10 December 2016

Stone 37 - John

The Gospel of John is the fourth and final gospel found in the New Testament. John, however, is often the answer that I hear when someone asks where they should start reading in the Bible. One of my favorite quotes refers to a fifth gospel.
There are five gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian. Most people will never read the first four. - Rodney (Gypsy) Smith
 John is jam-packed with information. Let's take a closer peek.


John begins with what I might suggest is a relatively well recognized verse. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) Verse two goes on to add that "He was with God in the beginning."

Right out of the gates, John works to establish the deity and power of Jesus. "...apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created." (John 1:3)

John declares Jesus as God and also as distinct from God establishing support for the trinity.

John moves into describing the first miracle performed by Jesus - turning the water into wine.

Another, even more widely recognized verse is John 3:16.

**It dawned on me as I read this again that the verse comes during the conversation Jesus is having with Nicodemus and the text gives the impression that the events of the cross have already taken place. Also, an interesting comparison to the teachings of the Quran...
In the Bible, John 3:16 states that God gave his one and only son whereas in the Quran Surah 23:91 states that God has not taken to himself a son, nor is there any other deity besides him. These statements are contradictory. Since God either had a son or he did not, both statements cannot be true.

Jesus later meets a Samaritan woman at the well and asks for some water. He interestingly offers up some water of his own and states that those who drink it will never thirst again. (John 4:14). This is a more striking encounter because the Jews would have preferred to steer clear of the Samaritans. Jesus, however, came for everyone - even the gentiles.

John recalls a couple more miracles - the healing of the official's son. Jesus simply tells the official to go and that his son would live. He did not even need to go to his son. The official heads home and is met partway there by his slaves who share that the boy is alive. (John 4:51-53)

Jesus heals the sick man at the pool. I found it interesting that the man had been sick for 38 years and when asked if he wanted to be well again, his response was that he did not have anyone to lift him into the water. Jesus simply tells him to get up and walk and he does.

**Here are a couple examples of "the Word". In both cases, Jesus only spoke and it was so. I comparison I would make to the Genesis account.

Now we find a couple more miracles. Jesus feeds the 5,000 and walks on water. These are likely to be well known miracles. Taking the five loaves and two fish and multiplying that to feed everyone. While often referred to as the feeding of the 5,000, careful examination of the text shows that the number of men was about 5,000. If we then consider the number of women and children present, the number who actually ate were much greater.

The day after feeding them all, Jesus addresses the crowd that followed him indicating that they only followed because they got a free meal (John 6:26).

**Jesus talks about eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood. (John 6:53) LOL - I can only imagine some of the looks on their faces as they assumed this was some sort of invitation to cannibalism. As a result (v 66) a bunch of them quit following Jesus.

John 7:24 says "Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgement." We are called to discern right from wrong, good from evil.

Miracle number six is the healing of the man born blind. I find some humor in this one. So here is the blind guy who is able to see now. The fact that he was born blind makes it so much more astonishing for those around him. They drag the guy before the Pharisees to be questioned about how he can see now. They were upset that this took place on a Sabbath day. The Pharisees then bring in the parents and ask if it is the son they say was born blind and how is it that he can now see. The parents are like "We don't know. He is our son that was born blind. Why don't you ask him?"
So they ask him again and he is like I already told you and you won't listen. (John 9:27)
LOL - how common today.

In John 10:11 Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." In 10:27 He says, "My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me."
**I have often thought about end times stuff. Let's take a peek back at Matthew 24:4-5. "Then Jesus replied to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many." I read this and then I think of John 10:27.
Now, I enjoy engaging in local community theatre and my wife comes to watch. During a show, cast members do not get to go and mingle with the audience. At intermission times, we remain hidden behind the curtain or in dressing rooms. There was a time when I was back stage during intermission and I heard talking and some laughter. Even though I could not see her through the curtain, I immediately recognized the voice and laughter as that of my wife. I recognized it because I know her. I wonder if it will be the same when Jesus returns. Though I have not heard Jesus speak audibly as if next to me, I think those who follow Him will recognize Him.

Chapter 11 shares the death and resurrection of Lazarus. Consider the following three verses... John 11:35-37.
Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?"
Verse 35 is quite popular as it is referred to as the shortest verse in the Bible, although I would argue that there is a shorter one. Verse 36 is simple recognition of Jesus' love for Lazarus as the Jews see the tears. But verse 37...

Verse 37 gives us a glimpse into the hearts of those Jews standing by and hints at a very real issue that continues to plague people to this day. A common objection to the existence of God goes something like this...
If God is all-good and all-powerful, He would have prevented that.
John 11:11 informs us that Jesus is aware that Lazarus has died. Verse 4 informs us that it will not end in death but is for the glory of God.
Jesus had a plan that the others were not aware of and they make the mistake of trying to judge God and his actions by human standards.

In Chapter 12, Jesus was with Lazarus just prior to the Passover and Judas was also there. In the account, Mary takes some oil and puts on Jesus' feet and wipes it with her hair. Judas speaks up since he recognizes the oil as a pure and expensive variety by asking why the oil was not sold and the money given to the poor. As verse 6 points out, this was really a heart issue for Judas. he was thinking of himself in that moment and not really the poor. Instead, Judas chose to belittle Mary because he did not get an opportunity to steal from the money bag. Interesting.

Now Jesus is in town and many are aware of what He did for Lazarus and have started to believe. Oh! but read verses 42 and 43!
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
Ouch

In Chapter 15 verse 19 states, "If we were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you."

