Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Romans 1:16-17

What is the main point of this passage? The Christians at this time in the Roman world made up a VERY small portion of the population. They were fairly powerless...they were often persecuted and looked down on...they were being kicked out of their communities for putting their faith in Jesus would have been very easy for them to become ashamed of their beliefs. Paul encourages them here by saying that they have nothing to be ashamed fact, they are the ones who have heard and chosen to follow the powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ that offers salvation to anyone who believes. They have chosen to follow the Truth, and there is no shame in that!

What part of the passage spoke most deeply to you? The final phrase in the passage, "The righteous shall live by faith." is what really sticks out to me. If you and I have been made righteous through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and our faith in that should be reflected in every aspect of our lives. On a daily basis we should operate with the understanding that we are living by faith. That should determine who we are, how we speak, the things we do...yet I think we often just exist...we often don't do anything that really requires fact, sometimes we kinda forget about our faith over the course of a busy day - and that isn't right!

What kind of questions does this passage bring to mind for you? What does it mean that the Gospel was given first to the Jew and then to the Gentile? What does it mean that "the righteousness of God was revealed from faith for faith?" First off, the role of the Jews in Christianity was a huge issue that Paul deals with in the book of Romans. As Gentile men and women were becoming Christians, there was a lot of discussion about where the Jewish Christians fit into the mix. Paul wants to affirm their place in salvation history here. He confirms that they were the people that God chose to enter into covenant relationship with first. This does not mean that God sees the rest of the world as a simply means that this is the way that God chose to work out His salvation plan for the world. He raised up a priest nation (Israel) to be a light for the world...He entered into the world through the Jewish community, to offer His life as a sacrifice...and He did this to offer salvation to everyone on earth. Secondly, God displayed His covenant faithfulness by His act of mercy on the cross. God's righteous act of self-sacrifice and forgiveness was revealed for all to see at the crucifixion. God showed His faithfulness (To people who didn't deserve it), so that we would be able to place our faith in Him and allow Him to make us righteous.

What do these verses challenge you to do, and what are the steps you need to take to met that challenge? I am challenged in two ways: to be unashamed of my faith and to live faithfully on a daily basis. I think there is an epidemic going around...Christians in America who live like they are ashamed of what they believe. I do do it...we try to convince ourselves that we don't, but we often live in shame. We hold our tongues where there are opportunities to reach our and share our beliefs (We say, "I don't want them to think I am cramming my beliefs down their throat."). We plan and work and worry and drive ourselves insane, because we don't REALLY trust that God is in control (We say, "God helps those who help themselves."). We often look exactly like the non-Christians in our culture - the things we care about, watch, buy, say, etc. We feel like we are missing out on something out on something if we don't chase after all the things the world does, and that is a sign of uncertain faith. I think the cure to this epidemic comes in the form of the second challenge. I have got to find a way to live in faith every day. I have got to push myself to step outside of my comfort have meaningful do things I cannot do through my own strength - I have got to live by faith if I am going to be unashamed of my faith.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Matthew 18:15-20

What is the main point of this passage? The main point of this passage is how to properly deal with sin and discipline in the Church. Jesus encourages us to confront a person who has sinned against us one on one (So that it will be private and if things are worked out - it ends there). If that does not work, we are to bring a few other Christians along with us and lovingly confront the person again. We have to remember that the whole purpose of this confrontation is to bring about life-change and offer forgiveness to the person with is living in sin. If the first two steps do not work, then the person refusing discipline must be brought before the church and if they still refuse to listen and change they will be treated as a non-believer.

What part of this passage spoke most deeply to you? The initial verse really just met me where I am in my life right now...I will explain more in my response to the last question...

What kind of questions come to mind for you? Two initial questions jumped to my mind: what does it mean to treat someone like a non-believer, and what does Jesus means when he is saying that the church has the power to bind and loose things on earth and heaven? For the first question, the answer is pretty cool even though a lot of people misinterpret this. Usually Christians read this passage and they that they are supposed to shun the sinners and kick them out of the church. I don't really think that is what Jesus longs for in a relationship between fellow Christians. Think about it - what do we treat non-believers like? We try to do whatever we can to bring them into a relationship with Jesus Christ...and that is the kind of attitude we should take towards unrepentant sinners in the Church...we should treat them like the don't believe. Continue to invite them to hear the Gospel presented at church...continue to pray and seek to lead them back to Christ. They may have to be removed from positions of leadership or deeper community, but they should always be welcome to hear the Word of God with the hope that they will repent. The second question also addresses another big misunderstanding with many Christians. Is Jesus saying that we have some sort of supernatural power to wield eternal consequences over people around us? No! He is simply affirming those who have to be a part of church discipline. It is a scary thing to confront someone about sin (Knowing that you yourself are a sinner) and discipline them so that they might be able to come back to a better way of living. It is easy to question your own motives and your own right to do something like this. Jesus is telling us that if we confront others out of love, with the hope that they will return to Christ...we will have the full support of God. Human beings aren't really capable of that kind of forgiving love and so the Spirit of God has to be involved for real loving confrontation and discipline to happen. Jesus is simply affirming the power of the Church when it acts through the Spirit of God in love.

