Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What has God chosen you for?

Signet ring - with the image of Childeric
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Haggai 2:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "'In that day,' says the Lord of hosts, 'I will take you Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,' says the Lord, 'and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,' says the Lord of hosts." Haggai 2:23

Zerubbabel was a leader of the Hebrew exiles returning from Babylon in 537 B.C. He was a governor and is mentioned in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. In the New Testament, he shows up in the lineage of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17 - Zerubbabel is mentioned in verse 12).

In our reading today we see one reason he was a significant Bible character. It is because God had a specific and special role for Zerubbabel in accomplishing His purposes. Here's what God wanted to do:

"I will shake heaven and earth. I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and those who ride in them... (Haggai 2:21-22).

Zerubbabel was the man God picked for that task:

"I will take you, Zerubbabel...and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you..." Haggai 2:23.

Throughout the Bible we can trace the pattern of God choosing an individual when He wants to accomplish some special purpose.
  • When God wanted to do something about wicked humanity but still save some, He chose Noah (Genesis 6:5-14).
  • When God planned to free the Israelites from the tyranny of Midian, He chose Gideon (Judges 6:11-16).
  • When God wanted the Gospel spread to Gentiles, kings, and Jews, He chose Saul/Paul (Acts 9:1-16).

In his book Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says:

God never asks people to dream up something to do for Him. We do not sit down and dream what we want to do for God and then call God in to help us accomplish it. The pattern in Scripture is that we submit ourselves to God. Then we wait until God shows us what He is about to do, or we watch what God is already doing around us and join Him"  - Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God, Workbook, p. 34.

The challenge for us, then, is to resist going down a self-determined path. It means placing our confidence in God, not ourselves. We seek God's kingdom instead of what the world approves of and admires. We look for God's perspective in every circumstance instead of looking at how circumstances can serve us. Applying this viewpoint to life and work, we wait until we perceive God's activity before we decide what projects we should work on, instead of starting something on our own initiative and then asking God to bless it.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to put this into practice in my life. I need the spiritual perception to see where You are at work. I need wisdom to understand what this means for me. I need courage to cast aside self-generated projects in favour of assignments that come from You. Amen.

MORE: Signet rings

In ancient times, official documents contained a seal.  This was an impression or imprint on the document often made in a blob of wax. It told the recipient that the document was authentic.

Such seals were sometimes imprinted by pressing the ring the ruler wore (a signet ring) into the soft wax.

Wikipedia says of signet rings:
The wearing of signet rings (from Latin "signum" meaning sign) goes back to ancient Egypt; the distinctive personal signature was not developed in antiquity and most documents needed a seal. The tradition continues, especially among the armigerous, in European and some other cultures.  
Because it is used to attest the authority of its bearer, the ring has also been seen as a symbol of his power, which is one explanation for its inclusion in the regalia of certain monarchies. 
From "Seal (emblem)"
 So we see, when God calls Zerubbabel a signet ring, He is referring to the power and authority He has given this man He has chosen for this job.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Come Desire of All Nations

Wise men worshiping Jesus - William Hole
Wise men worshiping Jesus - William Hole
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Haggai 2:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "For thus says the Lord of hosts: once more (it is a little while) I will shake the heaven and earth, the sea and dry land. And I will shake all nations and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory, says the Lord of Hosts." Haggai 2:6-7

Imagine having a clear sense, on a particular day, that God wants to use your tongue for His message. That seems to have been Haggai's experience "on the seventh month, on the twenty-first of the month." Thanks to his cooperation, we have his words to ponder these many years later.

As we read his prophetic message, we get the sense of double, perhaps multiple fulfillments. Some of these predictions came true shortly after Haggai's time, some were for a time in the distant future and some for the end of time. Even in our short  focus passage we see this.

"And I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land. And I will shake all nations" (vs. 6-7) brings to mind passages we have recently read about the great end-of-earth disturbances Jesus predicts in Matthew 24:7,29.

"..and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations ..."(vs. 7) sounds Messianic. It reminds us of Jesus coming to earth as a baby and how representatives of the earth's nations came to Bethlehem to honour Him as King (Matthew 2:1-12).  But there is also a future picture here—one we see in John's vision (Revelation 7:9-10).

"… and I will fill this temple with glory"
is a prophecy that also has multiple fulfillments.

It was fulfilled in a sense when Haggai's contemporaries completed the temple and worship resumed there.

