Monday, November 30, 2009
Haggai was the first prophet sent from God after the Babylonian exile. His place in history is the same time period as Zechariah, Malachi, Nehemiah and Esther. But this little book covers only a space of four months. The messages are short and to the point. I like this guy! :)
Haggai's first message was given on August 29, 520 B.C. during the reign of Darius I. God sent Haggai to Zerubbabel, who had been appointed governor of the province of Judah in the Persian Empire, and to Joshua, the high priest. At this time, many Jews had returned from Babylon to Israel, they had resumed celebrating the feasts, and had laid the foundation for the new temple. But work on the temple had stopped because of opposition from hostile neighbors and because of apathy on the part of the Jews. God sent Haggai with a message to rebuke the people for their indifference about the temple and to get them working on building it again.
The people had built their own houses and had them nicely finished, but they had not finished God's house. God let them know that He was withholding blessing from them as long as they weren't working in completing the temple.
The people listened! They obeyed! And they showed reverence for the Lord! God stirred in the hearts of Zerubbabel, Joshua, and all the remnant who were there, so that they came together to work on the temple.
As they rebuilt, there were some over the age of 75 who remembered the previous temple and all its glory. Solomon's temple was larger and more beautiful, with much more gold and elaborate craftsmanship in it. They were disappointed in the smaller, plainer version. But God encouraged them all to continue working. God Himself would be present with them, and He owned all the silver and gold in the world. One day, God promised, there would be an even more glorious temple than Solomon's.
Then God addressed two questions the people had. (1) When something holy touches something unholy, does it make the unholy item become holy? The answer is "No." And (2) When an unclean person touches anything holy, does it make the holy item unclean? The answer is "Yes." Cleanness cannot be transferred, but defilement can.
The final message God sent through Haggai was that one day He will "shake the heavens and the earth." God will overthrow all earthly rule and all earthly armies. But He honored Zerubbabel as one He had chosen to rule at that time in history.
"Consider your ways! Go . . . that I may be pleased with it and be glorified," says the LORD. (1:7-8)
What is clean cannot transfer its cleanness that that which is unclean, but what is unclean contaminates that which is clean. (2:12-13)
Let's consider our own ways. Consider your way of life. Is God pleased with it? Does your life glorify Him? Are you allowing the world to contaminate you? You can not impart your sanctification to those in the world by being a part of the world. It will only make you unclean instead.
Lord, make us holy, set apart for your service. Help us to examine our lives in light of your word and what you expect of us. Help us to throw off those things that distract us from serving you whole-heartedly. Teach us to keep ourselves unstained by the world so we can be a light to the world. In the name of Jesus, amen.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
When our hearts are heavy and we are depressed and feeling hopeless, this psalm of David shows us what to do.
The psalm is a prayer to God. David begins by asking God to hear his prayer and he appeals to God’s faithfulness and righteousness, not to his own neediness. That doesn’t mean David isn’t (or that we aren’t) needy, but that God’s response to us flows from who He is, not from how much we need Him.
Look at the David’s description of his circumstances:
- He is acutely aware of his own unrighteousness, of all people’s unrighteousness and sin (2).
- He is pursued by an enemy (3).
- His life is crushed by that enemy (3).
- He sits in darkness, put there by the enemy (3).
- He feels hopeless (4)
- He feels fearful (4).
- His depression is getting deeper; he feels like he is dying (7).
- He doesn’t feel like he can hang on much longer (7).
Have you been there? I have. Usually my enemies are not other people. In fact, no matter who the enemy is, we have one chief enemy, Satan. Satan loves to keep me in a place without hope, looking at my circumstances.
What does David do when he is in that pit of depression and hopelessness?
- He cries to God; he prays (1).
- He meditates on what God has done in the past (5).
- He ponders God’s works (5).
- He expresses his longing for God, his need of God (like dry soil that needs rain) (5).
So the first thing to do when I am in that pit of fear and hopelessness is to turn my thoughts to God and pray to Him. I then discipline my mind to remember what He has done for me in the past, what He has done for His people in the past. I look around me at the world God has made. I look up at the stars that He created, at the birds, at the colors. I listen to music and thank God for harmony. I think about food and how wonderful it tastes – so much variety! In other words, I take the focus off me and my circumstances and try instead to focus on all God has given. That helps give some perspective.
But David doesn’t stop there. That’s not all we do to get out of that pit.
David asks God to show him His steadfast love in the morning (8). I love that. I love morning. I love meeting God then. David declares his trust in God (8,10). He tells God that he wants to obey Him. He asks Him to show him the way he should go, and asks God to teach him to do His will (8, 10).