What do these verses challenge you to do? What steps do you need to take to meet that challenge in your life right now? In my prayers this morning I was wrestling with some internal issues I have been having with someone in my life. There is some deep seated bitterness I have been feeling and I have refused to deal with it...I just shove it down and ignore it. I was praying this morning that God would show me what I need to do...I open up my bible to this passage and the first thing I read has me screaming internally, "NO NO NO!" I don't want to deal with this. I don't want to have an awkward confrontation and conversation...the other person is not really living in sin and what had been bugging me was not necessarily sin in and of is more a bitterness about things that have been said in the past. But they need to be dealt with, and so I am being challenged to have a tough conversation. The only steps I need to take are to pray about it and then go have the conversation. It is that simple. I think it can be easily resolved...I just don't look forward to the's not fun, but I believe that God has told me what to do.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

John 15:1-7

I you would like to join me in studying the bible, I am going to be reading small passages each day and asking this set of questions about them: what is the main point of this passage? Which part of the passage spoke most deeply to you? What kind of questions does it bring to mind? (Can you then answer any of those questions?) What do these verses challenge you to do? What steps do you need to take to meet that challenge in your life right now? Feel free to write your own responses in the comments section, I would love to hear what God is speaking to you through His Word.

John 15:1-7

What is the main point of the passage? Jesus is trying to drive home a point in this passage that every single one of us needs to understand. We were made for community with him. We are spiritual beings, created in the image of God, to be a part of the community of God himself...and sin cut us off from that relationship we were created to take part in. Jesus is our lifeline to the community we were created for. If we do not remain plugged in and connected to Jesus, we will only ever experience a dry husk of the a life. We will be plagued with emptiness, lack of direction, confusion, frustration, etc...and we will try to fill the void inside of us with anything we can find in this world. Yet none of it will ever satisfy...we were made by God and for God and we must do everything we can to abide in Jesus Christ.

What part of this passage spoke most deeply to you? Verse 5. A couple things really stand out for me about this verse. First of all, Jesus promises us that if we abide in him (remain connected to him, open ourselves to him, trust in him, live for him, etc.), that he will abide in us. How incredible is that promise?! Jesus promises to actively partake in my life...the shaping of my mind and soul...he promises to give me the strength I need to live in a way otherwise impossible for me. The second part of the verse is also sobering...anything I attempt to do by my own strength, will, creativity, etc...will ultimately fail. It is impossible for me to do meaningful things for the kingdom of God through my own power.

What kind of questions does this passage bring to mind for you? (Can you answer those questions) It seems that the whole passage is focused on the vine illustration, except for verse three which seems to come out of left says, "Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you." I wonder why Jesus interjects this phrase into the midst of his illustration? It may tie into the the teaching of the foot washing that Jesus gives in John chapter 13. He washes his disciples feet as a symbol for the washing of their sins they will receive when he gives his life on the cross. He tells Peter that if he is not washed, Peter will have no part in Jesus' kingdom. Jesus then says that a person who is clean needs only to wash his feet which continually get dirty. Some scholars believe that this means that even though you have received forgiveness of your sins through Jesus death on the cross, which brings must everyday work to rid yourself of the sins that still crop of and every day turn to God for repentance. It is possible that Jesus throws this into his discussion on remaining in the vine because this daily battle to destroy sin and to seek repentance is part of the "abiding" process.

What do these verses challenge you to do? What steps do you need to take to meet those challenges today? I think too often I allow myself to think I can handle things at work or at home without the need to "bother" God with my problems. To abide in Christ, I feel that I have to make seeking his counsel and strength a priority in basically every task of my daily life. When I am writing a lesson, it is not enough that I just jump right into because I have taught on that topic 30 times before...I need to seek God's face and ask Him to show me His truth in each new teaching. It is not enough that Mandy and I discuss decisions about our family and then act...we need to make sure we are seeking God's guidance in all our decision making. I think the first step in making this challenge a reality is to spend some time in prayer before anything I do and to spend time praying with my wife (Which unfortunately I don't often do...we almost always pray individually).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Malachi Chapters 1-4

1:3 - This verse has caused people some serious doubts over the years - how can a loving God choose to hate people He created? The Apostle Paul actually uses this verse in his explanation of God's sovereignty in Romans 9:14-23. The thing that we need to understand is that "hate" as used in this passage in the Hebrew world was not an emotional was not a feeling that God was having towards Esau or the Edomites (Esau's descendants). Hate as used in this passage is simply the opposite of the meaning for love. God confirms His love for the people by reminding them that they are a part of His covenant community. God says He "hates" Esau as a way of saying that they are outside of His covenant community. This does not mean that God hates Esau as current day Christians understand means that Esau and his descendants did not fit into God's plans for a priest nation. The things we need to understand by looking at both passages from Malachi and Romans is that this is not really a salvation issues that God is referring is about calling. Just because He doesn't call on the Edomites to be His people does not mean He wants them all to burn in hell. Actually God's grace and mercy are on display in both passages, because the people that He chooses to bless with special expectations are in no way shape or form deserving of that calling. The Israelites, as we have seen over and over, were every bit as corrupt as other people groups around them, but they were chosen to be priest nation from which the Messiah would emerge (The Messiah who happens to make salvation available to all of humankind...does it get any more gracious than that?)