Jesus interpreted "temple" on several levels: the actual building standing in Jerusalem and His own body. His double meaning led to Him making controversial statements like  "'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up' " (John 2:19)— claims which eventually became part of the case that ended in His crucifixion (Mark 15:48; Matthew 26:61) and his body-temple being changed to one of resurrected glory.

My Bible's introduction to Haggai explains how this is also a prophecy  for the future:
 "… what God will do in the new temple will one day gain international attention. After an upheaval among the peoples of the Earth, the nations will be drawn to the temple to discover that they had been looking for: the One whom all the nations have desired will be displayed in splendour in the temple. The presence of this One will cause the memory of Solomon's glorious temple to fade so that only Christ's glory remains…" Sam Middlebrook, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1241.

Recent happenings on Jerusalem's Temple Mount show that we are definitely still waiting for the day when "…in this place I will give peace" Haggai 2:9.

As we celebrate the coming of the Desire of All Nations to earth as a baby, let's not lose hope in the fulfillment of the parts of Haggai's prophecy that have yet to be realized.

PRAYER: Dear Desire of All Nations, thank You for coming as a baby. We look forward to the day You return in glory and bring peace. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Monday, December 15, 2014

God stirs the heart

Haggai preaching - Artist unknown
Haggai preaching - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Haggai 1:1-15

TO CHEW ON:
"So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God." Haggai 1:14

The prophet Haggai's ministry  was short—less than four months. He was one of the exiles returned from Persia to Jerusalem in 536. Bible scholars date his ministry in the year 520.

During the 16 years that passed between the exiles' return and Haggai's message the people had begun rebuilding the temple but soon abandoned it in disinterest. Now they were focused on rebuilding their own homes. Trouble is, things weren't working out so well. Their harvests were puny, their food unsatisfying, their clothes not warm enough and there was never enough money.

" 'Why?' says the Lord of hosts. 'Because of My house that is in ruins while every one of you runs to his own house' " - Haggai 1:9.

After hearing Haggai's message the leaders decide to be obedient and finish rebuilding the temple (Haggai 1:12-13). God adds His amen to this: " 'I am with you...' " Haggai 1:13.

I love how Haggai gives us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of why his words were successful: "So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubabbel … Joshua … Johozadak…" Haggai 1:14.

[The Hebrew word for stirred up is ur. It means to rouse, awaken, stir up, excite, raise up, arouse to action, open one's eyes. Other places it's used is of an eagle stirring up its nest (Deuteronomy 32:11); a musical instrument warming up (Psalm 108:2); God awakening the prophet (Isaiah 50:4); and a call to the Lord's arm to "awake"(Isaiah 51:9) - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1243.]

I think we need to pay attention to this whenever we feel the weight of things not right in our own church, city, and country. It was not, finally, Haggai's eloquence that got the leaders and people moving but God stirring hearts.

How do we who aren't leaders aid this process along?
  • Jesus words to pray that God send workers comes to mind - Matthew 9:30.
  • Paul's command to make "supplications, prayers and intercessions" for kings and all who are in authority is another thing we can do. - 1 Timothy 2:1,2.  For, "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes" - Proverbs 21:1.

 PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for Your power over the heart of even the highest earthly ruler's heart. Please stir up the hearts of our leaders, secular and spiritual, to honor and obey You. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Straighten the path

straight path through woods
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:15-28

TO CHEW ON: "He said, 'I am
The voice of one crying in the wilderness;
Make straight the way of the Lord.' " John 1:23



These words of John the Baptist are a quote from Isaiah who even seemed to have John in the picture as he wrote it:
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness;
'Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God."  - Isaiah 40:3.

"Make straight…" What does he mean by that?

[Straight - yashar means direct, to be straight, upright, pleasing good - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 807. ]

It is the word used in one of my favorite verses that promises God's direction to me:
"In all your ways know, recognize and acknowledge Him and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths" - Proverbs 3:6 AMP.

John the Baptist was preparing his listeners for the coming of Jesus when he quoted this. During Advent we too are in a season of preparation. We prepare to celebrate Jesus' coming by buying gifts for others. We prepare programs of music, drama, and readings. We plan menus and shop for food. We clean our "inns" and get them ready for guests. But do we, in the hustle and bustle, neglect to prepare our hearts? To make a straight, direct path for Jesus to come to us, even in the busyness?

Let's take some time this advent season to again appreciate what Jesus' coming means:
  • How it opens the windows of heaven for us:
"Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" - Luke 2:10,11.
  • How it gives us a glimpse into God's own heart:
 "Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?" - John 14:9.
  • How it gives even the most difficult experiences a penumbra of light -
"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live' " - John 11:25.
  • How it dispels the shadows of our most stubborn fear -
"And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise' " - Luke 23:43.

