, but not characterized by pointed calls for transformation, is cheap ministry. Ezra put them back in front of the work of God and the Master of that work – God Himself. People should feel the awe of God if they are going to understand the weight of fulfilling God’s mission.

Fourth, the Leaders accepted the challenge (8:30).

Ezra 8:30 So the priests and the Levites accepted the weighed out silver and gold and the utensils, to bring them to Jerusalem to the house of our God.

The leaders clearly accepted the challenge that was given to them, and took responsibility for their own actions. They understood the objectives, and each one was working toward fulfilling them. Though they traveled separately, each one was working for one great goal understood by all — to honor God by bringing a new team into the Temple, complete with support and utensils.

Fifth, Ezra saw God’s protection in the work (8:31-34)

As each got busy with their tale of the adventure (8:31), Ezra watched like a general at headquarters…

Ezra 8:31 Then we journeyed from the river Ahava on the twelfth of the first month to go to Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was over us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way.

The service to the king is always an exciting adventure. No once again that Ezra says the hand of God was over them — he delivered them from traps of the enemy. In the day in which we live we are given armor by God to put on (Ephesians 6), but we must constantly remember that there are more on our team than can be seen whether physical eyes. God is fielding a very large team — and we are part of a very mighty army!

Ezra established a check point, and got to the first goal where he planned to gather the people (8:32-34).

Ezra 8:32 Thus we came to Jerusalem and remained there three days.

I think the only reason Ezra tells us about the arrival to Jerusalem and the three days of rest is to remind us that not everyone arrived together. As each party came in from across the desert, new excitement began to build in Jerusalem. The excitement wasn’t only over the assets that they brought — the gold and silver, but over the people themselves. It is an exciting thing to stand in the ministry where God is assembling a great team. We must remember to rejoice in these days!

Ezra didn’t neglect accountability! They weighed out each arrival’s goods to check the work was completed according to the plan (8:33-34).

Ezra 8:33 On the fourth day the silver and the gold and the utensils were weighed out in the house of our God into the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest, and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; and with them were the Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua and Noadiah the son of Binnui. 34 Everything was numbered and weighed, and all the weight was recorded at that time.

Finally the team came together in Jerusalem. Each person was checked, each bag was weighed. The total inventory of accountability was offered by every single person. The Ministry of God was now about to be renewed — the reset button was in sight.

Sixth, the people had opportunity to testify about God’s help in the work (8:35-36)!

The came in and turned their attention to celebrating the journey with the Lord (8:35)

Ezra 8:35 The exiles who had come from the captivity offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel: 12 bulls for all Israel, 96 rams, 77 lambs, 12 male goats for a sin offering, all as a burnt offering to the LORD.

Gathering together at the temple in Jerusalem, Ezra immediately called for the people to offer burnt offerings (of full dedication) and they wholly dedicated the people to the Lord. They offered sin offerings — remembering that it was not their goodness that brought the team together, nor was it them that made all of the celebration possible. God was on their side, but they would need him daily to be the God of grace to the undeserved team.

They saw God’s hand extend beyond the Temple to the region (8:36)

Ezra 8:36 Then they delivered the king’s edicts to the king’s satraps and to the governors in the provinces beyond the River, and they supported the people and the house of God.

When God is doing a great work people will find out! No fires or bulletins needed to be handed out on street corners to suggest that God was doing something. It started in the hearts of the people, it moved to the heart of the King, it worked its way through the hands and feet of the leaders, and it ended in the ears of lost men! What a great moment to see the “reset button” press effectively. The work was God’s Temple. It was not simply to keep it going, it was to instill new vision, new leadership – new hope in a dying organization that went stale.

To get the vast project completed they needed people. The right one’s didn’t show up immediately, but with urging and time, they were able to field the team. They got the team ready for the work and admitted that if God didn’t show up, they were finished. With organization ready and hearts attuned, the leader divided the tasks among other leaders that were obviously among them. This protected the work by spreading it out to make it harder for the enemy to take it all apart at once. Off they rushed, each into their own part of the work for God’s glory, bounding toward the first major goal – the collection of the materials into the right place. Trusting God and seeing His hand through the adventure, the people re-gathered and gave an account of their part of the work. They celebrated and honored God, recognizing their own sinful inadequacies – and God’s provisions beyond their abilities!

Look at the part of the work they were called to do and could do:

• Plan: call people to the work,
• Wait: Hold when the work was not ready to advance,
• Organize: Collect and choose responsibilities,
• Pray: Recognizing they couldn’t do God’s work in their power.
• Be Accountable: Check one another at intervals.
• Celebrate: Mark what God did every step of the way for them!

Now look at the part of the work they could NOT do:

• Selection: Get the best people in the community to respond (they got who chose to come).

• Guarantee: They could not ensure complete safety nor victory – only that God would be pleased.

Though God does not hold us responsible for what we cannot do, He delights when we do what He has called us to do. We must resist the temptation to spend their energies doing what God has not called us to do.

Don’t forget the prize here… it was an active and vibrant Temple to meet Him daily. It was more time with God! It was intimate, personal relationship with the Creator.

God was delighted. He loves it when we put ourselves in His shadow, and bow to listen to His voice. I watched an IKEA YouTube yesterday that moved my heart. Children were told to make a list to “the three kings” – the Spanish version of the Santa story – for Christmas presents. After that, they were told to make a list of what they wanted FROM THEIR PARENTS. One after the other wrote some version of “time with you, mom and dad”. When the children made their first list, it was filled with toys. When they made the one to their parents, it was time, time, time. Wouldn’t it be great if we wanted that with God?