1:6 - The priests of Israel and the people call God, "Father" and "Lord," but they do not show Him that kind of respect. Faith without faithful actions is dead. Christians do a good job of calling God our Lord, Savior, Master, Friend, etc...but are we living like we really believe those things. Lords demand obedience and respect - do you give those to God on a daily basis? A savior is one who you are greatly indebted and would do anything for - does that reflect your relationships with God? Think about it.

1:8 - These are very stinging words to is sinful to offer God less than your best. How many times have I done that? How many times have I offered mediocre worship, service, teaching, sacrifice? This is a good reminder for ministry leaders to I thinking every day as I head into work about giving God my absolute best effort?

2:2 - The priests have been doing their duties in the temple...but they have just been going through the motions. God does not just want people to perform religious actions...He wants His people to actually care about what they are doing. The heart condition of the priest and the worshippers absolutely matters to God.

2:3 - Well, it looks like I just found my two sons' favorite new Bible verse. What is this verse talking about? God is using a disgusting metaphor to get His point across. If God smeared excrement all over the faces and bodies of the priests, they would become religiously unclean. They would be unable to perform their duties (doodies?) and work in the temple. They would also be utterly shamed and sent outside of the community so that they would not make other people unclean as well. This is a stern warning that God is giving to men who are supposed to be leaders who are basically doing a crappy job of being spiritual guides - "Get you act together or you will be cut off from community with me and Israel!"

2:7 - On the other hand, Malachi gives an example of what the priestly leadership should actually look like. They should have a wisdom that comes from the Word of God that sets them apart. They should be so consistent in the ways that they live their lives that people turn to them for teaching and encouragement. This type of leadership is totally opposite of the apathetic corruption that they were bringing to Israel. What kind of message is your life preaching? Wisdom from God? Or Apathy?

2:10 - This is a great verse that speaks to the respect that is due to people in faith communities (and human beings in general). Every single one of us has one God and Father - that is the source of our value...being the children of God. People should be treated with the respect that the children of God are due.

2:14-15 - Malachi places responsibility for marital commitment firmly on the shoulders of the men of their community. Their marital unfaithfulness had affected their relationship with God. God understands what it feels like to be rejected in a covenant relationship...over and over His people had chosen to prostitute themselves out to other gods. Now the men in their culture were abusing the power they had to divorce the wives they had made covenant commitments to, and God is calling them out for it. He implores them to guard themselves in the spirit - to guard the mind and the internal desires so that they could remain faithful to their vows. Husbands and wives must be certain to do whatever it takes to strengthen the commitment they have made to their spouses.

2:16 - This is actually a better translation than the old, "God hates divorce." The ESV says, "For the man who hates and divorces...covers his garments with violence." While I think the case can be made that God hates divorce and what it does to people's lives, this translation fits more closely to the point that God is trying to make here. The man who divorces his wife is doing so out of hatred...which is dead wrong. He has not guarded his heart like the other passage said and now he has allowed his selfishness to stir up hatred for the women he committed himself to, and nothing about that is okay! This hate filled man will begin to wear violence as a cloak...he is morphing into a person who lives in opposition to God. There is a strong case to be made through this passage that domestic violence is actually a form of divorce, because the husband is breaking the marriage covenant. Sadly for years, the Church has preached only that God hates divorce and has sent women covered in guilt back to their abusive husbands. This is dead wrong...the man who abuses his wife has broken his covenant vows to her and placed himself in opposition to God - he is a cancer that must be cut out of the woman's life. Ephesians 5:25 tells us very specifically that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church, and I don't remember Jesus raping and violently beating the Church. A man who tries to use scripture to oppress and abuse his wife is not Christian and in my book is NO man.

3:10 - The priests and the people have basically been robbing from God because of their selfish giving. God is shocked that people would actually try to steal from Him - Everything is His! Everything anyone has was given to them by God...why should it be difficult to offer God a full tithe with a glad heart? God tells them that if they want to experience the full blessings of relationship with God, they must bring a full tithe, given from a heart of worship. The people of God should give in such a way that no one in their community would ever have any needs. Imagine what it would be like if the Christians of the world pooled their resources and went about the business of meeting needs...there would be no death from drinking diseased would be a picture of the promised kingdom of God.

3:14 - This shows how corrupt the attitudes of the people of Israel are at this point in history. They don't see the point in living for God and seeking His presence because it does not bring them anything of worldly value. How many "Christians" today make decisions based on this kind of flawed logic. Well, I would love to serve more but I just can't afford to take the time off. Can't? Or won't?

4:2 - A beautiful future prophecy...a new world order will rise up like the sun in the morning. But this sun will be the Sun of will be God himself and His light and warmth will fill the earth. He is depicted here as having wings because those symbolized protection (like a mother hen, shielding here baby chicks with her wings)...and under the umbrella of God's care we will experience healing and freedom. Amen!

4:4 - The people of Israel are called to remember. To remember the laws of the remember the great story of God's love for them. We are called to remember as well. We are called to remember to live our lives in the Way of Jesus Christ. We are called to remember the Gospel and the difference that truth has made in our lives. We are called to be a reminder to the world about what the freedom that comes from knowing God.