Look around - open a newspaper - watch the news - It does not take long to see the division, the pain, and the evil around every corner. I must consider where I fit into this. Am I part of the givers or the receivers? I should strive to be a receiver, shouldn't I?

The book of John moves to the account of the crucifixion and resurrection and I want to again point out the awesome question that Pilate asks of Jesus that we do not get to hear an answer for.
Verse 38 - "What is truth?" said Pilate.

I might define truth as that which corresponds to reality. Thoughts and opinions have no bearing on truth as truth stands independent of what anyone thinks about it.

John's gospel serves to help show the truth of who Jesus is.

Please enjoy these videos on the book of John from our friends over at Join the Bible Project. I see that the URL has changed but the old ones still seem to work for now.




Until next time...

19 November 2016

Stone 36 - Luke

The gospel of Luke. Luke, as it turns out is a rather noteworthy historian and known for his ability to research. He lays out a great deal of information in this book. We will only scratch the surface of it.


The book starts off with the births of both John the Baptist and of Jesus. One interesting inclusion in this account is Zechariah, the father of John. Since he did not initially believe what was told to him, he was made mute until after his son was born (Luke 1:20, 63-64). Chapter two gives us some information about the birth of Jesus. We do not get the full on nativity scene but we do hear about the shepherds who watch their flocks by night (Luke 2:8). The shepherds head out to see Jesus in the feeding trough and then proceed to spread the news (Luke 2:16-17).

Included in Luke is the recollection of Jesus at the age of 12 when he stayed behind at the temple while everyone else headed home (Luke 2:41-50). I can only imagine the horror of Joseph and Mary... They made the assumption he was in the traveling party and managed to go a full day before looking and realizing he was not with them. They did not find him for three days (Luke 2:46).

Now we segue to John the Baptist. He is a bit older now and is called to head out to the wilderness and proclaim repentance. Jesus shows up and gets baptized too.

It is here that Luke brings in another genealogy of Jesus and tells of the time that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. He also includes the report of Jesus who is rejected in Nazareth, his hometown. Jesus proceeds through his ministry by performing several acts of healing.

  1. Jesus drives out the unclean spirit
  2. Heals Simon's mother-in-law and many others
  3. Cleansed a leper
  4. Heals and forgives the guy on the stretcher.
  5. Heals a man with a paralyzed hand
Luke 5:31 is an often quoted verse that I like.
Jesus replied to them, "The healthy don't need a doctor, but the sick do."
**In the same way that you do not wait until you feel better to go to the doctor. One does not need to wait until they are "cleaned up" before going to church.

We read about the sermon on the mount from Luke's perspective and then hear about the centurion and his sick slave. What I like about this particular event is that the centurion tells Jesus that he is also a man of authority who is able to tell people what to do and have them obey. The centurion tells Jesus that he (the centurion) is not worthy to have him (Jesus) under his roof and to simply give the word and that his servant would be cured (Luke 7:7).

**This is another example of faith. In Luke 7:9, Jesus turns to the crowd and declares that he had not found so great a faith even in Israel. The centurion had probably heard about Jesus and all that he had done. That would explain why people were sent to get him in the first place. "What!? Jesus is in town? Go and get him that my servant might be saved!" The centurion knew of the power of Jesus such that all he had to do was give the word and it would be so. That is not believing without any evidence - it is trusting.

There are many parables that come throughout the book and an entire post could probably be written on each one so I will not address them here.

I read about the rich young ruler in chapter 18. What I find interesting here is that the ruler begins by saying "Good Teacher". Jesus responds by asking why the man calls him good and states that no one is good but God.
**We are all sinful. We are only "good" in so far as we have defined it socially. Remember, God sets the standard of good and none of us have met or will be able to meet that standard. Fortunately, Jesus and his death on the cross has given us a chance to be seen as blameless on the day of judgement.

It would seem evident, then, that there is a whole different standard of good that we are missing.

Indeed, what follows are some accounts of men attempting to trap Jesus so that they might have cause to destroy him (Luke 19:47, 20:19). How familiar this is! Can you think of a time when you knew the truth would expose you and ruin your plans so you try to suppress it? Can you think of a time when you were the bearer of such truth and have had people try to suppress you? Have you simply been an outsider seeing this play out between others?

**I don't know about you but I have seen things like this very often.

In chapter 20 the authority of Jesus is challenged directly by simply asking him by what authority does he do things (Luke 20:2). Then they try to trick him by asking about paying taxes (Luke 20:22) and again by asking about some convoluted string of marriages (Luke 20:27-33).

Jesus is betrayed by Judas and soon finds himself being sentenced to crucifixion.

Here are a couple videos on Luke from our friends over at Join the Bible Project.




15 October 2016

Stone 35 - Mark

The book of Mark is the second gospel account and it is no surprise that there is a great deal of similarity among them. Let's take a look at what mark has to say...


Hop Right In!
Mark starts out quoting the Old Testament about how a messenger will come (Isa 40:3, Mal 3:1) and immediately we read about John the Baptist, Jesus getting baptized, and a whopping two verses about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. So in 13 verses we have caught up through about four chapters of Matthew.

Mark does not recount the birth of Jesus but gets right to His ministry.

Jesus heads out and gathers a few disciples - Simon, Andrew, James, and John (Mark 1:16-20) and then we read about the driving out of an unclean spirit.

Mark is interested in establishing the authority of Jesus.

