Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Day 303: Luke 7, 8 and 9

God has come to help his people (Luke 7:16).
As Jesus approaches the small Galilean town of Nain, he happens upon a funeral procession exiting the town gates and heading for the nearby cemetery. He is touched by the plight of a woman wailing over her lost son. She is a widow, cared for by her adult son until his untimely death. Not only does she know the grief of losing both her husband and her only son, she is now faced with the bleak prospect of living out her years alone and in poverty.

Jesus’ heart goes out to her, possibly thinking of his own mother and her impending loss. This compassionate stranger approaches the coffin, lays his hands upon it, and speaks unexpected words: Get up! The young man rises, and is given back to his mother. The crowd is amazed: God has come to help his people.

Is there an implied indictment here of the prevailing religious leaders? Since the witnesses are surprised God cares enough to reach out to a grieving mother, apparently helping people wasn’t a high priority for God’s self-proclaimed representatives in Israel, the priests and Pharisees.

In 2 Corinthians 5:19-20, Paul writes that we are God’s ambassadors of reconciliation. That means it’s our assignment to bring help, hope and the good news of Jesus Christ to those with whom we come into contact. Through us God wants to love our neighbors.
Would your friends be surprised that God cares about them?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Day 302: Luke 4, 5 and 6

Do not judge and you will not be judged (Luke 6:37).
I can slap a label on people within minutes of meeting them. You know; the whole first impressions thing. And once I label them, there ends the discussion. There is no question as to their intentions or character. Everything I need to know can be answered by looking at that label – the label I put there.

Sometimes the problem is our lenses. We talk about looking at the world through rose-colored glasses - seeing things better than they really are. My eyes don’t focus the way they used to, so I wear corrective lenses… reading glasses. They help correct the distorted image my aging eyes see so I can read the words on the page.

Not all lenses are corrective; not all lenses are rose-colored. Sometimes our lenses determine how we see things. If we see people as out to get us, everything they do will seem suspect. If we see someone as a bigot, everything he says will seem prejudiced. See someone else as dishonest and everything she says will be filtered for possible deceit. Those are heavy loads to impose on someone.

We put people in boxes that too often determine their shape. That’s not fair. It’s not right to subject individuals to our preconceived ideas about them. They start out with a negative balance and find it difficult if not impossible to ever break even.

Do you need to let someone out of a box?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Day 301: Luke 1, 2 and 3

On earth peace to men on whom his favor rests (Luke 2:14).
Years ago, I pastored a church in Georgia. During a tough spell, an old man in my congregation sat me down, looked me square in the eye and said, I want you to know something. I’m fer ya’. When life gets difficult, it’s encouraging to hear someone is on our side.

The angle brought glorious news to poor shepherds: On earth peace to men on whom [God’s] favor rests. If there was any group of people who needed an advocate, it was the poor. Still is.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them (v. 9). God could have shared his Son’s birth announcement with anyone, but intentionally targeted the poor. The angel said to them (v. 10). Speaking on God’s behalf, the angel shared the greatest good news ever told. A Savior has been born to you (v.11). Not, a Savior has been born and if you grovel there’s a slim chance you can get in on it, but this Savior is for you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths (v. 12). The angels sought out the poor, made their announcement to the poor, of a Savior born for the poor, who was comfortable identifying with the poor.
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men on earth… because God is fer ya’.

The great King of the universe chooses the poor. Whose side are you on?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 300: Mark 13, 14, 15 and 16

Not what I will, but what you will (Mark 14:36).
When the disciples asked their Master to teach them to pray, Jesus taught them to pray like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9,10).

In Adventures in Prayer, Catherine Marshall writes about the Prayer of Relinquishment. She had been sick with a respiratory infection for six months. The best medicine and the strongest faith seemed incapable of bringing the desired results. She read about a missionary who, after suffering for eight years, finally transitioned from praying, Heal me, to praying, I want you even more than I want health. You decide. That night, Marshall prayed, You decide what you want for me. From that moment on, she experienced the beginning of healing in both body and spirit.