4:5-6 - According to Jesus himself (A pretty reliable witness - lol), this prophecy was fulfilled in the life of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14). John came as an Elijah-type figure preaching about the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Messiah. Now Jesus has come...lived...died...risen...what are you doing to tell the world about it?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Zechariah Chapters 11-14

* I really didn't have the time to give these chapters the treatment they deserve...there is a great deal at play behind the texts and in biblical/world histories that I couldn't really get into. Look into it would be fun.

11:7 - Most of chapter eleven is describe the very complicated relationship that God has with His people the Israelites. God is a straight shooter and He doesn't pull any punches as He gives this prophecy to Zechariah. God made the choice to become the shepherd/leader of a group of people that He knew would reject Him (No smack talk about the Israelites here - without he sacrifice of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit...every group of human beings would have screwed this up). He stepped into history and saved His flock from the destructive elements of human society: selfishness, greed, violence, oppression, etc. (If you recall, they were slaves in Egypt at the time). Yet even after being saved and loved and guided into the best way possible for humans to live...the people of Israel chose to reject God. Heartbreaking story, but as we know - God didn't give up.

11:12-13 - For all intents and purposes, the people said to God, "Thanks for your help, but we're not really interested in you...we want to be like all the people around us who live in the midst of utter sin-filled chaos...their lives look a lot more's a little money for your efforts!" They betrayed their God...they betrayed their God shattered the unity of His people and the blessings He poured out on them. This verse also hints at a future betrayal of God at the hands of Judas. Jesus is also known as the shepherd in the biblical text. He was also rejected by the people he had come to save and betrayed for a few silver coins. Yet instead of exacting judgement on the people yet again...God, though Jesus, ends the twisted cycle of covenant betrayal by paying the price for the sins of the world Himself.

12:2 - What does it mean that Jerusalem has become a "staggering cup?" It means that any nation that wants a piece of Israel is gonna have their hands full. When you drink from the cup of God's protection over His walk away absolutely intoxicated. And we aren't talking about a fun party here...we are talking about disorientation, vomiting and embarrassment...any nation that tries to attack God's people will end in utter shame.

12:10 - Interestingly enough - though it seems like an obvious fit - this passage is not directly a prophecy about Jesus. Most people read this and want to equate it to the Isaiah passage (Isaiah 53:5) that refers to a savior "pierced for our transgressions." But contextually it just doesn't fit here (although anything that gets you thinking about the sacrifice of Jesus and the love that displayed is a good thing in my book). This passage is more directly referring to the piercing rejection that God has experienced at the hands of His people...the wounds He has suffered due to their betrayal. In this picture, His people finally see the folly of their rejection of God and mourn at their own stupidity in the face of God's incredible mercy.

13:1 - Though it may not be a perfect textual fit, as I mentioned above, how can you not read this passage and immediate think of the redeeming work of the cross? On the day of the piercing a fountain will be opened up that can cleanse us of our sins! It doesn't get more Jesus-y than that! He allowed his body to be broken for our sins...through his sacrifice we are able to experience a supernatural level of cleansing and righteousness that was impossible on our own. That is Good News - we should really tell people about that!

13:7 - Another example of fulfilled prophecy...when the shepherd was struck his flock scattered. This was fulfilled when they crucified Jesus and his disciples ran scared (All the men did anyway - the women who followed Jesus stuck around until the very end...and they were the first at the resurrection tomb...just sayin').

13:9 - Let all get this straight...the Bible doesn't promise us that life will be all rainbows and unicorns if we follow God. He doesn't promise that we are going to get all our hearts desire...God is not a magical genie. He is God. He does promise that He is going to give us what we need. And sometimes we need to be refined by fire...sometimes we need to go through hard things, tough times, trials, mourning, loss, rejection, that we can come through the other side more purely faithful. When all the other things are stripped away from us, we are left only with our faith, our hope and our utter dependance on God...and you know what? That is not a bad thing.

14:2 - Chapter 14 does an excellent job of summarizing God's message that was spoken to the people through Zechariah. He starts out by rehashing the situation...the people have betrayed God...that is why they faced judgment...that is why they were exiled...that is the reality of the situation and they need to repent of what they have done to restore that relationship with God.

14:3 - Because God is loving and merciful...He will rebuild His relationship with the Israelites, which starts by getting them back their land. So God will turn and pour His judgment out on the nations of people who have been harassing the people of Israel.

14:9 - Then Zechariah prophecies about a future where God will once again step in and become the king of His people...the king over all the earth. This was definitely a future prophecy at the time this book was written and it was partially fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth as the God/man/prophet/priest/king who changed everything. He gave his life so that we might experience salvation and be filled with power of the Holy Spirit. King Jesus still reigns, though he is not physically in our midst and the battle for souls is still raging on. (I said "partially" in the second sentence because there will come a day spoken of in the NT when Jesus returns and will fully take on the mantle of King of everything - there will be no more choice but to fall and worship)

14:16 - Much like the book of Revelation ends, Zechariah ends his book by driving home a message that was given to Him by God...victory is the Lord's! Zechariah looks forward to a time in the future where all will acknowledge the Lordship of God and worship Him - don't you?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Zechariah Chapters 7-10

7:2-3 - Jewish exiles from the countryside are returning to Jerusalem to ask the priests what they should do to bring reconciliation between themselves and God. They want to know if they should fast to bring about a full return to Jerusalem more quickly. It was common in the Jewish world during this time for fasting to be used during hard times. When things were difficult, people would fast in an effort to repent and bring change.

