Saturday, August 31, 2013

according to your faith

The Word for today:
James 1:1-18
Everyone has faith. It can be faith in the Truth, or it can be faith in a lie.  For better or for worse, the motivating principle of your life is your faith.
You may not even be able to identify your faith, but I can say unequivocally that if you show me your life I will tell you what you believe in.
You may not be able to name your god, but if you were to show me your checkbook, credit card statements, and appointment calendar, I will name your god.
The Bible stresses the saving power of faith in the true God. Look no further than Commandment #1:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:2-3)
The Bible also warns about the destructive power of faith in a lie. Look no further than Commandment #2:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. (Exodus 20:4-5)
In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews is all about faith in the truth; while the very next book, James, has much to say about false faith.
***
James grew up with Jesus, in the same house. (He was a half-brother, due to immaculate circumstances!)
Yet James calls himself "a servant of Jesus Christ." (1) This bespeaks true humility, because James nowhere refers to the fact of his earthly relationship to Jesus.
James had at first rejected Jesus as Messiah (2), but he became a follower after meeting the risen Christ (3). James' practical, down-to-earth "voice" can be heard in the Old Testament book of Proverbs and in his brother's Sermon on the Mount (4).
***
I have a faith and you have a faith, whether we acknowledge it or not. I even know a man who says he believes in nothing. That in itself is a faith, called nihilism. And, as Jesus said, according to his faith he shall be rewarded (5).
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) James 1:1; (2) John 7:5; (3) 1 Corinthians 15:7; (4) Matthew 5-7; (5) Matthew 9:29

Friday, August 30, 2013

like wing needs wing

The Word for today:
Malachi 3:6-4:6
mark this: Malachi 4:2 --
But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings.
The poetic (like the humorous) can be hard to explain.  Not to be deterred, I'm going to earnestly attempt to convey one of scripture's most sublimely poetic pictures.
The complete picture is forged from two counterpart scenes, one at the very beginning and the other at the very end of the Old Testament.
In the first scene, a lone dove broods over a dark, formless, and empty world:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)
In the second scene, the sun rises with healing wings:
But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings. (Malachi 4:2)
Together, these scenes form a rhyming couplet. They rhyme in that they fulfill one another, like wing needs wing to fly.
They will fly all the way to the cross of Jesus Christ, where darkness and death aren't the opposite of light and life, but the matter from which they are forged.
Not until there, until then, can the restless dove alight.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday, August 29, 2013

on fire

The Word for today:
Malachi 2:10-3:5
mark this: Malachi 3:1-2 --
Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire.
Fire is a wonderful thing. It heats, it cooks, and it looks like magic.
Fire is an awful thing. It'll burn down the house and everybody in it.
Three of the key theophanies—appearances of God—in the early books of the Bible are in the guise of fire:
A smoking furnace and burning lamp (Gen. 15:7-17);
the burning bush (Exodus 3:2ff);
the pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21).
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery explains why fire is such a fitting expression of God:
Just as fire is mysterious and immaterial, so too is God enigmatic and incorporeal. And just as fire is always flickering and changing its shape and cannot be held for examination, so is God always the indefinable who is beyond our grasp.
Fire is a moral neutral--like money, TV, the internet, or passion. Whether fire is good or bad depends on the purpose it is used for. The Bible shows fire used for two very different purposes:
1.) The fire of hell (punishment)--
Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven. (Genesis 19:24)
2.) Refiner’s fire (discipline/purification)--
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. (Malachi 3:2-3)
Refiner's fire (discipline/purification) and the fire of hell (punishment) look alike, which makes it very difficult to tell the difference. Their similar appearance, for example, is the reason why Job's friends thought he was being punished, while we (as readers) know it was God's purpose to refine.
On the other hand, the LORD Jesus Christ faced the fire of hell when he died on the cross for our sins. He needed no refining.
No child of God—except for God’s Only Begotten Son—ever faces the fire of hell.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