Marshall goes on to write: A demanding spirit, with self-will as its rudder, blocks prayer. . . . God absolutely refuses to violate our free will; . . . unless self-will is voluntarily given up, even God cannot move to answer prayer [1].

This is not resigning oneself to brace for the worst, but freely saying that God knows best and that we will willingly accept whatever he, in his love, sends our way. This is the prayer that God always answers, Yes.
Do you have enough faith to want what God wants?
[1] Catherine Marshall. Adventures In Prayer (Old Tappan, NJ: Spire, 1975), 61.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Day 299: Mark 10, 11 and 12

“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21).
Through much of my Christian life, I read this as Christ asking the rich young man to surrender what was most precious to him. In this light it provides a good illustration to the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3). Whatever we put first is our god. This man’s god was his wealth.

But lately I’ve been reading this with a different focus. It wasn’t that the man had something Jesus wanted to take, but that he lacked something Jesus wanted to give. One thing you lack…

Jesus was saying, You’re missing something. Go sell everything you have; give your wealth to the poor, and you’ll receive something of far greater value. This was no consolation prize. What Jesus said was, Let me give you a treasure. But what the rich man heard was, Give me your treasure. And, He went away sad because he had great wealth.

Out tendency is to focus on the cost rather than the benefit. Why is it when Jesus wants to give us something, all we see is the price?

There is a difference, whether we can see it or not. You can have wealth, or you can have treasure. Your pick. You choose.

When Jesus offers treasure, will you settle for trinkets?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Day 298: Mark 7, 8 and 9

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone (Mark 7:36).
In today’s reading there are four occasions when people are warned not to tell their Jesus experience: when Jesus healed the blind man (8:26), upon Peter’s confession of Christ (8:30), and after the transfiguration (9:9). But the first time was in the Decapolis, a primarily Gentile province in present day Jordan.

A deaf and mute man is brought to Jesus. Jesus speaks the command, Ephphatha [be opened], and immediately the man can hear and speak. But he and his friends are ordered by Jesus to tell no one. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it (v. 36).

In 25 years of being a pastor, I have never had to warn people not to tell their friends about Jesus. I have never made the request, Please don’t invite your neighbors to church. Generally speaking, 21st century American Christians find this command the easiest to obey: Tell no one. In Sunday School we talk about the Great Commission, but in real life we don’t talk about Jesus much at all.

It was the people who experienced Christ in a profound way who had to be restrained from telling what they knew about Jesus. Remember the man who had been born blind? All I know is that I used to be blind, but now I can see! (John 9:25) Those whose lives have been changed by Christ will not keep silent.

Have you talked about Jesus this week?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day 297: Mark 4, 5 and 6

[Jesus] was amazed at how many people had no faith (Mark 6:6 - NCV).
In Mark 6 we find the narrative detailing Jesus' return to Nazareth. Even though his hometown crowd is amazed at his teachings, they refuse to believe in him. Before leaving there, Mark records Christ’s reaction to their lack of faith: Jesus was amazed.

In Matthew 8, Jesus has a different reaction to a centurion's faith: He was amazed. Wait, that's the same reaction. Nope; just the opposite. With his friends and neighbors, he was amazed at their lack of faith; with the soldier, he was amazed at his abundance of faith.

In Luke there is an interesting set of bookends (denoting a story within a story). Both verses include the phrase, When the Son of Man comes again... (17:24 and 18:8). The discourse may have been sparked by the Pharisees' question: When will the kingdom of God come? (17:20) But Jesus asks a more important question: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (18:8)

Let's put this all together. Jesus was amazed at his friends' and neighbors' lack of faith, and he was amazed at the centurion's abundance of faith. So when Christ returns, it seems to be a given that he will be amazed because of our faith, but will it be for its lack or its abundance?

God finds your faith amazing. Is it for the right reasons?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day 296: Mark 1, 2 and 3

“Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38).
In the first three chapters of Mark, I count at least five times when the crowds nearly overwhelm Jesus and his disciples. Even avoiding towns doesn’t provide a solution; the crowds find him anyway (1:45). Once four men cut a hole in the roof to get their sick friend close enough for Jesus to heal him (2:2). On another occasion, Jesus tells his disciples to have a boat standing by and to keep the motor running… just in case (3:9). And yet another time, people crowd into the dining room interrupting a short break in which Jesus is trying to eat a meal (3:20).