7:5 - Though it may seem really great that people are returning and wanting to make an disciplined effort to fix their relationship with God, Zechariah wants to make sure that their hearts are in the right place. He wants to know - "Are you fasting because you want to honor God, or are you fasting because life is hard?" There is a difference...the difference is motivation...are you doing something to worship God, or is it really just a hidden way to worship yourself. Every Christian should ask the question that Zechariah asks here about the things we do - is this really for God, or is this secretly for me?

7:9 - More than fasting, we are told exactly what God really wants from His people. Justice. Kindness. Mercy. Love. These attitudes and the actions that come along with them are more godly than choosing not to eat for a few meals. (Unfortunately, the people so not want to hear it) Christians today often settle for allowing church attendance and the occasional service opportunity during a church service become the entire scope of things they do to honor God with their lives. Sadly, this is the case because these things are the easiest and most convenient ways to make ourselves feel like we have done something holy. Yet it is the things that truly cost us - time, effort, emotions, sacrifice - that beat in time most closely with the heart of God. (But most times, people don't want to hear that either).

7:12 - This is really brutal imagery here - the people have chosen to harden their hearts, so they won't have to listen to the truth of God and change their lives. Been there before?

7:13 - Look at the follow up verse - this is scary. God says, "I called on you and you refused to listen, so don't be surprised when you call on me the next time when you are in trouble and I refuse to listen." This may explain why there are times in our lives when it feels like God isn't He isn't listening. Have you been taking the time to hear His voice?

8:4-5 - This is such a great picture of what godly community is supposed to look like. The old and the young are plentiful. God is telling us that His community is a place that is safe even for those who are least able to defend themselves. It also models for us a healthy community where people of every generation come together and enter into relationship. The older people delight in the energy of youth and pour wisdom into the lives of those younger. The young people serve the older and learn from their experiences. This is what church is supposed to look like!

8:16 - Zechariah gives us some more instruction here on what godly community is supposed to look like. People in community should be able to speak openly and honestly with one another at all times. Godly communities are always focused on bringing justice in their communities.

8:17 - There isn't a whole lot in the Bible that we are told God we should probably take notice when we come across those things. God hates when His people desire for evil/bad to happen in the lives of other believers...that is just wrong. God hates when His people lie and gossip about one another. There is no place in the kingdom of God for these things.

8:19 - This is a great teaching on the true heart behind fasting. When you are walking in the presence of God, you can fast frequently with true joy, because fasting actually becomes a time of feasting. Where you feast on the presence of God and allow Him to fill you up...a time where you feast on the word of God and you burn it onto your soul. That is what fasting is truly all about.

8:23 - Zechariah describes a future where people from other nations will cling to the Israelites and will beg them to take them into the city of God, because they see the difference being connected to God makes in the lives of His followers. Do you think people feel the same way when they come in contact with you? Do they want to go where you go and enter into the presence of the God you follow? I hope so.

9:7 - Pagan cultic rituals often involved easting raw meat, drinking blood and devouring food that had been offered to pagan idols. Through this section of scripture God is not only confirming that the military might of Philistia will be destroyed (ex. Plundering of Tyre), but that the their false religion would be wiped off the face of the earth as well.

9:9 - Does this sound familiar? This is messianic prophesy about Jesus! The king is coming to bring righteousness and salvation, but this king is so different than any that have come before him. He is described as "humble," which was a word that was often used to describe the poor and oppressed during this time period. That seems strange for a king. This king rides into town on a donkey, not a warhorse. Again, this just doesn't sound very king-like. And there is a good reason for that...this king is like no other king before or after him...this king is Jesus and he came not to rule with an iron fist...he came to rule through sacrificial servant leadership.

9:16 - Here we see some beautiful shepherd imagery. This really gives us a picture into the heart of God. He will save the flock of His people...they are like precious jewels to Him. These are really intimate and touching words about the love that God has for you...don't forget this.

10:2 - People in agrarian societies in the middle east during this time period would often turn to pagan religious cults when they need rain or wanted healthy crops. Where the Israelites just had one God...all the other false religions had gods for everything. It was tempting and convenient to enter into idolatry, because you could just go make a sacrifice to the god that fit your specific needs. Unfortunately, as we know - all those other gods didn't really exists and so people were just making sacrifices to nothing. Zechariah calls pagan worship what it is - nonsense. Yet this passage does bring up some interesting questions for us - who are we listening to? Who do we look to for help? Do we turn to God, or are we allowing ourselves to be misled by our cultural influences? If we put our trust in anything but God, we become like those helpless lost sheep.

10:6 - Judah is the southern kingdom of Israel that is most often referred to by the biblical prophets. Though they had their issues with idolatry and corruption, they were nowhere near as bad as the northern kingdom. This kingdom had been completely cut off by God, which is why we do not have much in the way of prophetic writings directed at the northern kingdom. The house of Joseph mentioned here in this passage is referring to the northern kingdom of Israel. So what we are seeing in this passage is a really big deal...Zechariah is prophesying that all the people of Israel will be united once again! The beautiful message of this passage is that there is always hope for redemption - do not forget that!

