Friday, May 22, 2015

Prophecies so accurate they're spooky

Judas - Artist unknown
Judas - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 11:1-17

TO CHEW ON:
"So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, 'Throw it to the potter'—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter." Zechariah 11:12,13

Does today's focus verse remind you of another passage in the Bible that involves 30 pieces of silver, that silver thrown into the temple, and the money used for something to do with a potter?

What about the story of a traitorous disciple named Judas? Read the account in Matthew 27:3-19. There are identical elements in both passage, only Zechariah's was written about 400 years before Matthew's historical reporting of the story. The similarity almost gives one shivers!

Zechariah is full of such messianic prophecies. My Bible's introduction says:
"Zechariah is sometimes referred to as the most messianic of all the Old Testament books. Chapters 9-14 are the most quoted section of the prophets in the passion narratives of the Gospels. In the Revelation Zechariah is quoted more than any prophet except Ezekiel" - David Warren Shibley,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1248.

Note these prophetic references to Messiah in Zechariah as he writes of:
  • The Lord's servant the Branch - Zechariah 3:8, of man the Branch - Zechariah 6:12 and that Branch as ruler and priest - Zechariah 6:13.
  • False shepherds - Zechariah 11:4-11. This brings to mind Jesus' words about good and bad shepherds in John 10:1-30.
  • Messiah's triumphal entry into Jerusalem - Zechariah 9:9, compare Matthew 21:5 and Mark 11:7-10.
  • Messiah's betrayal for the sum of 30 pieces of silver (noted above).
  • His crucifixion - Zechariah 12:10.
  • His suffering - Zechariah 13:7.
  • His second coming - Zechariah 14:4.

The Bible's reputation and track record as a book of reliable prophecy is one of the reasons I trust its message in other categories as well, like its way of salvation and its ethical and moral principles. What an amazing library of books, authored by many individuals over centuries, yet with a consistent message throughout. I look back at how it has come true in the past, then look ahead with confidence that its predictions for the future will come true as well.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for the amazing word I know as the Bible. Help it to stay fresh and powerful to me as I apply it to my life and obey it. 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.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

They shall return

Old passports
"Old Passports" - Image from RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 10:1-12

TO CHEW ON:
"I will sow them among the peoples,
And they shall remember Me in far countries …
And they shall return…
Until no more room is found for them." - Zechariah 10:9,10


The prophecy Zechariah is making here, has it already happened or is it still in the future?

My Bible's notes say about this passage:

"Though the covenant people be sown among the nations, God promises that they shall return. This prophecy was partially fulfilled in Zechariah's day in the return of the exiled Jews from Babylon. The prophecy will have its final fulfillment in the New Jerusalem, where not only Jews but all nations come to worship God" - David Warren Shibley, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1259.

Hmmm. I'm not finding the above totally convincing. On the hunch that Zechariah's prophecy is being fulfilled literally in our day, as Jews from around the world stream back into Israel, I looked around for statistics and found the "Latest Population Statistics for Israel."

According to the report, Israel's population growth was 2% in 2014, much of it from immigration. Top countries from which Jews are emigrating to Israel: Ukraine, France, Russia and the U.S. From the report linked above:

"A study performed by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that one in four Jewish individuals currently live in a country other than the one they were born in.  In contrast, one in twenty Christians and one in twenty five Muslims live in a country other than that of their birth.  This makes Jewish individuals the world's top migrants."

Another article from the "Word Population Review" says this about population projections for Israel:
"Atypical of the population growth rate for a developed country, the State of Israel has a rapid growth rate. Since the establishment of the State, the population has increased approximately tenfold, primarily as a result of the high immigration of Jews into the country."

Some prominent theologians believe that the church has replaced Israel in God's plan and that prophecies of a renewed Israel apply to the church, not literal Israel ("Replacement Theology").

The writer of my Bible's notes seems to tilt in that direction. From his "Introduction to Zechariah":
"Many Bible students believe the promises of a restored Zion are to apply primarily to a cleansed, invigorated church" - David Warren Shibley, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1248.

I don't agree. I believe these prophecies and promises also concern the literal Jewish people and are even now being fulfilled before our eyes. Let's continue to watch world events with an eye to how God is fitting things together in fulfilled prophecy in our time. And let's continue to pray for the country of Israel and the Jewish people.