On the Sabbath, while gathering at Peter’s house after synagogue, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever. Once the sun sets, all the neighbors bring their sick and demon-possessed. Jesus works late into the night, and the next day even before his prayers are completed, the lines form again. Jesus’ response? Let’s go somewhere else . . . so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.

Without a clear sense of purpose, Jesus could have spent his entire ministry like a ping pong ball bouncing from crisis to crisis. But Jesus knew why he was there and he kept the main thing the main thing.

Do you know why you’re here? What’s God’s purpose for your life?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Day 295: Matthew 25, 26, 27 and 28

What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you? (Matthew 26:15)

Jewish women loved perfume. If they could afford it, many wore perfume vial around their necks as pendants. When Jesus was having dinner at the home of Simon in Bethany, a woman broke an expensive bottle of perfume – Mark tells us it cost about a year’s wages – and poured out its contents on Jesus’ feet.

Notice she held nothing back. The bottle was broken. There was no saving a few drops for later as an indulgence. But that’s how love is. True love doesn’t count the cost. It just gives.

Immediately after this episode, Judas went to the religious authorities and asked what it would be worth to them for him to hand Jesus over. The priests offered him 30 pieces of silver, and Judas took the deal. The prophet Zechariah tells us that was the price of a slave (11:4-13).
We know how much value Judas placed on Jesus. A few pieces of silver. We also know how the woman valued Jesus. She lavished him with her most prized possession.

Jesus said: …wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her (v. 13). She is remembered for her extravagant worship. Judas is also remembered,… for his betrayal of Jesus.

Everyone is remembered for something. What will you be remembered for?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day 294: Matthew 22, 23 and 24

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. (Matthew 24:6)

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake rocks Japan, spawning a tsunami that destroys the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor, precipitating a meltdown of its fuel rods. When the dust settles, more than 15,000 are confirmed dead with over 7,000 missing.

In May, a self-professed prophet warns the world that Christ will return and judgment day will be on Saturday the 21st.

By June America’s heartland is under water with the worst flooding in decades, while dry conditions in other parts of the country spark the biggest wildfire in Arizona history.

Add civil unrest and conflict in the Middle East (to date at least 14 countries have been convulsed by violence), and anyone who’s ever read the New Testament has to wonder, Could these be signs of the end times?

In Matthew 24 when asked about the end of the age, Jesus tells his disciples that it could happen almost any day because all the conditions for his return would be fulfilled during their lifetimes. So the early church wasn’t obsessing over signs like we do – they were anticipating Christ himself.

Eugene Peterson captures this verse well in The Message: When reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history; this is no sign of the end.

Does the prospect of Christ’s return fill you with anxiety, or with joy?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Day 293: Matthew 19, 20 and 21

You have made them equal to us. (Matthew 20:12)

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard is best understood when read in the context of its two bookend passages: 18:1-5 and 20:20-28. In the former passage the disciples ask Jesus, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? (18:1) In the latter, the mother of James and John lobbies Jesus for her sons to be given the highest places of honor in his kingdom.

In our story higher seniority workers, who think they deserve more pay than those with less time on the job, grumble against the landowner: You have made them equal to us.

Matthew also includes the story of the unmerciful servant who has been forgiven a great debt, but is unwilling to forgive a friend a small debt (18:23-34). The moral is: I’m the one who has been forgiven the larger debt. How could I possibly hold anything against another?

If my life has been changed by grace, I won’t be worrying about the reward someone else receives. I won’t hold a grudge because I know the little thing I’m upset about is nothing compared to that for which God has already forgiven me! A life changed by grace doesn’t keep score because it knows it would lose.

If I spent the rest of my life extending grace to others, I could never give as much grace as I have received.

Would you be offended if someone else received a greater reward than you?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Day 292: Matthew 16, 17 and 18

Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:11)

In the Galilee crossing, Jesus warns his disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Once he explains that, no, he is not upset they forgot to bring sandwiches; he refers to the religious leaders demanding a sign before they would believe. Sign refused.