**I find this to be very interesting. Mark 1:24
The man with the unclean spirit says - "What do you have to do with us, Jesus - Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God!" What do you get from that...? Even the unclean spirits know who who He is! Nobody even had to tell them. The spirits, however, have a different ability to sense that perhaps... because an awful lot of people refused to believe it. So Jesus has barely gotten started with His ministry and the evil spirits have already publicly declared who He is. Fascinating!

Jesus responds by driving the spirit out of the man (Mark 1:25).

We then read some accounts of Jesus performing some healing and driving out of demons. People came in droves! (Mark 1:33)

Note that Jesus does all of these things but asks that it remain undercover (Mark 1:43-44). Yeah, well that would be pretty hard, I think, to keep something like that under wraps - being healed of leprosy.

More Than Expected
In chapter two we read about some more large numbers gathered around Jesus. Imagine the conviction of the five men - four of which carried their friend in on a stretcher because he was paralyzed! They believed that Jesus was someone who could do something about the paralysis. So convinced and so determined that they broke through the roof of the house and lowered him in because they could not get through the crowd of people (Mark 2:4).

**The visual is mind blowing to me. I cannot help but think what kind of lawsuit would come from that if it were to happen today...

Now consider carefully Mark 2:5  "Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

**Wait, What? Your sins are forgiven? I am guessing that is not why they came. They did not show up with their paralyzed buddy because Jesus was a forgiver of sins but because he was healing people and so "Hey Jesus! We got a guy here on a stretcher! He really needs some healing! Help us next! Help us next! And all the people in the room shouting "NO FAIR!", "I was here first!" or "Hey! He's budging." or "Hey! Who is going to fix my roof!?"

They got something they did not expect. Remember that these guys were determined. So convinced that Jesus could heal them that they busted through the roof to have that chance.

"Seeing their FAITH, Jesus told the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." (emphasis mine)

We often hear about how faith is some sort of blind belief without evidence but I think these guys were acting out of the same kind of faith that we have that the chair will hold us up when we sit on it and they acted on that faith. They probably heard many testimonies, saw others being healed, etc. They had good reason to believe.

They got way more than they expected. While everyone in the room is gazing upon this guy descending from the roof on a stretcher, there is probably not a whole lot of doubt as to why he was brought there. He was paralyzed - a physically visible characteristic of the man. I will go on record saying that I doubt he was simply a really good actor. There was also a lot of people there that could testify to the truth of his paralysis.

The condition of his heart, however, was not something that could be seen. The sin and corruption of his spirit could not be seen. Those are invisible attributes. Jesus begins by healing what everyone cannot see. He does this by forgiving the sins.

They got something they did not expect. In the same way, Jesus the King, was a kind of king that the people did not expect.

Continued Ministry and Rejection
Jesus continues to move about healing and driving out demons until he comes to his hometown (Mark 6:1-6).

**Something amazing to me is this idea we find here of being rejected at home. Jesus comes and wants to do some of the same miracles in Nazareth but gets shut down. In verse three we read about how the people know him as Mary's son and all his brothers and sisters. Simply by virtue of having lived around Jesus for many years as he grew, the people could not come to accept his teaching. As verse three concludes "So they were offended by Him."

Offended.

It was not just that they didn't believe him or questioned where he learned it all. They were offended. I mean, right? How dare this guy we have known all our lives come back and try to preach at us. He is just the carpenter's boy.

Why is it that way? It is always so much easier to teach others outside the family. Spiritual matters aside - let's even look at something like algebra...

I can be so much more successful in teaching a stranger how to solve an equation than I can my own children or my wife. This has nothing to do with their level of intelligence - let me make that part clear. I think it has to do with feelings of inferiority - that somehow by nature of being in a position of "authority" as the teacher, that it places that individual on a higher level in the mind of the learner. Perhaps psychologically this is easier to accept if we do not know the person. However, if I have lived with you the last couple decades, we probably know each other and our problems and consider each other as peers or equals. When one or the other moves into a teaching or mentoring role, things change and in creep the feelings of "OH, he thinks he is better than me now." or "Why does she think she is so smart." And the heart and mind close up.

The truth can be offensive. This is no fault of the truth itself. It cares not. It simply corresponds with reality. It is a heart issue. Jesus can repair our hearts.  Just as the paralyzed man was forgiven of his sins - as his heart was cleansed - so our hearts can be cleansed.

Just as the paralytic had good reason for his faith, for his confidence, for his trust - so we have good reasons for believing that Jesus is who he says he is and that through him we may be saved.

I encourage you to seek out those reasons. Do the research. Do you reject the evidence and reasons? Perhaps it is all a heart issue then and not an intellectual one - like the people close to Jesus from Nazareth who were offended by the message.

In the end, the truth remains whether we believe it or not.

Please enjoy the video about Mark from our friends at Join the Bible Project.


Until next time...

08 October 2016

Stone 34 - Matthew

Matthew is the first book in the New Testament and presents an account of the life and teachings of Jesus. Let's take a look at what we find.



Hey Everyone! This is the Guy!
Matthew begins with another one of those genealogies that makes you wonder if the New Testament is going to be just as dry as the some of the Old Testament.

Good News!

This one is short and very deliberate. Matthew is establishing Jesus as a descendant of both Abraham and David. Since Matthew's goal is to show that Jesus is the Messiah that has been prophesied for so long, this is an appropriate place to start.

Still within the first chapter, Matthew moves to the birth of Jesus. As this account begins, however, take note of Joseph...