PRAYER: Dear God, it's exciting to see things prophesied in the Bible happening before my eyes. I pray for Jewish people everywhere, especially in places where antisemitism is again on the rise. Most of all, may they find a home in Jesus. 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.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Your King is coming!

Palm Sunday scene in stained glass - Artist unknown
Palm Sunday scene in stained glass - Artist unknown
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Zechariah 9:1-17

TO CHEW ON: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold your king is coming to you
He is just and having salvation
Lowly and riding on a donkey
A colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9


For anyone familiar with the Bible I'm sure today's verse recalls an event from Jesus’ life – along with, perhaps, the memory of waving palm branches in Sunday School or singing songs like “Hosanna Loud Hosanna”  or “All Glory Laud and Honor.”  Here the prophet Zechariah predicts, 400 years before the event, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We celebrate it on Palm Sunday.

Old Testament prophecies fulfilled hundreds of years later illustrate how remarkable the Bible is. Its storyline of creation, fall, redemption and consummation (ending in heaven and hell) is still playing out.

Though donkeys might not seem an appropriate mode of transportation for nobility, other Old Testament rulers used them. Jair, a judge, had thirty sons who rode thirty donkeys to their thirty towns (Judges 20:4). Another judge, Abdon, stabled seventy donkeys to accommodate his sons and grandsons (Judges 12:14).

Donkeys were a symbol of humble, patient service. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not only did the people recognize Him as a king, but one who came in humility.

That day the people of Jerusalem “rejoice(ed) greatly” by taking off their cloaks and spreading them on the ground for the animal to walk over. This was another ancient custom of the recognition of a ruler (2 Kings 9:11-13).

They also waved palm branches – something that was reminiscent of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40). By spreading their clothes and palm branches in front of the donkey carrying Jesus, they proclaimed Him as their expected king and deliverer – the Messiah.

Of course we know the story of how a few days later all that changed. The crowds shouted another verdict – and Jesus was crucified. But God’s plan was not thwarted. Instead, Jesus’ death and resurrection proved Him king of so much more than just the nation of Israel in 1 B.C. (or however that year is designated).

The same prophetic Bible that predicted Jesus entry into Jerusalem predicts His eventual coming again as King (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Timothy 6:13-15; see also Revelation 19:15-16 and Revelation 17:14). Do we believe this will actually happen? Do we live with the expectation of this in mind? For just as surely as Old Testament prophecies came true, this one will too. It could happen today!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I acknowledge You as King of my life. Help me to live today with the expectation of Your imminent return in mind. 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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Delivered from idols

All My Money - RGB Stock Photos
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 37:15-28

TO CHEW ON:
"They shall not defile themselves any more with their idols nor with the detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then  they shall be My people and I will be their God." Ezekiel 37:23

If you're at all familiar with the Old Testament you'll know how big the temptation to worship idols was for the Israelites and how often they capitulated to it. Here God makes the promise that when this exile finally comes to an end, they will be cured for good of their inclination toward idolatry.

We have only to observe how many Hebrew words there are for "idols"—Easton's Bible Dictionary lists 18—to realize how multi-faceted this problem was. The two expressions for idols here: "idols" and "detestable things" are gilluwl and shiqquuts. Besides meaning "idol" these words infer contempt, dung, refuse, filth and impurity. Another word for sin in our passage—"transgression" (pasha)—means "rebellion."

Their release from this ungodly worship, these impure practices and rebelliousness comes in two ways:

1. They are removed from the source of temptation: "but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places."

2. They are cleansed and set apart: "but I will … cleanse them" and from Ezekiel 37:28: "I the Lord will sanctify Israel" (sanctify means to set apart, declare holy). 

What does this have to do with us? Plenty.

We may not bow down to god-images of gold, wood or stone, but how easily we give our allegiance to other things than God. In the powerful book and video series Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart, pastor Kelly Idelman exposes modern idols. What are these idols and how do we recognize them? From the book description:

"According to Idleman, idolatry isn't an issue it is the issue.