After the lesson in the boat, upon arriving in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus queries his friends as to what people are saying about him. After hearing their range of answers, Jesus asks, Who do you say I am? (v. 15) Peter volunteers, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (v. 16), information that could have come only from God himself.

In Luke, Jesus parables the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31). In hell, the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers so they might change their ways and avoid his fate. Abraham’s answer? If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead (v. 31). Proof denied.

The truth illustrated by the rich man and his brothers, as well as the Pharisees and Sadducees, is that our problem is not a lack of information – not a shortage of proof – but a dogged refusal to believe. Peter, in one of his few shining moments, illustrates a man embracing belief.

Do you ever blame your unbelief on a poverty of proof?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Day 291: Matthew 13, 14 and 15

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. (Matthew 13:31)

The Parable of the Farmer (vv. 1-8) teaches that farming is hard work and not for those seeking instant gratification. Some seed falls on rocky soil, some is eaten by birds, and some is choked by thorns, but if we are patient, the seed that falls on good soil will produce a crop many times greater than the original seed sown.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed (vv. 31,32) illustrates that even though the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, if we are patient it will grow into one of the biggest of garden plants. The Parable of the Yeast (v. 33) shows that in time even a small amount of yeast can leaven a large amount of flour.

Earlier in Matthew we read: Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (7:14). Yet in Revelation we read: I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language (7:9). How did we get from narrow the road and few that find it to a great multitude that no one could count? That’s the incremental onslaught of the Kingdom.

Nothing worthwhile springs up overnight. Be faithful, and though it may take time, the harvest will be incredible.

Do you ever get impatient waiting for growth?

Day 290: Matthew 10, 11 and 12

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32)

At first glance, the second half of Matthew 10 is depressing. Brother will betray brother (v. 21); All men will hate you (v. 22); If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! (v. 25). If Jesus is recruiting, I would be surprised if he has much success.

Jesus warns his followers that they are assuming certain risks if they walk as Jesus walks. People may impugn your motives (vv. 24,25); in living out the Christian life you will undoubtedly face persecution (v. 28); and your enemy will make you question your own self-worth and whether or not God loves you (v. 29). But some risks are worth taking. Too often we focus on the warnings, and miss the promises. Three times here Jesus says: Do not be afraid (vv. 26,28,31).

When people question your motives, do not be afraid. When you face persecution, do not be afraid. When your enemy tempts you to question whether or not God loves you, do not be afraid.

Then, note the BIG promise: If anyone acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. Here’s how I paraphrase that: If you stand up for me, I’ll stand up for you.

Tell the truth. Are you afraid if you take a risk, God will leave you twisting in the wind?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Day 289: Matthew 7, 8 and 9

The Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons” (Matthew 9:34).

Two groups of people in this vignette respond to Jesus in completely different ways. When Jesus drives a demon out of a man who is mute and the man begins to speak, the crowds proclaim: Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel (v. 33). The Pharisees are less enthusiastic: It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.

Have you ever been frustrated by a back seat driver? The Pharisees remind me of a first century example of the armchair quarterback. When it came to handing out criticism, they went by the adage: ‘Tis more blessed to give than to receive.

In the next paragraph, Jesus is traveling through Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and healing the sick. He connects with the people, and notes that they are like sheep without a shepherd (v. 36). I cannot help but wonder if he was thinking of the Pharisees at this moment; especially when he continues: The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few (v. 37).

Again, two groups of people: the ones doing the work, and the ones sitting on the sidelines second-guessing the quarterback. Their contribution? Well, if I was in the game… Maybe that’s the problem. Why aren’t they in the game?

Are you playing the game or sitting on the sidelines critiquing the plays? If you’re not already, how could you get in the game?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Day 288: Matthew 4, 5 and 6

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)

Allow me to paraphrase: How fortunate are those who don't content themselves with being spectators at a fight, but who step in and initiate reconciliation, who take a volatile situation and guide it to resolution; and who, rather than say, "There's no hope," bring the encouraging word, "Give peace a chance." People like that resemble their heavenly Father, and people notice.