We are here to do God’s will, not our own. If we ask for God’s help and guidance, but are unwilling to please him, to walk in the way He wants us to walk, then we are being self-centered. So it’s important to ask Him to remake our priorities.
I love hymns. There is a simple hymn by Benjamin Marshall Ramsey that I first sang in high school that speaks to this. If you want to listen to the tune, here is the link.
Teach me Thy way, O Lord, teach me Thy way!
Thy guiding grace afford, teach me Thy way.
Help me to walk aright, more by faith, less by sight;
Lead me with heav’nly light, teach me Thy way.
When doubts and fears arise, teach me Thy way;
When storms o'erspread the skies, teach me Thy way.
Shine through the cloud and rain, through sorrow, toil, and pain;
Make Thou my pathway plain, teach me Thy way.
Long as my life shall last, teach me Thy way.
Where’er my lot be cast, teach me Thy way.
Until the race is run, until the journey’s done,
Until the crown is won, teach me Thy way!
Hebrews 6 says that our hope, a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,” is based on who God is. God doesn’t change. God is righteous and therefore doesn’t lie. He is faithful and keeps His promises. We see so much more than David did. We see how God kept His word to all those saints in the Old Testament. He came in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to rescue us from sin. I love that image of hope as an anchor. Hope in God gives us stability in the storms of life.
Psalm 143 ends in hope. God will destroy his servant’s enemies, even that great enemy, Satan (11). Just as He preserves our lives because of who He is, so God will lift up our souls from trouble. He does this for His own name’s sake (10). It is who He is.
If you are in a dark place right now, cry to the Lord just the way David did in this psalm.
Do you thirst for the LORD as parched soil thirsts for the rain? Do you want to walk in the LORD’s way , to do His will – or do you long for your own way?
When we are in that dark and scary place, without hope, help us to turn to you, LORD. You make yourself plain to us if we will only open our eyes and hearts. We praise you for your righteousness and faithfulness – that they anchor those who trust in you in hope. Show us the way to walk; teach us to do your will – for the sake of your name.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
LINK: Ezekiel 43
Ezekiel had seen the glory of the Lord depart from the temple at the east gate (Ezek 1:18-19). Now, his guide took him to the east gate where he saw the glory of the Lord come from the east and enter the temple through the east gate. God's glory, once again, filled the house of the Lord. He claimed His place on the throne, and told Ezekiel that He would dwell there and rule forever.
Then the altar was measured and the procedure for consecrating it was given to Ezekiel. Consecration was the symbolic removal of sin. Then the priests would once again be able to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings that would be accepted by God. You might remember from our study of Leviticus that the burnt offering represented dedicating oneself to God. It's symbolic of giving all on the altar. The peace offering is also called the fellowship offering. It is an expression of worship and represents the relationship one has with the Lord.
Jesus's death on the cross was the ultimate fulfillment of all the sacrifices described in Leviticus. Both of these offerings - burnt and peace - are ones that believers can give today. We don't use an altar and slaughter animals, but we offer our lives to the Lord as our burnt offering. And we offer praise and walk in fellowship with Him as our peace/fellowship offering.
Offer yourself to the Lord today for His service. Spend some time in fellowship with Him.
Lord, we thank You for being the sacrifice that atones for our sin. I give my life to You to love and serve You will all my heart, soul, and strength. Thank You for bringing me into fellowship with You forever. Amen.
Monday, November 23, 2009
LINK: Ezekiel 41 and 42
This is a continuation of chapter 40, where Ezekiel watches the measuring of various sections of the temple. At the end of chapter 42, the measuring tool is changed to a reed and the overall measurements of the temple are given. Five hundred reeds is about one mile, so it's about a mile on each side.
This is a "keep reading" day. Tomorrow we'll discuss the glory of the Lord and the altar.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
LINK: Psalm 140 and Psalm 141
Both these psalms deal with the use of the tongue – with verbal sin.
BACKGROUND AND REFLECTION
David faced enemies on the battlefield throughout his life, so understood violence. He had needed God’s protection many times. This psalm, though, asks God for protection from a different kind of enemy, those who do violence with their words. The psalm implies that these enemies weren’t from a godless nation, either, but were from among the nation of
David makes clear his trust in the LORD here. He asks God to deliver, preserve, and guard him. He knows that God has done it in the past and he’s confident that He will do it again.