Joseph is betrothed to Mary. They had not even consummated this arrangement yet (Mat 1:18). So as would have been acceptable for him, he was going to break it off in secret as to not disgrace her. That is actually pretty noble if you think about it. All Joseph knows is that Mary is pregnant and they have never slept together. I think it is fair to say that Joseph and the rest of the people have a pretty good understanding of how things like pregnancy happen. So in the eyes of Joseph... she has been sleeping around on him. Imagine how he felt in that moment... and yet he chooses not to disgrace her publicly (Mat 1:19).

Before he could actually follow through with that - he was told not to be afraid and that her pregnancy was a work of the Spirit (Mat 1:20). Note also here in Mat 1:23 the words from Isaiah 7:14. Matthew is continuing to connect the dots for the reader. This was prophesied.

In chapter two, the wise men sought the newborn king. They happened to swing in to Herod's place and inquired to the whereabouts of the child. Herod basically does the double-take and brings in the chief priests to tell him where this child was to be born (Mat 2:3-4). Bethlehem as prophesied (see Micah 5:2) comes the answer in Matthew 2:6. (This is the guy!!)

Herod asks the wise men to return to him so that he can go and worship too (Mat 2:8). Yeah right...
The wise men are warned not to go back to Herod and so they do not (Mat 2:12). Joseph is then told to go to Egypt because Herod wants to kill the baby (Mat 2:13). Ahhhh, the true feelings in Herod's heart are revealed. He was not interested in worshiping at all. He wanted to eliminate a threat to his own rule on the throne. Herod was furious and had all the male children under the age of two killed. Awful. Just imagine. Since Jesus was not there but in Egypt, he was in no danger. After Herod died, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Israel and settled in Nazareth (Mat 2:21, 23).

He is Coming!!
John the Baptist is now on the scene and he also quotes Isaiah (40:3) and proclaims to the people that the kingdom is near (Mat 3:2). Jesus shows up and wants to get baptized by John as well (Mat 3:13). After some hesitancy and persuasion, John agrees.

So Jesus sets this example for us and gets baptized. This is very important since it marked the beginning of Jesus' ministry and his intention to follow God's will. This was also a way for Jesus to identify himself with all of the sinners that he came here to save.

Jesus then is led to the wilderness where he is tempted. The account details three times that he was tempted.

  1. Life
  2. Trust
  3. Faith/Worship
I may not have accurately broken this down but would love to discuss it further in the comments for any who want to.

The well-known Sermon on the Mount comes to us in chapters five through seven. There really is an amazing amount of guidance and could be an entire course by itself.

Ugh
Okay so let's segue into a little bit of life reality for a moment. As I was sitting here engaging in some study and reflection on the book of Matthew and typing this up, I was really drawn into taking a close look at the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness and more specifically - number three as listed above. So much so that I put some thoughts out on Facebook. I was going to continue through the book but felt I need to simply end it on this particular topic. Here is the post from Facebook...

Consider the object of your worship. You might even think that you do not worship anything.
The word worship probably brings up an image in your mind. The word worship may even stir up positive or negative emotions.
Maybe it looks like being on your knees and bowing, arms above your head, repeatedly leaning forward to place your palms down on the ground in front of you with the object of worship in front of you. 
Maybe it looks like sitting criss-cross applesauce with your wrists on your knees, palms up, with thumb and forefinger touching while softly repeating the word Ooohhmm, Ooohhmm.
Maybe it looks like singing praises as part of a large group in a building called church.
Maybe it is something else entirely.
Whatever it may currently be - put that aside for a moment and consider this...
Implicit in the act of worship is that there is a dependence of the worshiper upon that which is worshiped. In other words, the worshiper acknowledges, (knowingly or not), that they are not sufficient without the object being worshiped).
Do you feel "less than", insufficient, insignificant, of little value without something? Money, spouse, job, material items, etc...?
You might say - "Hey, wait a minute! I don't worship those things!" - but is that because we are using whatever image we have of worship?
Satan is crafty - he is the deceiver. He wants nothing more than to trap us into doing evil while thinking that we are doing good. He will tell you lies about how you can be happy, successful, wealthy, respected, etc... Do you feel insufficient without those things?
Consider the object of your worship. What does that really look like? Is it what you thought it was? Is it what you want it to be? Is it what you need it to be?

The faith and worship of Jesus was attacked. Satan offered Jesus the world and in effect, the power to control them all if he would just bow down and worship him. Jesus does not take the bait, of course, but how many of us do?

How many of us think that we are serving God but are really bowing our knee to Satan? This was just blowing my mind today - especially since I have often told people that Matthew 7:21-23 should be scary verses for all who claim to be Christians. I do not want to be one of these people. I think about all the areas in my own life where I may be engaging in what I might call "unintended worship". What things have I been fooled by? What am I currently pursuing under false pretenses?

Jesus demonstrated his trust in the Lord in his response to Satan after the first temptation to turn stone to bread and thus satisfy his hunger and perhaps save his life. Noticing that Jesus quoted scripture, Satan twisted scripture in his next temptation and changed his angle by trying to get Jesus to demonstrate that trust by throwing himself off of the top of the temple. Dodging this, Jesus is presented with a third temptation where Satan tries to use the good intentions of Jesus of following the will of God as bait. 

Is this not where we get caught...?

Jesus wants to bring the kingdom of God to Earth. He could do that. He could be a great king, he could save the people, he could continue to do amazing things for God...?

Are we ministering for the wrong reasons? We cannot serve multiple gods... Who are we really serving...? Whoa - mind blown at the moment.