What if I refused to stoke a conflict, applying water to smoldering fires rather than gasoline? What if I actively advocated for peace, smoothing ruffled feathers and calming frenzied spirits? And what if I had the kind and volume of peace in my life that overflowed to those around me?

[Peacemakers] will be called sons of God. When we stand up for peace, and when we allow ourselves to be used as conduits for peace, those whom we influence will recognize in us the DNA of our heavenly Father. We will be called sons of God.

What do people call you?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Day 287: Matthew 1, 2 and 3

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about (Matthew 1:18).

How does a story begin? If this were a fairy tale, it might start: Once upon a time… Instead, it reads: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. But is that how it really starts? Matthew includes Christ’s genealogy, boring to most American readers, but fascinating to Matthew’s original audience – the Jews. This is the Messiah’s Once Before a Time…

Yes, every story begins somewhere, but what about before that?

Jesus’ family tree includes some ancestors of which anyone would be proud. It boasts partiarchs and pretty much all the kings of Judah starting with David and marching down through the years to Jehoiachin. Of course, no one would brag about being related to some of those kings, but at least they were kings.

Then there were some odd players to show up in a genealogical chart. There was Rahab, a prostitute turned hero of Israel; Tamar, a widow turned prostitute; Ruth, a foreigner (her people would be barred from the temple); and Bathsheba, who got pregnant with King David’s son when she was still married to Uriah the Hittite. Awkward. What a cast of characters.

It goes to show that no one need be limited by his family tree. Your story was being written long before you were born... and your story is the Once Before a Time of your grandchildren.

Who are the characters God used to write your ‘Once Before a Time’?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Day 286: Malachi 1, 2, 3 and 4

What do we gain by carrying out his requirements? (Malachi 3:14)

The prophet Malachi comes on the scene as much as a century after the ministries of Haggai and Zechariah. Through him, God reminds his people how he has loved and cared for them from the beginning. And from the beginning they have rejected him: Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them (3: 7) Rather than heartfelt gratitude for his loving kindness, Judah’s worship has deteriorated from indifference to downright resentment: What a bother (1:13).

Malachi goes on to compare the men of Jerusalem divorcing their wives with how the nation has abandoned Yahweh to chase after the daughter of a foreign god (2:11). And the prophet is not finished. Judah’s refusal to love God as they ought has given rise to injustice in the courts (2:9) and oppression of the poor (3:5).

When Malachi reprimands them for withholding that which belongs to God (their tithes), they respond, But what’s in it for us? (3:14) In their selfishness they have dismissed God’s goodness as something they had coming to them anyway by virtue of being his chosen people. At the center of their own universe, they have room in their hearts for neither their Creator nor their fellow human being. Every response is pragmatically weighed to determine what kind of return they can expect for their investment.

When’s the last time you asked, “What’s in it for me?”

Friday, October 12, 2012

Day 285: Zechariah 12, 13 and 14

They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him... (Zechariah 12:10)

Chapter 12 is a case study in the interplay of God’s kindness and humanity’s repentance. The opening sentence speaks to God’s sovereignty, exercised in this case for the protection of Jerusalem. In response to God’s goodness, Judah’s national leaders acknowledge their indebtedness to Yahweh for his deliverance. God responds to their gratitude with continued support.

In John’s Passion narrative, he quotes Zechariah (John 19:37) to bolster his position that Jesus is the Christ. Though it is unlikely Zechariah was referencing the Messiah, it was not uncommon for New Testament writers to see Christ in Old Testament writings.

God’s consistent graciousness provokes a spirit of humility among his people. Rather than pointing to Jesus and the crucifixion, these verses portray the people’s grief upon recalling how their disobedience and unfaithfulness have pierced the heart of God.