After those reminders of what His presence means, we may confess sin that makes Him feel distant and get rid of the distractions to His presence that the seasonal running to and fro erect. With these straightened paths He will be with us in our kitchens, banquet halls, malls, the traffic, the church, the hospital… We will experience Him as Immanuel this Christmas!


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to clear away the rubble, do away with the detours so that You have a direct route to my most inner self this Advent season. Amen.
 

MORE: Third Sunday of Advent

Today the church celebrates the third Sunday of Advent. The liturgy for the day begins with this Collect:
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

If you have an advent wreath with a candle for each Sunday of the season, today you light the third candle.

What do these candles signify? Tanya Gulevich's Encyclopedia of Christmas tells us the various meanings people have given to the four Advent candles:

~ The four gifts of the Holy Spirit: HOPE, JOY, PEACE, LOVE.

~ The themes of the Advent season: HOPE, PREPARATION, JOY, LOVE

~ Characters in the Nativity story: PROPHETS, ANGELS, SHEPHERDS, MAGI

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible,
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)




Saturday, December 13, 2014

The seed of tears

woman crying
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 126:1-6


TO CHEW ON: "Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing
Bringing his sheaves with him." - Psalm 126:5,6

Have you ever thought of your griefs and disappointments as seed? That's what Eugene Peterson suggests they are:
"All suffering, all pain, all emptiness, all disappointment is seed: Sow it in God and he will finally bring a crop of joy from it" - Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 100.
This seed doesn't come in paper packets or burlap sacks but falls from our eyes as tears.

An article in my Bible writes about our tears in another way, as ministry.
"Tears in Scripture play a unique role in spiritual breakthrough. Here...the planting of seeds accompanied by a spirit of brokenness will not only bring a spiritual harvest of results but will leave the sower with a spirit of rejoicing. This passage along with numerous others...pictures a variety of purposes and functions related to what might be termed "the ministry of tears." These are:
  • Tears of sorrow and suffering - 2 Kings 20:5.
  • Tears of joy - Genesis 33:4.
  • Tears of compassion - John 11:35.
  • Tears of desperation - Esther 4:1,3.
  • Tears of travail or giving birth - Isaiah 42:14.
  • Tears of repentance - Joel 2:12,13, Dick Eastman, "Tears and Brokenness in Victorious Warfare," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 787.
and let me add another:
  • Tears that God has seen, collected and that have persuaded Him to come to my defense - Psalm 56: 8,9.
When you and I go through difficult times,  let's view our tears not as a sign of weakness or lack of faith, but part of the cycle of spiritual sowing and reaping. Peterson again:
"There is plenty of suffering on both sides, past and future. The joy comes because God knows how to wipe away tears, and, in his resurrection work, create the smile of new life. Joy is what God gives, not what we work up. Laughter is the delight that things are working together for good to those who love God, not the giggles that betray the nervousness of a precarious defense system. The joy that develops in the Christian way of discipleship is an overflow of spirits that comes from feeling good not about yourself but about God. We find that his ways are dependable, his promises sure" - p. 100, 101.
PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that even tears have a kingdom purpose. When sorrow, pain, or confusion come, help me to face my situation with faith and expectation, knowing that my tears have a place in Your plan. Amen.


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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Friday, December 12, 2014

Ripe for a fall

Figs - Nahum 3:12
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Nahum 3:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "All your strongholds are fig trees with ripened figs;
They fall into the mouth of the eater." - Nahum 3:12


I wonder how the people living in Nahum's time felt about his prophecies. Did they think he was crazy, predicting the fall of such a strong, brutal nation and in graphic detail? Or perhaps they thought his writings were patriotic wishful thinking? Or maybe they did take him seriously, shining his words onto the bleak future like a miner's lamp lights an underground tunnel?

His predictions remind me of a book I read a while back. Implosion: Can America Recover From its  Economic & Spiritual Challenges In Time? by Joel Rosenberg predicts the possible implosion of America unless there are turnarounds on many fronts, especially the spiritual. He begins:

"Is it possible that the American economy—and more broadly, American society in general—is not simply facing serious challenges or a season of decline? Could America actually collapse in the not-too-distant future if serious, fundamental, and sweeping changes are not made soon? Once, such a question would have struck most Americans as ludicrous—even offensive. But times have changed ....