you're already there

The Word for today:
Malachi 1:1-2:9
[Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. Malachi lived at the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah. Like them, his message was to those who had returned from exile in Babylon and were beginning to rebuild their shattered country, their shattered Temple, and their shattered lives.]
mark this: Malachi 1:2-3
"Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."
In the opening lines of the book of Malachi, God says something which we might think is out of his character:
Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.
The reason we misunderstand the phrase is because we are looking at it through our own eyes. But if we were to look through God's eyes, we would not only learn about Esau, but about ourselves as well.
God sees the end from the beginning:
I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done. (Isaiah 46:9-10)
He sees that the tendencies of Esau's heart will eventually bring him far from God. He sees that Esau will give rise to the evil nation of Edom.
Then he looks at Esau's twin brother, Jacob, with the same prophetic vision. The tendencies of Jacob's heart will bring him ever closer to God. He will give rise to Israel, a nation which will one day be devoted to God.
***
But that's about Jacob and Esau. Does the same principle apply to us?
It sure does. Those who trust in Christ are destined to be conformed to his image (1). I don't know about you, but I've got a long, long way to go before I arrive at Christ-likeness.
Time, however, doesn't obstruct God's view. Though we are in process, God sees the process completed, the eventuality fulfilled.
God never hated Esau in Genesis. And when Jesus died on the cross, he opened the way back to God for both Jacob and Esau. When we read, in John 3:16, that God so loved the world, that world included Esau.
But Esau, God knows, will not enter through God's only Door. He'll keep on going his own way, all the way through Edom to hell. Jacob will go God's Way, all the way through Israel to heaven.
From our point of view, we're still on the road. From God's point of view, we arrived yesterday.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Romans 8:29

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

he didn't issue uniforms

The Word for today:
Zechariah 14
I'm going to miss Zechariah. We've been standing in the rain with Zechariah now for a week and a half. I was just starting to catch his vision. I was finally tuning in to his frequency.
And I identified with him. He proves that God has a place on his team for crazy people!
I used an exclamation point on the end of that last sentence as a kind of camouflage. It serves to lighten up a sentence which isn't lightweight at all. If I take the exclamation point away, the sentence takes on density and weight:
He proves that God has a place on his team for crazy people.
That's really what I meant. I'm not as well-balanced as others seem to be. So I take courage from the company of loonies and dreamers that I encounter in the Word of God.
Where is that encouraging word coming from? Taking a step further into these pages, we come to realize that the word isn't emanating from Zechariah, but from Jesus:
For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)
All Scripture is breathed out by God. (2 Timothy 3:16)
This salvation was something the prophets wanted to know more about. They wondered what the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ's suffering and his great glory afterward. (1 Peter 1:10-11)
Deep down inside Zechariah, deep down inside the paper your Bible is printed on, is a voice. It found its way to the surface through Elijah, who was besieged by depression; through Jude, who was given to dark thoughts; through Peter, who could not govern his emotions.
That voice can find expression through a person like you, too. And through a person like me.
So come out from behind that exclamation point. We don't have to hide there any more. God doesn't require that we dress ourselves in feigned levity, false modesty, or saccharine sweetness.
We've been given a place on the team. But he didn't issue uniforms. He issued his Spirit and his voice, a voice of density and weight.
And he gave us his story to tell.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Monday, August 26, 2013