I pray for all of us that God and His Holy Spirit would reveal to each of us the areas in our lives that are bowing to the wrong master. I pray that He would convict and cleanse our hearts. I pray that we would have the will and strength to let go of those things to which we cling so tight for the best of intentions but that are truly not good for us. Reveal to us the truth. Speak to your servants, Lord, and clear the wax the blocks your voice so that we might hear, wipe the sleep from our eyes that we might see, and set a fire ablaze in our hearts to seek you and your will.


Here are the videos for the book of Matthew from our friends at Join the Bible Project.





Until next time...

03 September 2016

Stone 33 - Malachi

Malachi is the final book of the Old Testament and the conclusion is as profound as one might expect. Of course, each of the 39 Old Testament entries are books with endings in their own right but the message of this book is very pointed and convicting. Let's take a look at the last book before a span of 400 years without any writings until Jesus arrives on the scene.


Rebellious Children
Immediately, the book opens up with God pointing out a huge problem...
"I have loved you," says the Lord. But you ask: "How have you loved us?" (Mal 1:2)
This defiant response of the people... "How have you loved us?"
So self-centered in nature.
The question implies that God has not loved them - as they are unaware - surely, if God had loved them they would have known it, right? What do they think it means to be loved by God? What are they expecting? What are the signs that one has been loved?
I would venture a guess that they feel they should be pampered and blessed with health, wealth, and happiness. However, as we have read throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites have had their share of ups and downs and perhaps they are a bit bitter about it.

You can almost hear the snarkiness of the Israelites now. With one hand on a hip and the other pointing a finger right in the face of God they pose the question while spewing forth all of the reasons they think support their claim. Then they turn their back to Him and walk away in a sort of modern "mic drop" arrogance as if God is really speechless and without rebuttal.

We see it again in verse six.
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of me? says the Lord of Hosts to you priests who despise My name." Yet you ask: "How have we despised your name?"
Again in verse seven.
"By presenting defiled food on my altar." You ask: "How have we defiled you?" When you say: "The Lord's table is contemptible."
Time and again God answers them and they deny the accusations by asking 'How?'.

**As a father of five myself, I know the pain of this situation. More than once I have told one of my children that I love them only to have them respond with a curled lip and the words "No you don't."

But now look to Malachi 1:13...
You also say: "Look, what a nuisance!" "And you scorn it," says the Lord of Hosts.
God wants a relationship with the Israelites and they seem to find the idea burdensome. How different are we in this age? Not much, I fear.

In chapter two, God talks about how the people are hurt because He does not accept their offerings by asking why He does not accept them (Mal 2:13-14). This is compared to a marriage and Israel has been spending time worshiping other things.

God says He is wearied by the words of the Israelites and they respond with "How?". God points out that they say things like "Everyone who does evil is good in the Lord's sight." or "Where is the God of justice?" (Mal 2:17).

Malachi 3:13-14 brings another denial as God tells the people that their words against Him are harsh. They ask what they have spoken against the Lord and I guess they are not happy with the answer. God tells them that they have said that it is useless to serve God because they have gained nothing.

**Even to this day people ask a similar question. What will we gain? Unfortunately, while the answer to that question is very appealing, people often overlook the eternal benefit in light of the immediate or short term benefit. This is a decision that has eternal consequences.

**There is still hope. There is still time. This 2000+ year old message is still applicable today. The Old Testament message points to a savior we now know as Jesus. We will begin to look at that next time as we pick up in the New Testament 400 years later.

In the meantime, please enjoy these resources from the folks at Join the Bible Project and RZIM.



Worship: A Clue to Meaning in Life
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Until next time...

20 August 2016

Stone 32 - Haggai and Zechariah

A difference between Haggai, Zechariah and many of the other prophets we have looked at is that they are on the scene after the exile period has ended. Let's look at the message God has to say now.


Haggai
Okay - flashback to the book of Ezra - Haggai and Zechariah both come and encourage the Israelites in order to keep them moving forward on the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 5:1-2). This is the same Haggai and Zechariah. Here we get a little more detail on them.

Haggai begins by getting after the Israelites for spending more time on their own houses and not enough time on God's house (Hag 1:4). In fact, Haggai lets them know that God is withholding until his house is done (Hag 1:9-11).

If we compare Haggai 1:1 and 1:14-15 we learn that a little over three weeks has passed. That seems pretty good to me.

About a month later, (Hag 2:1), Haggai shares a word of encouragement from the Lord (Hag 2:3-4).

Zechariah
While Zechariah did help Haggai encourage the people to rebuild, God had another message for Zechariah to share. He was to help encourage the people not to be like their ancestors (Zech 1:3-4). After that, Zechariah had several visions.

  1. Horsemen
  2. Horns and Craftsmen
  3. Surveyor
  4. High Priest and Branch
  5. Gold Lampstand
  6. Flying Scroll
  7. Woman in a Basket
  8. Four Chariots
The horsemen apparently patrolled the Earth and found all to be quiet. Amid the vision is a message that God intends to restore His people and bless them with prosperity (Zech 1:17).

The horns appear to represent the nations that came in and conquered Israel (Zech 1:19), while the craftsmen appear to represent those who would in turn scatter them (Zech 1:21).

The surveyor seems to head out and measure for the rebuild but is subsequently told that there will be no walls (Zech 2:4).

The high priest seems to represent Joshua who was wearing filthy clothes and being accused by Satan when God declares that he will be made clean (Zech 3:3-5). The branch is stated as being the servant (Zech 3:8)

The gold lampstand has seven lamps and it sounds like it is fed oil by its own channel from two olive tree. These are declared as being the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel and the two annointed ones (Zech 4:6, 14).

The flying scroll is said to be a curse that goes out to afflict every thief and person that swears falsely by the name of the Lord (Zech 5:3).