"By asking insightful questions, Idleman reveals which false gods each of us are allowing on the throne of our lives. What do you sacrifice for? What makes you mad? What do you worry about? Whose applause do you long for? We're all wired for worship, but we often end up valuing and honoring the idols of money, sex, food, romance, success and many others that keep us from the intimate relationship with God that we desire." (Emphasis added.)

Once we've recognized our false gods, we can begin to deal with them—and in the way God helped Israel do it:

1. Remove ourselves from the place of temptation. This brings to mind Jesus' words from the Lord's prayer: " 'Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil' " - Matthew 6:13. 

2. Ask God to change us / cleanse us and cooperate with Him through the process. I love verses from the previous chapter of Ezekiel in this regard:

"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them - " Ezekiel 36:25, 26, 27.


PRAYER: Dear God, please make me sensitive to my own idols. Help me to avoid temptation and cooperate with You as You show me my sin and soften and change my heart by Your Spirit. 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, May 18, 2015

The breath of hope

Bambus in the wind
Image from RGB Stock Photos
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 37:1-14

TO CHEW ON:
"Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Surely I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live.' " Ezekiel 37:5

The people with whom Ezekiel would have first shared this vision were far from home. Their beautiful Jerusalem had been ravaged and they were living in Babylon amongst those who spoke a different language, ate different food, had differed customs, and worshiped a different God than they did. Ezekiel's vision would have filled them with hope.

The hope begins with the action in verse Ezekiel 37:5 - God causing breath to enter those bones.

[Breath - ruach is breath, wind, spirit  of living breath in man and animals, spirit as the seat of emotions and mental acts, and the Spirit of God.]

Ezekiel's vision has various interpretations. According to my Bible's study notes,* this vision may be:
- a prophecy of the post-exile return of the exiled Jews from Babylon.
- an Old Testament picture of bodily resurrection.
- an analogy for spiritual regeneration and the birth of the church.
- a prophecy of national Israel being restored in end times.

If we take it as an analogy for spiritual regeneration and apply it to our own lives, it can also give hope to us.

Spiritual life in the Bible begins with that birth / wind of the Spirit. Jesus, talking to Nicodemus about being born again, used the picture of wind: "' Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born again." The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes form and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit' " - John 3:7,8.

Spiritual work continues with the Spirit's enabling. After His resurrection, Jesus came to the disciples before He commissioned them and "He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' " - John 20:22.

Spiritual work takes off by the power of the Spirit. Jesus told the disciples to wait for the Spirit's empowering and when He came on the Day of Pentecost and baptized them all, He came with "… a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind…" - Acts 2:2.

Whatever that pile of dead bones is in our situation, God can also revive it with His life-giving breath. Like the exiles of Ezekiel's time found hope in this picture of breath coming into the dead bones of their situation, may the thought that the Spirit can breathe spiritual life into what seems dead to us also fill us with hope today.

PRAYER: Dear God, please come into the discouraging things, the disappointments and areas of my life that are dead with Spirit breath of life. And we remind You of our loved ones that appear spiritually dead. Please revive them with Your breath of spiritual life. Amen.
* New Spirit-Filled Life Bible study notes on Ezekiel authored by Howard M. Ervin, p. 1098.

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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, May 17, 2015

Jesus' glory—our glory

The Transfiguration by Carl Bloch
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 17:1-26

TO CHEW ON: " 'And the glory which You gave Me I have given to them, that they may be one just as We are one.' " John 17:22

As I read today's passage—Jesus' prayer from John 17—one word pops out at me, repeated (in several forms) eight times. It's the word "glory" ("glorified," and "glorify").

*Jesus says that God the Father will glorify Him—the Son— so that He (the Son) might reflect that glory back to the Father (John 17:1).
*He reminds God that He (Jesus) has already "glorified" Him (God) by finishing the work God gave Him to do (John 17:4).

*He prays God will glorify Him (and God the Father) "with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:5).

*He says that He is glorified in those that are His—His disciples and followers (John 17:10).

*He prays that God will give His followers across the ages the glory that the Father has given Him (John 17:22). 
*And finally, He prays that they will see His glory—that glory He had "before the foundation of the earth" (John 17:24, cf. John 17:5).