Friday, February 17, 2012

4:6-7 - God confirms that Zerubbabel will lead the Jewish people back to Israel to rebuild the temple. It will not be because of strength or intelligence or creativity that Zerubbabel is will be because of the Spirit of the Lord. The Zechariah sees the image of an huge mountain that stands before Zerubbabel that is ground down into a flat plain. We can put confidence in that fact that if we trust in God and live in faith we can overcome any obstacle.

4:12-14 - Fortunately for us, Zechariah asks all the questions that we have as well - he says, "Who are these branches you are talking about?" Well it turns out the branches are the anointed ones - Zerubbabel and Joshua who represent the God-ordained leadership and priesthood of Israel.

5:3-4 - A curse will be upon those who steal and lie - it is a curse that will descend upon their house, infect their life ad destroy their legacy. Nothing has changed has it? When people choose to live only for themselves and will do anything to bring success and pleasure to their lives...they live under a curse that effects every area of their lives.

5:7-9 - This is a vision of the evil that is being cleansed from is much like a picture of repentance. The Jews were exiled from Israel because of the corruption in their country. Now that God is bringing them back into relationship and back to the Promised Land, a cleansing has to take place. When people truly repent, there must be a change of heart and a change of behavior and that is what we are seeing here. The evil of Israel is being wrapped up in a box and taken away. The woman appears to represent wickedness, not because women are evil (There is some debate on that one - LOL!), but because in Hebrew the word "wicked" is a feminine word. Are there any pockets of evil in your own life that need to be boxed up and destroyed?

5:11 - Shinar? This was a Hebrew word that referred to Babylon. The vision is saying that the pagan idolatry and wickedness that once plagued Israel will be removed and sent back when it came from into the pagan kingdoms surrounding the people of God. Newly cleansed the nation of Israel will once again become what it was always supposed to be - a light shining for the whole world to see the beauty of following in the way of the Lord. This is why Christians today must be careful not to become obsessed with the sinful beliefs of the word around us...we are called to stand out as a priest nation just as the Israelites were.

6:7 - This is another vision that confirms God's knowledge of everything that is going on in the world - this picture of angels riding across the four corners of the earth. "North" - the countries that always oppressed Israel were generally located north of the Promised Land. If God's Spirit has rested in the north as this passage says it has, then this passage is prophesying victory over the pagan oppressors of Israel. God would not rest if His people were still in danger of falling under the sway of pagan empires.

6:11 - The crown described here is not the turban worn by the priest of the temple, this is very clearly a priceless crown for a king. So the crowing of the high priest in this vision represents the future coming of the Messianic priest-king Jesus.

6:12-13 - Does this verse sound familiar to you? Go read John 19:5. "Behold the man," is exactly what Pilate says when he presents Jesus to the angry crowd before his crucifixion. From the earliest traditions of Judaism, this passage was considered Messianic (meaning that they considered it to be a prophet passage about the coming Messiah). We see that this passage is fulfilled by Jesus - he is the branch that is spoken of...he is the ruler who fills the position of both the high priest and the king that are described here. Thanks be to God for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Zechariah Chapters 1-3

The prophet Zechariah shared the words of God with the Israelite people in about 520BC, during a time of upheaval in the Persian Empire. This takes place prior to the return to Jerusalem, so much of Zechariah's message is about the need to return to God and God's promises of a hopeful future.

1:3 and 4 - The people are called by Zechariah to repent. To renew the relationship with God, repentance has to take place. There must be a change of heart...a change of mind...a change of action in the lives of the Jewish people for God to enter back into relationship with them. God promises that if His people will repent of their old ways and return to Him, that He will return to them as well. This is something that every one of us needs to understand. Sin gets in the way of our relationship with drives a wedge between us...disconnects us from our Creator. Fortunately God is so merciful that if we will turn from our sin and run to Him, He will take us back.

1:8-11 - This is a pretty interesting vision that Zechariah sees...he sees a regiment of angels who have just returned from a reconnaissance mission that encompassed the whole earth. The whole image has a clandestine feel to it...they are on camouflaged horses and hiding in the myrtle bushes (6 to 8 foot tall bushes that provided excellent cover in the desert) in a shaded glen. The angels report that the world is at peace...which seems like great news, but it isn't...

1:12 - The head angel is upset - he says, "How long Lord? How long?!" Why is he upset that the world is at peace? Because the kingdoms that are in charge of the world at this point are evil...they are nations that stand in opposition to God and they are experiencing peaceful, problem free control. The angel is upset because he wants to see turmoil in the pagan kingdoms...he wants to see some sign of the upheaval of power that must come in the people of God are going to once more regain their power. The angel's frustration reminds me of the frustration that we all feel when it seems like evil wins in the world. It just isn't right!

1:16 - But God assures the angels and Zechariah that He is in control, as He has always been. He tells them that He is returning in power to Israel...the holy nation of priest people will be redeemed...their nation will be rebuilt....there is hope!

1:19-21 - What is this strange imagery all about? Well, the four horns most likely represent the Assyrian and Babylonian empires that crushed the Israelites and scattered them all over the middle East. The four craftsmen represent the Persian Empire, which came in and shattered the "horns" and treated the exiles of Israel will (Eventually even financing their return to rebuild the temple of the Lord and the city of Jerusalem). This vision is given as a reminder that God is at work in the seemingly unexplainable events of the world.