"Many Americans genuinely fear that God is preparing to remove his hand of protection and blessing from our country—or perhaps already has. They fear that unlike previous dark times in our national history, God may not intend to help us turn things around and get us back on the right track" - Implosion p. 1, 10.

He goes on to detail the situation the country is in, delving into many subjects in chapters titled: "America's Rising Anxiety," "Signs of the Times," "The Significance of the Rebirth of Israel," and "What Happens to America in the Last Days?"

He paints several possible scenarios of catastrophe in "The Financial Implosion Scenario," "The War and Terrorism Scenario," and "The Natural Disaster Scenarios," showing us how little it would take to bring a country even as strong and seemingly vigorous as America to its knees. (Of course, we have only to remember back to the impact of the terrorist attack of 9-11 and the devastation caused two years ago by hurricane Sandy to grasp the truth of even America's fragility.)

Rosenberg feels that America is not unlike that Assyrian fig tree with its conquest as easy as shaking fruit from a tree, and that only a great spiritual awakening will turn the situation around.

Though I live in Canada, where many things aren't in quite the same state as the U.S., the moral climate here is, if anything, even more secular and godless. The question for us is, what can we as individual citizens of these countries—that seem intent on marching to their doom—do about our ripe-for-judgment nations?  Here is the answer suggested by Rosenberg at the end of his book:

"... I believe with all my heart that if we are to avoid implosion as a nation, we must repent of our sins and turn to Christ—personally and nationally.

"Will you join me in that endeavor? Will you pray with me for our nation, for the church, and for a Third Great Awakening? Will you examine your own heart and seek your own personal revival? Will you work to engage your church and your culture with the truths of Scripture? Will you ask God to show you whether he wants you to be involved in political change, and if so, how? .... What are you and I willing to devote to saving this country?" -  p. 348

 PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see Canada as You see it, and to do what I can to be salt and light in my little sphere of influence. Amen.

MORE: Christians and politics

In the last chapter of Implosion, Rosenberg suggests five answers to the question: "What role—if any—should Christians play in politics?" (Of course in the book he elaborates on each suggestion.)

Christians need to:

1. Pray faithfully and consistently for wisdom and direction for our national leaders.
2. Exercise their right to vote and mobilize others to vote as well.
3. Some Christians need to run for elected office, serve in some other governmental capacity, or serve as advisors to national leaders who are affecting the future of our country.
4. Some Christians need to stay completely away from the political arena.
5. Christians must not become addicted to partisanship - pp. 336-344.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chilling words

Battle Nineveh - Nahum 2:1-13
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Nahum 2:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "'Behold, I am against you,' says the Lord of hosts. 'I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall be heard no more.'" Nahum 2:13

Nahum 2 predicts the fall of Nineveh in vivid poetic language.
"He who scatters has come up before your face.
Man the fort!
Watch the road!
Strengthen your flanks!" - Nahum 2:1

These staccato lines telegraph the urgency within Nineveh as a coalition of conquered nations (Medes, Babylonians and Scythians)  attacks. The Ninevites prepare their weapons, put on their scarlet uniforms. Soon war chariots are whipping through the streets, "like torches," "like lightning" (bringing to mind scenes from movies like Ben Hur).

The attackers destroy the palace (Nahum 2:6). My Bible's notes explain how:

"Besides the Tigris River on the west, the Khoser, a spring-fed stream, traversed Nineveh. A canal also ran through the city. Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) had built a series of dams to control water flow. The invaders likely closed the gates of the rivers to stop the flow of water and make their approach to Nineveh easier, then suddenly opened the gates to release torrents of water and unleash a destructive flood on the city. The palace, likely constructed of dried mud bricks, would literally dissolve" - Timothy Mark Powell, notes on Nahum, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1219.

The city is "...empty, desolate, and waste" (Nahum 2:10) because God was against her.

That had not always been the case. Remember Jonah, and how he preached destruction to Nineveh, they repented and God relented? But now they had run out of chances.

We do well to take a lesson from Nineveh for ourselves. God is long-suffering and patient with us (Ezekiel 20:44, 2 Peter 3:9). But there will come a time when His patience is exhausted (Numbers 14:18; John 3:36; Romans 1:18; 2:5). How dreadful the thought of hearing the words "I am against you" directed at us!

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for being a God in whom love and justice are in perfect balance. Help me to live with Your righteous standards in mind. Amen.

MORE: Nineveh ruins


Nineveh - Nahum 2:1-13

The Royal Lion Hunt at the British Museum from the North Palace Nineveh 645-635BC. The king is shooting arrows while attendants repulse an attack from a wounded lion.

From Wikipedia.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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