in the far corner of the lot

The Word for today:
Zechariah 12, 13
mark this: Zechariah 12:10
And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.
Would we recognize Jesus if he walked into the room right now?
Based on biblical evidence, I'm not so sure we would.
In the story of Joseph--point for point, a prophecy of the Christ--his brothers didn't recognize him when they met him. (1)
In Zechariah, we read that Israel will not recognize the crucified Jesus as their Messiah until latter days, which have not yet arrived:
And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)
Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener. (2)
The disciples on the road to Emmaus spoke with him for a long while, not recognizing him until, as he broke bread at the table, they saw the wounds in his hands. (3)
Joseph did not hide from his brothers behind a wig or sunglasses. And Jesus did not hide from Mary or the disciples.
I love Jesus, but certainly no more than Mary did. I know Jesus, but certainly not better than his brothers knew Joseph.
So I return to the opening question and aim it towards myself: Would I know Jesus if he walked into the room right now? The Bible says probably not.
Perhaps it isn't Jesus that we don't recognize. Perhaps it's the context we surround him with. We think of him as a male, thirty-three, with religion on his mind.
But what if he were 96, in a nursing home. What if he were she. What if he were fifteen on a park bench, texting. What if he were a roofer, or a salesman. Or the crazed fan next to you at the Bills game. What if he lined up next to you at the beginning of a 5k race?
He as much as tells us that we'll meet him in a scene with a different background:
'For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' (Matthew 25:35-40)
When we meet Jesus, it most likely will be in a context least suspected. If you're looking for him at church, carefully consider the lady who babysits our kids so we can hear the sermon. Or the guy who parks the cars in the far corner of the church lot. Yeah, that guy--who laughs too loud and is known to enjoy a cigar out there, we're told.
Then check nursing homes and parks and gardens and prisons and Buffalo Bills games.
And enter a 5k race. Hey, you never know. But be sure to wait for the very last person to finish. In his kingdom, remember, the last shall be first. (4)
*******************
(1) Genesis 42; (2) John 20:15; (3) Luke 24; (4) Matthew 20:16

Sunday, August 25, 2013

broken for the broken

The Word for today:
Zechariah 11
mark this: Zechariah 11:12-13
We--you and I--don't get mentioned much in Old Testament prophecy. But today we do, in a sad and happy and wistful way.
It's not an easy prophecy to follow, because it depends on irony. Irony is when the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same.
We are told that Zechariah's severance pay was thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave:
Then I said to them, "If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them." And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the LORD said to me, "Throw it to the potter"--the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD, to the potter. (Zechariah 11:12-13)
We hear irony in "the lordly price at which I was priced by them." The thirty pieces, of course, was anything but lordly!
The only thing it would purchase was a field next to the potter's house--where so many broken, rejected pieces of pottery were thrown that the land was considered useless.
When we get to the New Testament, a disciple named Judas Iscariot will betray Jesus by informing the religious leaders of his whereabouts. There, where Judas said he would be, Jesus was seized. Then he was brought to trial. Soon thereafter he was crucified.
The money, Judas came to realize, was blood money; he had profited by betraying an innocent man. So he took the money and threw it back to the religious leaders. Then he hanged himself.
So tainted was this money that the religious leaders would not place it into the Temple treasury. They "laundered" the money--literally taking the blood off their hands--by purchasing the worthless potter's field as a burial ground for strangers:
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money." So they took counsel and bought with them the potter's field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. (Matthew 27:3-8)
***
So where are you and I in this prophecy? We're the broken and rejected vessels that the blood money purchased. We're the clay that the LORD God reclaimed, at the price of his blood, in order to renew and reshape us.
We appear in this prophecy, but it isn't about the clay. It isn't even about the blood.
It's about a potter, broken and rejected himself.
It's all about a potter, broken for the broken.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday, August 24, 2013

don't get skewed

The Word for today:
Zechariah 9, 10
mark this: Zechariah 9:9-11
We must be careful not to limit Jesus to the Jesus we think we know. Towards that end, let's think about donkeys and charging white stallions.
In Zechariah 9:9, we see a picture of the Jesus we're accustomed to. He comes riding into town on a donkey, bearing salvation through a blood covenant. This is Jesus of the Gospels, who died to save our souls from the consequences of our sin. It is an astonishingly vivid prophecy:
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Then, without transition, in the next verse we see another side of the same person:
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
That is Jesus of Revelation, the conquering King:
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16)
Jesus is a man of peace, one way or the other.  The first time he arrived, he purchased peace with God:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Romans 5:1)
The second time he arrives, he will enforce the peace amongst men:
The hand of the LORD will be made known to his servants,
but his fury will be shown to his foes.
See, the LORD is coming with fire,
and his chariots are like a whirlwind;
he will bring down his anger with fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
For with fire and with his sword
the LORD will execute judgment upon all men,
and many will be those slain by the LORD.  (Isaiah 66:14-16)
There might be too much donkey--and not enough war horse-- in your concept of Jesus. That skewed view is held by many in the church today.
Or there might be too much war horse and not enough donkey.  The church has, in other centuries, held that skewed view.
Don't get skewed by whatever age you live in or whatever church you attend.  Mount up, and travel all the way through scripture with the servant Jesus, with the conqueror Jesus.  From day to day, you will know his intentions by his ride.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, August 23, 2013