The woman in the basket represents the iniquity of the people and her name is Wickedness (Zech 5:6-8). Apparently a shrine is being built that the basket will be placed upon (Zech 5:10-11).

The four chariots seem to be headed out to patrol the earth just as the horsemen did in the first dream (Zech 6:7).

**I am no interpreter of dreams so I will go with the explanation we find in the video.

Of course, no account of the people would be complete without some sort of rebellion to be found in the hearts of the people.

Zechariah 7:3 tells of the people asking whether or not they ought to mourn and fast as they have in the past. Of course, God knows the hearts of the people (Zech 7:5-6) and He calls them out as the selfish people they were. However, God also promises to be good to the people (Zech 8:14-15).

Again, we also have the message of hope! The coming king! (Zech 9:9)

**All throughout the Old Testament we find pointers to Jesus. He came to be the shepherd of our lives. We are but sheep queued for slaughter without the protection of the shepherd. He seeks to cleanse us of our rebellion and steer us to safety. Consistently we are called away from rebellion and urged to seek the Lord, truth, and all that is good. It is not we who get to decide that which is true and good. God, as creator of everything, has determined this. Our lack of understanding does not change the reality of truth. Have we accepted the truth of our brokenness and need of a savior?

Please enjoy these videos on Haggai and Zechariah from the folks at Join the Bible Project.






Until next time when we take a look at the powerful conclusion of the Old Testament and the book of Malachi.

13 August 2016

Stone 31 - Habakkuk and Zephaniah

Let's hear about what a couple more prophets have to say.


Habakkuk
The first few verses of Habakkuk have likely crossed the minds and mouths of many people in some form or another over the years. They present a question that many continue to ask to this very day. The assumption is that God is not listening and that He tolerates evil.

**Have you ever asked why God does not listen? Just because things do not happen on our timeline or in the manner by which we think it should happen does not mean that God is not listening. God is not at our beck and call to do whatever we wish. It does not work that way. Patience and trust are needed. How do you respond when God does not answer the way you want Him to...?

God replies by telling Habakkuk that the Chaldeans are being raised to come in and clean house (Hab 1:6). Habakkuk has a problem with this too...

**How often have we felt the way Habakkuk does? He says wait a minute... How can you let these guys who are worse than us win over us...!? What gives? (Hab 1:13)

God replies to Habakkuk with a vision and five 'woes'.

  1. Woe to him who amasses what is not his (Hab 2:6)
  2. Woe to him who unjustly gains wealth for his house (Hab 2:9)
  3. Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with injustice (Hab 2:12)
  4. Woe to him who gives his neighbor drink in order to look at their nakedness (Hab 2:15)
  5. Woe to him who says to wood: Wake up! or to mute stone: Come alive! (Hab 2:19)
Just as Israel is being punished for their wrongdoing, so will the other nations. God is just and all will receive their due.

Habakkuk recounts the power of God and reaffirms his trust in Him.

**So many struggle with this very idea of evil and suffering in the world and we should be upset by evil. We should also seek out the only force that is capable of dealing with it and trust on His timing and manner by which it will be dealt with.

Please enjoy this four part series of talks from Ravi Zacharias on the problem of evil and suffering called 'Though The Fig Tree Does Not Bud'.
Also please enjoy the video on Habakkuk from the guys at Join the Bible Project



Zephaniah
Zephaniah has a similar message to many of the other prophets. We hear about the day of the Lord coming, a call to repentance, and a message of hope.

The first chapter describes the downfall of the nation and specifically the tearing down of the temples of the false gods that i are being worshiped there.

The first few verses of the second chapter is the call to repentance while the rest outlines the downfall of many nations and it isn't pretty.

The last half of chapter three provides the message of hope.

**It is worth noting that because of the righteousness of God, He cannot allow sin to go unpunished. He does not tolerate the worship of other gods and He does not tolerate any other sin. God will address the sin and evil in the world but it will not be at the time or in the manner that we may want. God will not deal with His creation using a human understanding of things. He will use divine understanding - something we just don't get but will have to trust.

We need to stop and listen to the voice that cries out, seek him, and worship him.

Please enjoy the video on Zephaniah from the guys at Join the Bible Project


Until next time...

06 August 2016

Stone 30 - Micah and Nahum

Two more small books this time; Micah and Nahum. What do they have to share?


Micah
We start out with some judgement against Israel for their rebellion. Sound familiar? So many prophets came and shared a similar message.

**Many times, through many prophets, across multiple generations, God tried to warn the people of the coming consequences of their rebellion and gave them an opportunity to repent and follow Him.

Micah 3:1-2 shares an interesting tidbit that is not all that different from today regarding the leadership of the people. A great question is asked... "Aren't you supposed to know what is just?" and a statement made... "You hate good and love evil." Ouch.

In Micah 3:9 the leaders are accused of abhorring justice and of perverting everything that is right. Because of this, Micah states, Jerusalem will become ruins (Micah 3:12). However, we read that all is not lost. God will redeem His people and restore the nation with a new king (Micah 5:2).

Chapter 7 reveals the moral failings of the people and how one cannot trust even those in their own home (Micah 7:5-6).

God has the power to save, to redeem, and to heal but we must first come to Him.

Nahum
This book brings a two-sided message. On the one hand, God looks after those who take refuge in him (Nahum 1:7). On the other hand, God will bring justice against evil (Nahum 1:2-3).

In this message, the main event is centered on Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Assyria was known as a cruel nation that continually brought destruction to other nations for the purpose of gaining riches and power. Assyria was the nation that brought down the northern kingdom of Israel.