The psalm asks that those enemies be punished in a way that fits their crime. David asks God to let them be punished through their own words. Let “the mischief of their lips overwhelm them.” (9) These people bring about evil through their speech and David wants them caught up by the evil that they bring about.
So how is that proper for one of God’s people to pray that way? First, it is clear from the psalm that these “enemies” intend to do damage. They want to hurt and wound and cause trouble. The prayer faces circumstances the way they really are. These people want to hurt God’s servant and want to exalt themselves over God. If they succeed they will do great damage. It’s also a just prayer. David is simply asking for justice. Finally, it’s clear that this prayer isn’t a vengeful or vindictive response to personal injury, but is an appeal to God based on faith. David doesn’t seek vengeance himself; He leaves these evil people in God’s hands.
One reason I love the psalms is for their honesty. This is an honest prayer. We can’t get to real love without honesty, without going through justice first.
The prayer ends with a declaration of trust in the LORD followed by a response:
“I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
and will execute justice for the needy.
Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;
the upright shall dwell in your presence.”
David knows that God is in charge and that He will do what is right. Rather than stewing about injury or figuring out how to get even, the righteous (those made right with God through faith) live in God’s presence and give thanks to Him.
The theme of the next psalm, Psalm 141, is a natural extension of what David dealt with here in Psalm 140. I am so glad that it follows immediately because I think it shows how we are often tempted.
After praying about the evil done by others with their speech (Psalm 140), David dives right into his own heart and turns to the LORD.
David had been hurt by the words of others. He is coming to God with his evening prayers, laying his heart before the LORD. He is tempted to use his own mouth as a weapon, to hurt those who hurt him.
So he does the only thing any of us can do in that situation. He prays honestly and asks God to guard his lips, to set a watch over his mouth, to keep his heart from wanting to repay evil with evil. He realizes that he can easily be caught up in the net of sin and snared by his own words. He doesn’t want to be like those who are sinning with their speech.
There is a kind of parenthesis in the middle of this psalm. David makes clear that there is a difference between slanderous words meant to injure and the admonition of someone who holds him accountable:
"Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness;
let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head;
let my head not refuse it." (5)
It is not ever enjoyable to be rebuked, but David recognizes that it is a kindness, even a kind of blessing, to be rebuked by someone who loves the LORD, who is righteous.
David turns to the LORD for refuge and defense.
I don’t know which side of this use of the tongue issue you find yourself on today. Maybe both.
Perhaps you are using your words as weapons to sting and hurt someone else. If so, stop! Turn to the LORD and ask forgiveness and ask Him to guard your mouth.
When others spread gossip about us or say things that aren’t true about us, it hurts. Frequently we want to get even. But that’s not the response the LORD wants us to have. Our response shouldn’t be to repay in like kind. We should recognize what has happened. We have been sinned against. Then we get the chance to turn to our Lord Jesus, who surely understands what it is to be slandered. Like David, we can turn to Him for refuge and ask Him for justice. Leave the desire for justice with Him (and the anger and bitterness).
And even more, we know that Jesus died for us, and not because we are good and deserve it! “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) He understands what it is to be slandered, yet He not only refused to reply in like kind, but He took on the punishment for those who have been guilty of it. If He can forgive, then surely those of us who are called by His name can, too. So do that.
Father, we ask that you set a guard over not only our mouths and lips, but that you watch our hearts, too. Give us honest hearts that look to you for refuge when we are gossiped about or slandered. We don’t want to strike out in like kind. Help us to love as you love. Help us not to gloss over sin, but to recognize it and then deal with it in a way that pleases you and reflects you.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
LINK: Ezekiel 36
Now Ezekiel's prophecy goes far beyond the destruction of Jerusalem, beyond the end of the captivity in Babylon, even beyond today. Ezekiel looks to a future restoration of Israel. There will come a time when God will gather His people in the land He promised to Abraham. God will cleanse the people and put His Spirit in them. And God will make the land productive again, producing flocks, herds, and harvests, and man will multiply and fill up the land. No longer will other nations insult Israel.
At that time, the people will finally see their sin for what it is. They will recognize their evil ways as evil, and they will loathe their sins. They will no longer be stubborn in disobedience but will walk in obedience to God. Their hearts will be changed.
Notice God's reason for all this restoration. "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name . . . . Then the nations will know that I am the LORD," declares the Lord God, "when I prove myself holy among you in their sight." (vs 22-23) And, "I am not doing this for your sake," declares the Lord God. (vs 32) "Then they will know that I am the LORD." (vs 38)
God's purpose is that all the world will know that He is LORD! He has said that over and over again in this book. He will not allow His name to be profaned forever, although He does seem to wait a long time before running out of patience and taking action. That is for our benefit, for sure! But one day, He will take action and will clear His name for the entire world to see. Everyone will know that God is the LORD of all.