on better streets beyond

The Word for today:
Zechariah 8
mark this: Zechariah 8:5
And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.
Most everything I've learned about the Bible, I learned from J. Vernon McGee.  Most everything J. Vernon McGee learned about the Bible, he learned from G. Campbell Morgan and Cyrus I. Scofield. Most everything G. Campbell Morgan and Cyrus I. Scofield learned about the Bible, they learned from God.
So you can see that when I say the name 'G. Campbell Morgan,' we are in pretty fast company!
G. Campbell Morgan said that when he wanted to catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God, he didn't go into a room where adults were praying but into the street where kids were playing.  Jesus said essentially the same thing in Matthew 18:3.
In Zechariah 8 we get a foretaste of the Millennium, which itself is a foretaste of Jesus' eternal Kingdom (commonly referred to as heaven).
The Bible only hints at what heaven will be like--probably because our imaginations are too feeble to comprehend more complete descriptions.  God's works, we are told, will be immeasurably more than all we imagine.  (1)
But don't let that stop you from imagining like a child and reading between the lines like an adult. Because when we do, we begin to get specific hints of heaven!
Let's look at one brief line from Zechariah 8:
And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. (v.5)
What can we gather? First of all, it seems obvious that in the Millennium, crime will be eradicated, allowing children to play without fear. But don't stop there. Think of what life, in general, will be like without any crime. We are hardly capable of comprehending all the consequences.
What else is missing from Zechariah 8:5? Here's a hint: If my children were to play in the streets, it would mean that there were no cars out there any more. Now go ahead and begin to spin the consequences of that!
***
My favorite thing, when I was a kid on Gooding Street, was playing marbles.  (Since then, alas, I've lost them all!)
But I've got a feeling there's a big bag of them, just waiting, on better streets beyond.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) see Ephesians 3:20

Thursday, August 22, 2013

he's the 'spark' in sparkle

The Word for today:
Zechariah 7
mark this: Zechariah 6:12-13 --
Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne.  And he will be a priest on his throne.
The Bible is an amazing,extraordinary, unique, one-of-a-kind book. Want to know why? Jesus, that's why! (I'll bet you already knew.)
Jesus is an amazing, extraordinary, unique, one-of-a-kind person. He invented all the things that you find fascinating, which makes him more fascinating than fascination itself.
He made puppies' ears too big so we would smile. He made women with beauty so indelible that we find it an effort to exhale. He made water and he made light and joined them to form sparkle on the pond.
The real hard thing, the master stroke, isn't in making sparkle, but in thinking up the concept of sparkle in the first place. Before sparkle was sparkle it was a thought in Jesus' mind. He has a vivid imagination.
God goes out of his way to teach us that with Jesus, what we thought impossible becomes possible after all. The careful Bible student, reading Zechariah 6:12-13 (above), will be a bit perplexed to find that a priest is sitting on the royal throne. That's not possible, according to "the law and the prophets."
The law tells us that the priest must be from the tribe of Levi. The prophets tell us that the king must be from the tribe of Judah. So how can someone be priest and king at the same time? That's impossible!
No, that's Jesus! As king, he is from the tribe of Judah. As priest, he is from the order of Melchizedek, who predates the nation Israel. (You can read all about it in Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and Hebrews 5-7.)
The Bible tells us that man is man and God is God. Between them is a great moral divide. How to reconcile the difference? Impossible, except for Jesus:
For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 2:5)
Who can be Lamb and Lion? Who can be God and Man? Who can be King and servant? Who can be the the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End? (1) Who can be a priest on his throne? That's impossible!
No, that's Jesus! He's the 'spark' in sparkle.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Revelation 22:13