2:4 - This is very powerful imagery - I love it! Zechariah is told that the people of Israel will return and theirs will be a city without walls. At first this sounds like it would be unprotected, but the power rests in the message of a city without walls. A city like that is free to endlessly expand...a city without walls is open to all who come to join in. This is God's vision for His people and His vision for the world - that His people would be the foundation for a welcoming community that invites people from every corner of the earth to dwell in the presence of God. How cool is that? Is your church community a "city without walls?" It should be.

2:5 - There is no need for walls around the future city of God, because the Lord Himself is their protection. The cleansing fire of the Lord holds those who only wish evil on the people of God at bay.

2:11 - We see that the imagery of godly community continues to expand in the passage. People from every nation will come to the city...God will live in the midst of His people and His people will love one another regardless of differences. This is a vision of the world as it should be.

2:13 - This is another powerful verse that just gives me chills...silence is demanded because God is on the move. What can you do? What can you say? What can you add? The Creator of all things...The Word...The God of infinite power and imagination is going to work in the world. The only appropriate response is to be listen to His drink it all in.

3:2ff - Here Zechariah is taken into the midst of a tense heavenly courtroom scene. The accuser stands ready to bring charges against Joshua (Yes, THAT Joshua, he is representing Israel in this vision). Joshua is in the courtroom of God, but he is covered in filthy rags. The Hebrew words used for filthy in this passage are words that are used elsewhere to describe vomit and feces. So, Joshua is in absolutely disgusting condition (Sin will do that to you)...he has no place in the presence of God. Yet, just as the accuser is about to crush Joshua, the Lord steps in. The Lord rebukes the accuser and demands that Joshua's garments be destroyed and that he be clothed in pure robes. The imagery of the turban and the robes represent the idea that the priesthood of Israel is being restored. Only the Lord can remove sins from the lives of tainted human beings and He has chosen to do so for the nation of Israel. In the same way He chose to offer us a chance to change from filthy sin-filled garments to righteousness through the blood of Jesus Christ.

3:7 - It is important for us to understand that with forgiveness comes expectation. Much like Jesus in the New Testament who would offer forgiveness and healing to men and women and then tell them to "go and sin no more" - the people of Israel are instructed to follow in the ways of God. He promises that if they follow His commands that they will be blessed in all they do and that He will use them powerfully in His kingdom. Do you and I realize that power that is within our grasp when we choose to walk in the way of Jesus? The power to bring change. The power to join God in His redeeming work in the world. That is beautiful!

3:10 - The vine and the fig tree that are mentioned here are symbols used to represent peace and prosperity. Those who experience the freedom of following God will naturally invite others to join in. Do you get so excited about your life with God that you cannot wait to invite other people into the great adventure? Why not?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Haggai Chapters 1 and 2

Haggai is a prophet who was called to speak to the returning remnant who have come back to the Promised Land to restore it to its former glory. Unfortunately, when the people get there, they forget about their duty to God and worry only about their own comfort. This is the issue that Haggai is addressing as he prophesies...

There are a couple of questions that come to mind as I enter into reading Haggai: What do you feel that God has called you to do? What are the obstacles in your life that get in the way of doing what God has called you to do? The Israelites were distracted by their own comfort and ignored the calling that God has placed on them to rebuild the temple...what are you and I missing out on because we keep allowing ourselves to get distracted?

1:4 - Here we see that they have turned to building up their own houses and their own wealth, before building up the house of the Lord. They are ignoring the temple, which was vital to Hebrew worship, because they want their own houses to look good. Does this strike a chord with you? Are there any meaningless endeavors that you allow to get in the way of your own relationship with God?

1:9 - Here again we see that the Israelites are working towards their own ends and ignoring the house of God...the kingdom of God...they are allowing God's reputation to be dishonored among the people of the earth (The temple represented the presence of God in the ancient world, and by leaving it in ruins, the Jews were leaving the name of God in ruins). How many of us ignore convictions from God for a wide variety of reasons? Maybe we are scared of not knowing what the future holds...maybe we are too comfortable to change things...maybe we use our family as an excuse to ignore the call of God...what is hindering your impact on the kingdom of God?

1:12 - This is actually a very refreshing verse...this is one of the few instances in the Old Testament prophetic writings, where the people listen to the prophet and repent. They see that they are wrong and they changes their ways - YAY! Now let's make sure that you and I are willing to do the same when we are convicted by God.

2:3-5 - The new temple that they are building is not even close to being as beautiful and as impressive as the temple of Solomon that was destroyed. Ezra 3:12 describes the weeping that was done by people who had seen Solomon's temple because they knew it was going to be so much less. But God, speaking through Haggai, wants the people to know that He is with them...the way the temple looks is not what matters, it is the presence of God within that matters. This is such an important message for Christians to hear and understand today. It does not matter what a church building looks does not matter what a person looks like on the outside...what truly matters is that God is dwelling within.

2:9 - Haggai then goes on to prophecy that the house of the Lord will actually become even greater than the temple was under Solomon's reign. The nations will be gathered to it in the future. Think about how incredibly beautiful and expansive the temple is today? Through Jesus Christ the temple is the living and active people of God. We have become the new temple...dwelling places for the Holy Spirit of God...a temple that is mobile and moving throughout the earth to make the name of God great. Isn't that cool!?