Lord, you are the Holy God and Lord over all! We bow before you and worship you. Cleanse our hearts and make them soft in obedience to you. Let us always be aware that you truly are Lord over all and live our lives accordingly. Help us to proclaim it to others as well. Amen.
Monday, November 16, 2009
LINK: Ezekiel 34 and 35
The LORD directed Ezekiel to prophesy against the "shepherds of Israel." This metaphor refers to the leaders of the nation, and the "sheep" refers to the people of the nation. The leaders had both exploited and abused the people, rather than protecting and caring for them as they should have done. These "shepherds" filled their own purses and bellies at the expense of the "sheep." They did not care for the sick or weak but took advantage of them. They did not seek those who got lost so they could care for them. Rather, they ruled them by keeping them "under their thumb." Now the "sheep" were scattered everywhere, and the "shepherds" don't even care that they have become prey everywhere.
But God will rescue the poor sheep and not leave them to be destroyed. He Himself will gather them and bring them back home. He will provide for them and protect them. He will care for their wounds and strengthen the sick. And God will distinguish between those sheep who are really His and those who merely think they are His.
Then, one day, a son of David, Jesus, will rule the nation of Israel. They will live secure and safe. They will know that God has delivered them, and they will have no fear of enemies. Even wild animals will be no threat to them. There will be no more famine in the land. Neither will there be insults from other nations. They will all know that the LORD is their God and that He is with them and that they belong to Him.
Mt. Seir is another name for Edom. You will remember that the Edomites are the descendants of Esau, Jacob's twin brother. The hatred between Jacob and Esau was passed down from one generation to the next. Here, God reminds them of their sin against Israel and proclaims judgment on them. Edom had rejoiced arrogantly at the fall of Israel, but now the nation of Edom will fall. God will make Edom desolate.
I love these shepherd passages! Jesus is the shepherd of the nation of Israel (Matthew 2:6). And one day, He will return again, gather the nation of Israel in their land, and rule on the throne of David. In the meantime, Jesus calls Himself the "Good Shepherd" who takes good care of His sheep (John 10:1-18). In John 10:16, Jesus made it clear that besides the sheep of Israel, He has other sheep to bring into the fold. This refers to Gentile believers. The author of Hebrews tells us that this great Shepherd works in believers and equips them to do His will (Hebrews 13:20-21).
The Shepherd cares so much for the sheep that He laid down His life for them. Anyone else who tries to get to the sheep is not the owner and will lead them astray. These impostors allow the sheep to be harmed or will harm them themselves. But Jesus is the Good Shepherd, caring for and protecting the sheep. The sheep who truly belong to God hear His voice and listen to Him. Take time today to "tune in" to the Good Shepherd. Hear His voice and do His will.
Good Shepherd, thank you for caring so much that you laid down your life for me and made me one of your sheep. Teach me to listen and hear your voice. Let me not be distracted by other voices around me that may lead me astray. Equip me to do your will, in the name of the Great Shepherd Jesus, amen.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
LINK: Psalm 139
How often do those of us who claim the name of Chirst live as if we don’t trust in Him? We live as practical atheists. We doubt His concern for us and forget about Him and His involvment in our lives; we live as if He doesn’t exist.
This psalm should cure us of that.
So read this psalm! Soak in it.
I cannot tell you how many times I have turned to this psalm as I have struggled with various fears and doubts.
Here’s one time:
My husband was in the Navy, stationed aboard a submarine, when we were first married. He would go out to sea and I wouldn’t see him or even hear from him the whole time, because he was under some ocean. Fear and loneliness fed on me at first. I feared for him; I felt afraid and alone at home. I remember reading this psalm. It wasn’t the first time I’d read it, but I read it with new eyes. God was with Jerry, even in the depths of that ocean. God was with me, too, at home by myself. Even if I wanted to hide from Him, I couldn’t! Our LORD was with each of us, so in that sense we were together. I realized I wasn’t alone and neither was Jerry. And God was not only with us, but He had a plan for each of us! Nothing could touch us that wasn’t already known by Him. Comfort flooded in and shielded me from that fear that had been eating away at me. I realized and believed that my LORD was actively concerned and with me.