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

special effects

The Word for today:
Zechariah 5, 6
The book of Zechariah is wild.  Wild, I tell you.
But even those who haven't read it before will find it vaguely familiar.
That's because so many of us have been exposed (even over-exposed) to the book of Revelation, which seems to have borrowed Zechariah's atmospherics.
The highly symbolic and figurative language of these two books lends them a cinematic quality that appeals to our graphics-driven era. All well and good, as long as we can see through and past the special effects to heart of the matter.
Zechariah, Revelation, Ezekiel, Jesus' Olivet Discourse (1) and, to some extent, the book of Daniel are known as apocalyptic literature. The term is taken from the opening words of the book of Revelation:
The revelation of Jesus Christ...
The word revelation is, in the Greek original, apok├ílypsis. It means a lifting of the veil--a revealing of what had been hidden. Because the word is taken from the opening words of the Bible's final book, it has also come to be associated with--but not confined to--the end times.
As long as we remember that Revelation isn't about the beast; that Ezekiel chapter 1 isn't about wheels and wings and lions and lamps; that Zechariah isn't about flying scrolls and women in baskets (!);
as long as we remember that these are mere brush strokes in the emerging portrait of Jesus Christ;
and as long as we remember that, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, the Bible's one and only purpose is the revelation of Jesus Christ, then we won't, as Bible students, be Left Behind.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) see Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The High Priest, the Branch, & the Wardrobe

courtroom-scene-we-are-justified1
(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Zechariah 3 & 4
mark this: Zechariah 3:1-10
Finally a vision that I can understand!
So far, we've had all kinds of visions that may not be too familiar to most modern people: myrtle trees, measuring rods & multicolored horses. Up next, it gets even better: olive trees and lamp stands, flying scrolls and chariots, and my personal favorite- some lady hanging out inside a basket.
But now with the vision found in the first part of Zechariah chapter 3, we are given one that is much more familiar to us in the 21st century--a legal proceeding! (Remember, between Matlock & Columbo reruns, between Judge Judy & her dozens of knockoffs, Law & Order and its dozens of spin offs, and every other real or fictitious legal-based show, we've got the whole court thing down!)
In this vision we have some familiar courtroom roles, but even more, we see ourselves.
the DEFENDANT- Joshua, the High Priest of Israel
An historical figure, yet representative of the priest, Israel, and ultimately you & I.
We too will have to stand before the King of Kings and we sure as anything better have the right Mediator or else! (see 1 Timothy 2:5)
the PROSECUTOR- Satan
The best in the business for accusation, far more successful than the famed Dewey, Cheatum & Howe. The Adversary continues to wage war on the saints through any means necessary. (1)
the JUDGE- the Angel of the LORD
the DEFENSE- the LORD
the ACCUSATION- unworthy & unclean!
As much as I hate to admit it, Satan has got us here. Because of our sin, we are unworthy and unclean before God. There is no doubting that- and even in the vision, the Lord never denies any of the accusations from our adversary. We are all saved like "a burning stick snatched from the fire." (2)
the EVIDENCE- Joshua's filthy clothes
Again, there is no denying the horrible state of Joshua's robes. The word translated as filthy here is also used in the Old Testament for all sorts of unpleasant things such as vomit (3) and excrement (4).
Let's be honest with ourselves too. Let's agree with the Scripture and recognize that there really are "none who are righteous," that all of us indeed "fall short of God's glory" (5) and that our hearts are "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. (6)"
the VERDICT-
So far, it's not looking so good for us. Considering the holiness of God, the accusations of the adversary, and the filthy conditions of ourselves, it looks to be an easy decision: "GUILTY on all charges!"
But wait, I forgot to factor in one thing. But Zechariah didn't. Look to the end of this vision to see the only way out. Look at God's promises to:
1. Bring My Servant, the Branch. (v. 8)
Jesus is that Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53) and that Righteous Branch from the line of David. (Jeremiah 25:25)
2. Remove the sin of this land in a single day. (v.9)
Only by His death can our debt be paid and our sins forgiven. (John 19:30)
Because of Jesus Christ, I can be cleansed.
Because of Jesus Christ, all my robes of filth are exchanged for His righteousness.
Because of Jesus Christ, I can be declared "NOT GUILTY"
That's my story and I am sticking to it!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) see Job 1, Luke 22:31, 2 Corinthians 2:11 & 11:14, Revelation 12:9
(2) Zechariah 3:2
(3) Isaiah 28:8
(4) Isaiah 36:12
(5) Romans 3
(6) Jeremiah 17:9