Eventually God brings justice to this oppressive nation. While this is a poetic book, it is not really what you would call a rated PG book. A great deal of violence is depicted here. Some may struggle with this aspect of God. God's justice against evil is necessary because He is holy, righteous, and just but his love is even greater. Seek Him and take refuge in Him.


**These are short books with quick messages. Please enjoy the videos about Micah and Nahum from the folks at Join the Bible Project. They do such a great job at bringing these messages to life.



Until next time.

30 July 2016

Stone 29 - Obadiah and Jonah

Let's take a look at two more short books and see what message from the Lord they bring: Obadiah and Jonah.


Obadiah
While it is the smallest book of the prophets, it packs a powerful message to the people: A message of pride. The book begins with a judgement against Edom. In verse four we read about how the nation of Edom "seems to soar like an eagle" but even so they will be brought down.

**This makes me think of the saying about bringing someone down off of their high horse.

We also have many references to Esau here. Verse six, verse eight, verse nine, verse 18, verse 19, and verse 21 all mention the name of Esau. Remember Esau from Genesis? That is the guy. He was the beginning of the Edomites. You will also notice references to Jacob here in Obadiah's message. Verse 10, verse 17, and verse 18 all mention the name of Jacob and verses 10 and 12 use the term brother to connect Esau with Jacob.

**Hopping into the time machine we can read in Genesis 25:23 about the two nations in Rebekah's womb who were named Jacob and Esau. In Genesis 25:30 we read how Esau got the name Edom and in Genesis 36:9 Esau is called the father of the Edomites.

**Now look at Genesis 32:28 - God gives Jacob the name Israel.
In Genesis 27:41 it is stated that Esau held a grudge against Jacob. Now perhaps I am reaching a bit far but I find it interesting that the Edomites (Esau) as a nation continue to be at odds with the nation of Israel (Jacob).

So Obadiah talks about Esau and Jacob, Edom and Israel. Edom takes advantage of the situation rebellious Israel has found itself in. Israel is busy being handed over to the enemy and Edom sweeps in to gloat. In verse 15 we read that Edom will get exactly what they deserve based on what they have done. The prideful, high and mighty attitude of the Edomites would come crashing down.

In the last few verses we read about Israel and the blessing as they are restored to the area. Let us take note that in the end good triumphs - the goodness of God not the goodness of mankind.

Please enjoy the video on Obadiah from the folks at Join the Bible Project.



Jonah
This book, while short, provides a wonderful narrative that reveals so much about human nature. Jonah is one of those names from the Bible with which, it seems, many people are familiar. I think this is in large part due to the account of the great fish event - but do we know the whole story?

We begin with God calling Jonah to go to Nineveh (modern day Iraq) to preach a message. Rather than obedience, Jonah chooses to run from God by hopping on a ship and travelling in the opposite direction to a place called Tarshish which would have been in modern day Spain.

While at sea, a huge storm ravages the ship and the crew comes to blame Jonah for their predicament. Jonah tells the crew to toss him overboard in order to be rid of the problem. Unfortunately for Jonah, his desire to die was not to be granted. Enter the great fish. Jonah is there for three days and nights (Jonah 1:17).

**If God can do something as amazing as create the universe and everything within it, I think this is possible for God as well. Thing is... that is not the focus of the message... Let's continue.

Jonah cries out to the Lord, grateful for saving him and agrees to do what God asks. The great fish spits him out and Jonah then travels to Nineveh and delivers the short message that in 40 days Nineveh would be overthrown.

The people of Nineveh repent and God spares them the disaster which really upsets Jonah.

Jonah is angry because God spared the people of Nineveh - his enemies. He knew God was good and merciful but Jonah, in his heart wanted disaster for Nineveh. So Jonah heads out to the countryside and watches the city (Jonah 4:5). God has a plant grow up and provide some shade which Jonah likes (Jonah 4:6). God takes away the plant the next day (Jonah 4:7).

So God asks Jonah if he is angry about the plant and he replies in the affirmative (Jonah 4:9). Now God replies with a great question. You cared about the plant that you didn't even have to labor over and grow - should I not care about all these people?

**We sometimes complain when good things happen to bad people don't we? Just as God asks in Jonah 4:4 - Is it right for us to be angry?
God cares about all of his creation. He calls each and every one of us to repentance and genuine love and obedience. Check your heart. Where are you at right now?

Please enjoy the video on Jonah from the folks at Join the Bible Project.



Until next time

23 July 2016

Stone 28 - Joel and Amos

In this post we will take a look at two short books - Joel and Amos. Let's see what these prophets have to say.


Joel
Here we start out with Joel receiving the word of the Lord. It is about a plague of locusts and the destruction that it caused. In the verses that follow, the utter destruction is described as well as the response. Indeed, we read about the priests who mourn (Joel 1:9), the land that grieves (Joel 1:10), and the human joy that has dried up (Joel 1:12).

Oh, but wait! Joel basically announces that if we thought this was bad - just experience the devastation to come (Joel 1:15). It is known as the Day of the Lord. Again, the next few verses describe the power and destruction. Joel asks, "...the Day of the Lord is terrible and dreadful- who can endure it?" (Joel 2:11)

Like other prophets, Joel calls for repentance. He says that the Lord asks them all to turn to Him (Joel 2:12).

**I really like the way verse 13 is worded. "Rend your hearts and not your garments. Many times we have read about how someone would tear their clothes and grieve but God wants more than that. he wants us to tear our hearts open - true repentance. Genuine worship. - not just a display.