This psalm brings to mind the children’s picture book, The Runaway Bunny, in which the baby bunny says he will run away from the mommy bunny by becoming many different things (a bird, a fish, and more) and the mommy bunny says that she will find him no matter what. She says she will become a tree that he will fly to, or a fisherman that catches that fish! When I read that book, I think of God, never letting His children go, not because He wants to punish us, but because He loves us. The mommy bunny says at the end of the picture book as she hugs her baby bunny, that she finds him because he is her baby and she loves him! That is what this psalm says. God made me and loves me and is intimately concerned with my heart and what I do. He will never leave me!
This psalm NEEDS to be read out loud. So do that. Then do it again! No comments on this psalm can do it justice. I can’t say anything any better than David, filled with God’s Spirit, did. It answers so many fears and doubts and does it with beautiful language and images. So ponder the psalm.
To help you out here, I’m linking a video that recites part of the psalm: Psalm 139
If you doubt God’s love and concern for you, this psalm speaks to that. He examines us and knows our hearts. He knows each of us intimately. He is the one who made us who we are! His thoughts about each of us outnumber the grains of sand!
If you fear, this psalm tells us that God is with us, before us and behind us. Darkness is as light to Him!
If you are running from God, read this psalm and realize that He is with you. You cannot escape from Him and His love!
Our response? How can we not, like David, invite God to continue to lead us and search our hearts and long for Him to show us anything in us that offends Him?
How can anyone who belongs to the LORD live as a practical atheist after reading this psalm?
Try to read this whole psalm out loud as your prayer. I will quote the last two verses here:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me, and know my thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Amen.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
LINK: Ezekiel 28
There are four parts to this chapter:
- fall of the prince of Tyre (vs 1-10
- lament over the king of Tyre (vs 11-19)
- judgment on Sidon (vs 20-24)
- promise to Israel (vs 25-26)
The prince of Tyre refers to the ruler of the city of Tyre at the time of the prophecy. The reigning king at that time was Ittobaal II. Because of his very great pride, God will use strangers (Babylonians) to bring judgment on him.
The king of Tyre in the second section most likely refers to Satan. We know from 1 Chronicles 21 (Satan was behind David's census), Daniel 10 (the prince of the kingdom of Persia delayed the angel Michael), and Matthew 4:8-10 (Satan tempted Jesus to worship him) that Satan wants to control nations and their leaders. This passage tells of his creation as a very beautiful creature and as an obedient angel of God. But his pride and selfish ambitions led him to sin, leading God to cast him out. Here he is the motivation and strength behind the human prince of Tyre. One day, his judgment will be completed with consuming fire.
The third section tells of God's judgment on the city of Sidon. This city was about 25 miles north of Tyre, along the Mediterranean coast. The people of Sidon were long-time enemies of Israel, but now their opposition would end. God would be glorified with the destruction of Sidon! How? Because the destruction would demonstrate God's holiness by rejecting the false gods and the sin of the city.
Finally, this chapter concludes with a promise to Israel. God will one day gather His people from where they are scattered back to their land. The nations will see His holiness in them, and they will live securely and prosperously in the land that God had promised to Jacob.
This part of verse 25 struck me, "and (I) shall manifest My holiness in them (Israel) in the sight of the nations." In other words, the nations will see the holiness of God by observing His people Israel. Today, the angelic beings see the "manifold wisdom of God" through observing the church. It is part of God's eternal purpose through Jesus to demonstrate Himself through the church. (Ephesians 3:8-11) Wow! Part of the reason God saves us is to demonstrate who He is to the angelic beings!
Do people see Jesus in you? Are you demonstrating who God is by the way you live?
Lord, we know you are far above all power and authority on this earth, as well as in the spiritual realm that we cannot see. Your purposes reach far beyond our lives into eternity. You demonstrate your holiness, wisdom, power, and glory in all that you do. Let us be humble before you, not like the ruler of Tyre who was arrogant. And let us live in such a way as to point people to you. In the name of Jesus, amen.
Monday, November 9, 2009
LINK: Ezekiel 27
No matter how wealthy or powerful a nation or a person is, God is still more powerful. He is truly sovereign over all kings and rulers and powers of the world, and no one is invincible in His eyes. This truth applies on a personal as well as a national level. In fact, it can apply at any level of life. Our pride will get us in trouble every time! Let's reflect today on God's sovereignty over us and adjust ourselves, our own thinking, to that of submission and humility.
Lord, your name is above all names, your power above all powers, your rule above all rulers, your wealth above all wealth, you are the LORD GOD! There is no other besides you. Give us a glimpse of you and let us be humbled before you. You are the glorious one who gives us life and being. We worship you! Amen.