Monday, August 19, 2013

Of Apples & Eyeballs

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Zechariah 1 & 2
mark this: Zechariah 2:8 --
"For he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye."
Did you have to take a foreign language class in high school?
Many of us who did so had to purchase a little translation book where we could look up a word in one language and then find the equivalent in another language. It worked okay for simple understanding and communication of basic words or ideas, but failed miserably when you wanted to convey more complex phrases and idioms. Thus, I could figure out how to say "hello" or the all important "bathroom" fairly easily, but a joke or catchphrase would be far more difficult. (Just try conveying the saying "It ain't over til the fat lady sings" in Japanese and see what happens.)
In today's passage, we are faced with such an expression that could be somewhat lost in translation. In these first two chapters, God is calling for the remnant of Israel to both repent, and be strengthened, and does so by sending a series of rather unique visions. (More on that in the days to come.)
In chapter two, he reassures them that they are precious to him and to convey that nearly all English versions of the Bible include the phrase "the apple of His eye." This does convey the meaning, but there is no such phrase in Hebrew. Certainly there are apples in the Old Testament. If you look up the phrase "apple of his/my eye" in the Old Testament in English, it shows up four times (1)
But the Hebrew language knows no such expression- it's from Old English. The Hebrew literally says "the little man" in the eye.
Huh? What's that supposed to mean?
Think reflection. The pupil of your eye reflects a tiny image of what it is seeing. (You can try it out in a mirror if you like.) Now think about how close you have to be in order to make out that image in your eye.
God is close. Much closer than you think. Much closer than often acknowledged. If we, his people, are called the apple of His eye, that means He is close enough to us where we become that "little man" or "little woman." Remember that you are literally precious in His sight because you are created in the very image of God (2). Furthermore, even when we as people collectively & purposely chose darkness over His light, when we became blind by sin (3), God sent His son, the Perfect Image of the Unseen God (4) to redeem us from that blindness so now "we with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory." (5)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Deuteronomy 32:10, Psalm 17:8, Proverbs 7:2 & here in Zechariah 2:8
(2) Genesis 1:26-27
(3) 2 Corinthians 4:4
(4) Colossians 1:15
(5) 2 Corinthians 3:18

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Trouble with Sin

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Haggai 2
We all say that we want the truth, but very often the truth is difficult to receive.
It's hard enough to tell someone that they have spinach stuck in their teeth, try telling people that they are sinners and that many of the things they do are sinful.
That is part of Haggai's task in today's passage.
God wants His people to better understand His holiness and the nature of sin. Therefore He does not mince his words- he wants Israel to know their true condition.
To do so, God gives two seemingly obscure illustrations involving things like meat and clothes and corpses. (It sounds like the beginning of a bad Arby's joke.)
Haggai is told to ask the priests some questions.
Why?
Because he was referring to the Law & sacrificial system, and they would have known the appropriate answers. He gives two separate examples:
Example A
Consecrated Meat (is HOLY)
Garment (becomes HOLY) see Lev. 6:27
Other Food (doesn't become HOLY)
Example B
Dead Body (is UNCLEAN)
Person (becomes UNCLEAN)
Other Foods (become UNCLEAN) see Num. 19:22
***
What is God getting at?
The point is that uncleanness is more contagious than holiness.
We have all heard the story of KING MIDAS: how he received the Golden Touch, and whatever he laid his hands on became pure gold. Well, we as sinful people also have a similar ability- the Filthy Touch: whatever good thing we find has a way of becoming unclean by our sin.
God’s indictment here is against not only the people’s sin, but also the fact that because of their sinfulness, everything they do is tainted
The standard drink, the liquid fuel that sustains our youth group meetings is a nasty Kool Aid knock off called Flavor Aid (see above for picture). Its cheap & colorful and loaded with sugar- what else does a junior higher need? But the packet itself hardly weighs anything registering at .15 oz. Yet that one packet added to a gallon of water (128 oz) makes the entire thing very red. Think of the difficulty of removing that redness and then remember the packet is just .192 % of the gallon.
That's how sin works. Scripture supports this idea:
“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." (Gal. 5:9)
Sin is a big deal, because not only does it offend a holy God, but also because it corrupts us to the core. God is making a point here to his people that not only have they sinned, but that they are sinners. They need to come to grips with their sin, they need a Savior who can make them clean. That same Savior is prophesied here in Haggai and then again in Zechariah.
Jesus Christ is what the hymn writer calls “the double cure.” He saves us not only from wrath, he also makes us pure. Only He can save us from both the power and consequences of our sin.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday, August 17, 2013