[The word glory used here is the noun doxa, which means opinion (in the NT always good, resulting in praise and honor). It also means splendor, brightness, magnificence, excellence, preeminence, dignity, majesty.

Glorify - doxazo (a verb), is to praise, honor, extol, magnify, celebrate, make glorious, adorn, clothe, render something excellent, make it renowned.]


One gets glimmerings of something very big and beyond our comprehension here, a glory and majesty we can only imagine. We also gets the sense of what Jesus gave up when He came to earth as a human being.

We see more facets of Jesus' glory as we read about it in other places in the Bible.
  • It was prophesied - Isaiah 63:1.
  • John recognized it in Jesus - John 1:14.
  • The disciples got glimpses of it on the Mount of Transfiguration - Luke 9:32.
  • It will be very obvious at Jesus' second coming - Matthew 16:27 (to the chagrin of some and delight of others - Matthew 24:30,31).
  • In heaven it will be shared by the apostles - Matthew 19:28.
  • We as Jesus' followers can begin to share in it and reflect it now as Jesus prayed - John 17:22. One way this happens is through our unity: "… that they may be one just as We are one."
Paul gives us another sense of how it comes about in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where he describes it as coming about through seeing Jesus in the Word and allowing the Holy Spirit to work out what we see in our own lives:
"And all of us, as with unveiled face because we continued to behold in the Word of God as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another for this comes from the Lord Who is the Spirit" - 2 Corinthians 3:18 AMP.

Wow! May that "ever increasing splendor, from one degree of glory to another" be working itself out in my life and yours day by day.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus thank You for giving up Your eternal glory to be humiliated as a human and then dying to take the punishment for my sin. The glory that comes to me as a result of this is totally undeserved. Help me to understand how to translate Your glory into my life and circumstances. 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.

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, May 16, 2015

Tribulations—bench-presses for the spirit

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 16:16-33

TO CHEW ON: "These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." John 16:33


Given the choice, we would probably pick peace over tribulation. But according to Jesus, those that are "in Me" will have both. For though in Christ we have the peace that comes from knowing our relationship with God is right, until we die, we have no choice but to be "in the world" where we will experience tribulation.

[Tribulation - thilipsis is "pressure, oppression, stress, anguish, tribulation, adversity, affliction, crushing, squashing, squeezing, distress. Imagine placing your hand in a stack of loose items and manually compressing them. That is thilipsis, putting a lot of pressure on that which is free and unfettered. Thilipsis is like spiritual bench-pressing. The word is used of crushing grapes or olives in a press" - Dick Mills, "Word Wealth," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1474.]

I know there are degrees of tribulation, and that the tribulation we in western nations experience is a fraction of what Christians in some places go through. Yet we do sense it. We find ourselves at odds with our society's beliefs about beginnings (everything just happened by chance versus God creating), of morals and ethics (society's changing consensus versus the Bible's standard) and of what really matters in life (one's happiness versus God's "Well done"). We even find ourselves squeezed and pressed by ourselves: "For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not do .... O wretched man that I am..." Romans 7:15,24.

It's easy to view tribulation as bad and something to be got free from at all costs. But there is another way to look at it. It can be a means to make us vital and strong in the way situps and treadmill running and bench-press exercises strengthen our bodies. Oswald Chambers says:

"Life without war is impossible either in nature or in grace. The basis of physical, mental, moral, and spiritual life is antagonism. This is the open fact of life.

Health is the balance between physical life and external nature, and it is maintained only by sufficient vitality on the inside against things on the outside ....

Morally it is the same. Everything that does not partake of the nature of virtue is the enemy of virtue in me ....

And spiritually it is the same. Jesus said, 'In the world you shall have tribulation.' .... I have to learn to score off the things that come against me, and in that way produce the balance of holiness; then it becomes a delight to meet the opposition" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, December 4th reading (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to grow stronger by the way I face the tribulation that comes my way. Amen.

MORE: Tribulation around the world

Persecution.org is a website that disseminates news about the persecution and tribulation experienced by Christians around the world.

The website is an initiative of International Christian Concern which "acts as a bridge between believers in free countries and believers in persecuted countries by sending encouragement, prayers and aid over the bridge while bringing back news, requests and love" (from the "Get the most out of Persecution.org page).

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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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