Judah’s humble response to God’s protection and provision foreshadows the truth affirmed by the Apostle Paul more than half a century later: Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:4)

How has God’s goodness and mercy changed your heart?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Day 284: Zechariah 9, 10 and 11

  NOTE: Sorry for the weird format today. I normally don't use my newer laptop to work on my blog, mostly because it plays tricks like this. My old laptop - which has now died - worked fine for blogging, games and email, but not much else. I'll see if I can figure something else out.
For I am going to raise up a shepherd over the land who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy . . . Woe to the worthless shepherd who deserts the flock (Zechariah 11:16,17).
Chapter 11 contains the allegory of the two shepherds. The people of Israel and Judah are in triple trouble: They have been sold by those who care only about profit; their buyers have slaughtered them; and their shepherds have abandoned them (v. 5). God instructs his shepherd to care for the flock.
God’s faithful shepherd honors his commitment, providing pasture and protection for the sheep, especially the weak and oppressed. But rather than appreciate the one who feeds and shelters them, the sheep resent the shepherd and rebel against his leadership. Upon firing him, they present to him his severance pay: 30 pieces of silver.
In place of the faithful shepherd, God gives them over to a worthless shepherd who abandons the lost sheep under his charge, lets the young wander off without exerting any effort to bring them home, refuses to salve their wounds, and leaves them to fend for themselves.
In John 10 Jesus declares that he is the Good Shepherd. In doing so, was he thinking about the writings of Zechariah? Likely. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).
Do you struggle against your Shepherd or gratefully rest in his tender care?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Day 283: Zechariah 5, 6, 7 and 8

In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take hold of one Jew by the edge of his robe and say, “Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.” (Zechariah 8:23).

Now that exiles had returned to Jerusalem and were rebuilding the temple, Zechariah is asked if it is still necessary to fast during the fifth month (in which Jerusalem was destroyed). His answer shows they still don’t understand God’s priorities, which have not changed since before the exile.

Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts, do not think evil of each other (v. 9,10). No, God’s priorities are still the same.

Zechariah goes on to say: As you have been an object of cursing among the nations, O Judah and Israel, so will I save you, and you will be a blessing (8:13). So disastrous were the consequences of their attitudes and behaviors, a popular curse would be, May you be cursed as Judah and Israel! But if they would just get their priorities right, the name of God’s people would be used as a blessing: May you be blessed like Judah and Israel! [1]

People from every nation and language would grab at their shirt sleeves and say, We want to be like you.

Want to be blessed? How will you administer justice and show mercy and compassion this week?

[1] Robert B. Chisholm. Handbook on the Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 467.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Day 282: Zechariah 1, 2, 3 and 4

Then [the angel] showed me Joshua the high priest . . . and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him (Zechariah 3:1).

Zechariah prophesies eight visions of good things to come among the Judean exiles returned from Babylon. In the first vision (1:7-17) of a man (the angel of the Lord) among the myrtle trees, the Lord affirms it is time for Judah to be forgiven.

In the second vision (1:18-21), four horns (probably the national powers responsible for the destruction and exile of Israel and Judah) are toppled by four craftsmen.

The third vision (2:1-13) depicts a man measuring Jerusalem. He is advised that Jerusalem’s population will be too large for a walled city, and that God himself will be Jerusalem’s wall of protection.

The fourth (3:1-10) introduces Joshua the high priest, whose robes are soiled, symbolic of Judah’s history of disobedience. Satan stands at his side to accuse him, but God decrees Joshua forgiven, in the stead of the nation. I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you (v. 4).

Vision five (4:1-14) describes a golden lampstand with seven lamps accompanied by two olive trees. The lamp may represent the rebuilt temple, while the olive trees represent Zerubbabel, Jerusalem’s governor, and Joshua the high priest. [1]

The point of all eight visions is that yesterday is forgiven, and tomorrow is filled with promise.

When Satan accuses you regarding your past, can you lean on God’s promises concerning your future?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Day 281b: Haggai 1 and 2

You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it (Haggai 1:6).

When Jerusalem was besieged, Solomon’s temple was destroyed before the final group of hostages was transported to Babylon. Over 50 years later, under King Cyrus, the exiles returned to their ancestral home.