First Things & Paneling

paneling
(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Haggai 1
mark this: Haggai 1:4
What does your basement look like?
The basement of my childhood could be described in one word: paneling.
My family had a ton of that cheap, quarter-inch thick stuff. It was not the most durable material, and did not do well under the stresses of wrestling and knee hockey. In fact, I remember a hole in the wall created by a chair my father kicked in 1984 due to the frustration of watching the Buffalo Bills of that era. So as I read today's scripture I became mildly amused as it referenced paneled houses.
The Israelites of that day had severe paneling problems. While our "modern day" paneling from the 80's was the opposite of fine craftsmanship, the paneling we read about in Haggai's time was very much a status symbol. But, while their homes may have looked good, God was not at all impressed.
The reason was priorities. As we examine the powerful message in this little book- the issue we find is not that there is a scarcity of wood. The problem is that the wood is in the people’s homes, rather than in the Temple. Because of opposition, the work on the Temple of the Lord had been at a standstill for more than a decade (1). In the meantime, the people began to beautify their own homes, which by itself, is a noble thing to do. But what makes such renovation wrong was the fact that they no longer cared about the Temple and even made up false mantras to justify their misplaced priorities. I can just imagine them saying to each other "the time has not yet come...." over and over.
Guess what, from an earthly point of view, the timing is never right to do anything that focuses on the 'spiritual' or 'eternal' as opposed to the here and now. Church, prayer, Bible reading, small groups, service projects, missions trips, evangelism, study, meditation, fasting, tithing, loving God and loving others are NEVER convenient in modern life. We can always come up with 100 reasons to do something else if we want to.
Today, as in Haggai's time GOD is telling us to get over weak "timing" related excuses, and instead, get to work. So what do you say? How 'bout you and I, how 'bout we "go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house...."  (2).
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Ezra 4:24
(2) Haggai 1:8

Friday, August 16, 2013

Have it your way.

The Word for today:
Psalm 106:34-48
mark this: Psalm 106:15 --
He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.
There are lots of valid reasons why parents say No. Some of their reasons are the same reasons that Our Father Which Art in Heaven sometimes says No to our prayers.
And then there are No's to this that are Yes's to that. For example, I would like to be more humble. But if I get some of the things I've asked God for, I most certainly won't be getting humble anytime soon.  So God's No to one prayer is Yes to another prayer.
We get to the point, through parenting and experience, that we start to understand a few of the No's to our prayers. But if we don't get to that point, God provides incidents in scripture which emphasize what great blessings his No's can be.
One such incident, which has come to be called "the gold cure," is found in Exodus 32. After Israel worshipped a golden calf, Moses made the idolaters drink the gold he'd ground to powder.
In Numbers 11, when Israel complained about the manna God gave them for food, God gave them their desire -- quail -- for a month straight, until it became so loathsome that it came out at their noses.
But the Bible's most important instance of the "gold cure" occurred later on, when Judah would repeatedly lapse into idolatry. Eventually, God as much as told them, "If it's idolatry you want, then it's idolatry you'll get," as he sent them off to Babylon, the very epicenter of idolatry. The cure worked; after an exile of 70 years, Israel would never again be characteristically idolatrous.
The exile to Babylon was an instance when God gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul (Psalms 106:15).
Which casts new light on the question, "What part of No don't you understand?"
'No' doesn't deserve the negative reputation it's gotten!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~