2:10-14 - Why does Haggai question the priests? He asks if holiness can be transferred from one object to another and the priests correctly answer - "No." Then he asks if uncleanness can be transferred from one person or thing to another, and again they answer correctly, "Yes." But why does he ask these things? He wants the people to understand how serious the situation is. Uncleanness and defilement are more contagious than holiness. There is an epidemic sweeping through the people of Israel. They are selfish and they are unwilling to fight for holiness in their lives and so God is not honoring their labor. We need to understand in our own lives that sinfulness is so much easier to fall into and it is so much easier to spread sinfulness around to other people, then it is to make the choice day in and day out to fight for holiness. Don't allow yourself to fall into the downward spiral of recurring everything you can to pursue holiness every day and cry out to God for His help because of your weakness.

2:20-23 - I love how the book of Haggai closes out with words of encouragement for Zerubbabel (The man who was chosen to lead the people who are rebuilding the temple). This is what God tells Zerubbabel: Do not worry - I am in control. I will overthrow the kingdoms surrounding you. You are my servant (This affirms his obedience). You are my signet ring (This affirms his role in the future plans of God). I have chosen you. These words are powerful words spoken to Zerubbabel so that he might now how God feels about him. These are words that also speak powerfully to our own lives if we let them. Do you believe that God is in control so you don;t have to worry? Do you believe that God has a plan for your life? You should.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Zephaniah Chapters 1-3

1:2 - This book starts out with some very harsh language from God. God speaking through the prophet Zephaniah says that He is going to utterly sweep away everything from the earth. Wow - that is pretty intense. Does this mean that God is saying He is going to destroy everything? Clearly since we are still living, everything was not does this mean that God was wrong, did God misspeak? No that is not it at all. We have to understand the context in which this phrase was being used. Zephaniah's audience would not have thought that this meant that God was going to destroy everything...they would have seen it for what it was, a warning for the people of Judah to turn back to God or face His judgment. As we will see later int he chapter, God always offers His people hope and a way out if they will turn away from evil. When God's judgment comes, it is like a holy fire that burns away everything except what is good - He always leaves a remnant behind.

1:5 - Zephaniah is giving some of the reasons for God's anger against His people. They are living in total hypocrisy. They praise God with their mouths, yet then they will run off and offer their children as sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (Called "Milcom" here). In pagan cultures around the Israelites at this time, it was believed that sacrificing your own child could bring prosperity to your was absolutely disgusting and God is understandably ticked off about it. They claim to be His people, but they are showing how little they actually trust Him by taken part in disturbing pagan rituals. It is easy for us to get disgusted with the Israelites here as well, but let's turn the challenge back to ourselves for a little while. Where do you waste your worship? Are there things in this world that you put your trust in more than God? How many parents still sacrifice their children to the false gods of wealth, achievement, sports, music, hopes that it will bring their family prosperity?

1:8 - The leaders of Judah are trying to portray themselves as something they are not...they are putting on the clothes of foreign people...people who worship false that they can fit that they can be "cool." What they are saying through their actions is that they are embarrassed of believing in God. Again we can ask ourselves a hard questions here - what clothes do you put on? Do you represent the name of Christ that you carry as a Christian, or are you ashamed for people to know what you believe?

1:12 - Here God judges the complacency of His people. The people of Judah have gotten to the place where they feel like God is going to do they don't feel the need to change anything about the way they live their lives. They are content to simply exist, rather then push themselves to honor God with their lives. How often have we seen this come to play in the lives of current day Christians? How many Christians simply go to church because it is what they do, and refuse to let the way of Jesus change anything about the way they live their lives?

2:3 - Even in the direst of circumstances...even in the face of God's wrath...there is always hope for the people of God. If the people will humble themselves before God, do His will and seek His righteousness...they will be spared from His anger. We who have been forgiven by Christ have even more motivation to honor God with our lives. Jesus paid the price for our sins of the cross. He said, "I will take the punishment they deserve, so that they will be free of sin." Instead of working to avoid God's wrath...Christians should live their lives to honor God's incredible mercy and love.

2:15 - The pagan cities that Zephaniah confronts here believe that they are invincible. They believe that they are safe in their own strength. They believe that God does not exists and that they are the highest power...yet they are dead wrong. They will eventually come face to face with the reality of their own crushing weakness...we will all come face to face with that truth in one way or another. Hopefully we will see our weakness and throw ourselves on the mercy of God, before He brings us to our knees.

3:2 - Arrogance and pride are always at play in those who reject God. Zephaniah describes people here who will not listen to anyone else's voice...who will not accept and help or instruction. They are utterly unteachable. They cannot see that it is impossible for them to save themselves and they pull further and further away from God. This is not where you want to be!

3:5 - God is holy - He only does what is right...always. He is right there in our midst...His Spirit is working on our hearts and lives...He is influencing and shaping our you know Him? Do you listen to His voice? You should.

3:17 - I love this verse!!! God is here! God is good! You are never alone. The God of our salvation is never far from us...He loves you, He sings for joy over the good things that are going on in your life. Drink that is good. God is good.