Upon returning to Jerusalem, they were quick to plant crops and build houses for themselves, but they dragged their feet when it came to rebuilding the temple. God speaks to them through the prophet Haggai: Is it time for you to be living in your paneled houses, while [the temple] remains a ruin? (1:4)

Then Haggai, speaking on behalf of Yahweh, summarizes their financial portfolios: Your crops aren’t doing so good, you don’t have enough to eat or drink, the chilly breeze goes right through the holes in your clothes, and your paycheck never lasts until the end of the month. Kind of makes you say, “Hmmm.” (My Paraphrase, v. 6)

Today’s equivalent of building up God’s house before building our own would probably be giving financial support to the church. We could argue about whether or not the tithe (a tenth of our income) is still the standard, but we can’t argue with the results. Being generous with God and his children has a way of coming back to bless us.

When you have too much month at the end of the money, could it be because, in your attempt to look out for #1, you’ve forgotten who #1 really is?

Day 281a: Zephaniah 1, 2 and 3

The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad (Zephaniah 1:12).

The very first verse tells us Zephaniah ministered to Judah during the reign of Josiah, its last good king. Reading between the lines, we know it was in his early years because the prophet depicts a nation very unlike Judah subsequent to Josiah’s reforms (2 Kings 23, 2 Chronicles 34,35). [1]

Zephaniah describes a Judah in which the poor are oppressed by the rich; where people worship the false gods of other nations; where day in and day out business goes on as usual. No one is nervous about the possibility of divine action; no one is worried that God might show up and do something about it. The prevailing attitude is: God doesn’t care; he won’t get involved.

I was once in a discussion where another participant stated: I don’t believe in an interventionist god. Sounds smart… doesn’t make it correct.

The prophet tells another story. He says God is watching, and God does care. I will bring distress on the people . . . because they have sinned against the Lord (1:17). This pronouncement, though, is accompanied by promise of gathering and rescue (3:15,19-20). The distress appears to be exile under the Babylonians and rescue is those exiles coming home.

Yet again, judgment gives way to blessing. He will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

Have you ever thought, “God might see, but he won’t do anything about it”?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Day 280: Habakkuk 1, 2 and 3

Are you not from everlasting? (Habakkuk 1:12).

Put yourself in Habakkuk’s place. As a prophetic bridge between God and Jerusalem, you sound the alarm about the injustices in Judah foisted upon the poor and the weak by the rich and the powerful. God says, That’s okay. Even now I’m raising up a violent nation that will eradicate Judah. Problem solved. According to Robert Chisholm, that’s not the remedy Habakkuk had in mind. [1]

The prophet makes that quite clear in his ensuing dialog with the Almighty. O Lord, are you not from everlasting? . . . Why do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (1:12,13)

This is an important question: Are you not from everlasting? Habakkuk was betraying a weakness in human understanding. God looks at things on an epic scale, from everlasting to everlasting. We see only right now… and maybe the five minutes before and the five minutes after. But looking at the big picture, God – speaking to Babylon – says there is coming a time when the tables will be turned: Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you (2:8).

Habakkuk finally gets it: I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us (3:16).

How would things look differently if you could see the big picture?

[1] Robert B. Chisholm Jr. Handbook on the Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 435.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Day 279: Nahum 1, 2 and 3

Everyone who hears the news about you claps his hands at your fall (Nahum 3:19).

We can date Nahum to sometime after Assyria conquered the Egyptian city of Thebes (663 BC) and before Assyria was itself conquered by Babylon (612 BC). The weakening Assyrian Empire had wreaked havoc for over a hundred years as the most vicious military force ever known.

Not content to conquer, Assyria subdued her enemies by exiling them to the far reaches of the empire so that they could never again rally an army and fight back. Thus in 722 BC, Samaria (the capital of Israel – the northern kingdom) was conquered and its people relocated, never to be heard from again. For the next hundred years, Jerusalem (the capital of Judah – the southern kingdom) lived in fear it would be the next to suffer Assyria’s wrath.

Nahum speaks out against the aggressor empire, boldly proclaiming that Assyria would get a taste of its own medicine and that one day soon Nineveh (the empire’s capital) would be destroyed. The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh (1:7,8).

The prophet concludes by saying that no one will shed a tear for Assyria. No one will mourn for her, and no one will offer her comfort (3:7). Rather, there will be rejoicing at the news of her collapse.

What will people say about you after you’re gone?