God responds by restoring the land and the people. Note that this is a response to true repentance and is reflective of the wonderful grace and mercy that our God has to offer. God then promises to pour out His spirit on all people (Joel 2:28), to judge all the nations (Joel 3:2), and to restore Israel (Joel 3:17-21).

**Ultimately we continue to see this common thread appear... repent and turn to God.

Amos
We begin with proclamations of judgment against several nations...
Damascus (Amos 1:3)
Gaza (Amos 1:6)
Tyre (Amos 1:9)
Edom (Amos 1:11)
The Ammonites (Amos 1:13)
Moab (Amos 2:1)
Judah (Amos 2:4)
Israel (Amos 2:6)

Amos 3:2 recalls the covenant with Abraham which became the nation of Israel. However, the covenant was not kept by Israel and so consequences are in order. As a result, they would be given over to the enemy (Amos 3:11) and enslaved (Amos 4:1-3).

**Stubborn is the word that comes to mind. Israel was stubborn and would not listen despite several attempts to discipline and despite the warnings from prophets. Amos 4:6-11 states several times - "...yet you did not return to me."
You have been warned.
I think of today. Parents all over the world who love their children and try their best to warn them of the dangers of engaging in certain activities but they go ahead and do it anyway and ultimately pay the consequences. Not much has changed.

Amos 5:4 - Seek me and live!
To this day... seek me and live! The message is still valid.

Amos 5:14 - Seek good and not evil so that you may live!
The message is still valid.
In Luke 18:19 Jesus says that no one is good except God alone. Seek good. Seek God.

Amos then has several visions.
1. Locusts (Amos 7:1-3)
2. Fire (Amos 7:4-6)
3. Plumb Line (Amos 7:7-9)
4. Basket of Fruit (Amos 8:1-14)
5. Lord at the Altar (Amos 9:1-6)

Each vision was a form of judgment against Israel. Between the third and fourth vision there is mention of Amaziah, a priest, who was not happy with the proclamations that Amos was making (Amos 7:10-17).

Finally, Amos reveals a glimmer of hope. Restoration will come.

Please enjoy the videos about Joel and Amos from the folks over at Join the Bible Project.



Until next time.

16 July 2016

Stone 27 - Hosea

Hosea is a relatively short book with a powerful message of faithfulness and hope. Let's hear what the prophet had to say to the people.


Amazing Faithfulness
The book opens with a few chapters about Hosea, his wife Gomer, and his children. Oh, but the plot thickens! God directs Hosea to go and marry a promiscuous wife and have children with her (Hos 1:2). He does so and has three children that God directs him to name. Jezreel, No Compassion, and Not My People.

**It is worth noting at this point that a parallel is being drawn here between Hosea's marriage and family with the relationship between God and Israel. The nation of Israel was (is) God's bride and Israel was "promiscuous" and committed adultery by worshiping other gods instead of the one with whom they had made the covenant. This is part of what makes this part of Hosea so  powerful.

Even when Hosea had justification to be rid of Gomer for her adultery, God calls on Hosea to forgive her and to show her love (Hos 3:1). Hosea has to go and purchase her (Hos 3:2).

**God, who had every justification to release the covenant with Israel because of the rebellion and idolatry chose to forgive and renew the covenant with Israel anyway. This is the nature of God and his love for us is never ending. The parallel is that despite our rebellion God chose to purchase us back at the price of the life of Jesus his son.

The Rebellious Israel
Chapter four begins to bring the case against Israel. This is the evidence, as it were, to show how Israel has violated the covenant with God. Israel has been accused of promiscuity. Not only has Israel looked to other gods (Hos 4:12) but they have also placed more trust in their alliances with other nations than in God (Hos 5:13, 7:11). Little did they know that Assyria would betray them and come to defeat them.

Hosea 8:11 speaks to the multiple altars that Israel had with other gods. Ironically, these altars of worship that were built to escape sin were essentially the main source of sin. Then they go back to worship the one true God and their sacrifices are rejected (Hos 8:13). It is the hypocritical nature of the worship here that causes it to be rejected. No repentance. Lukewarm.

God knows our hearts just as he knew the hearts of the Israelites. Though they come to him, they know that there is no repentance in them. Hosea, however, knows that one day they will have genuine repentance in their hearts and then God will forgive them and restore to them that which was lost.

True Repentance
Chapter 14 calls for that repentance and offers a promise to restore the nation. God has neither forgotten nor given up on us. Just as Israel has hope, so do we. We have a hope in Jesus. through him we may be restored. We must genuinely repent of our sins, accept his gift, and run towards him. We must live out volitional exaltation (LOVE). We must have a willful expression of worship for Him in all that we do. In loving Him we can learn how to truly love others.

Please enjoy another wonderful video from the folks at Join the Bible Project on Hosea.


Until next time

13 July 2016

What Is Love?

Love Is Good, Right?
Is it fair to suggest that everyone on the planet thinks that love is a good thing?
Is it fair to suggest that we are all on the same sheet of music in declaring love as something of value?

I mean, after all, we have all kinds of groups using it as part of their message nowadays. Slogans such as "LOVE WINS" have plastered social media. What does the word love here mean exactly...?


America has been in a great deal of turmoil lately due to a senseless loss of many, many lives. It is a painful tragedy and for some more painful than others when the life lost is a close family member or friend. As a result, you may have seen many emotional responses in the form of new postings online. Many are about how Jesus called us to love our neighbors with even some suggestions on how to do that. This billboard pic is rather cute as well. You may have even seen it online somewhere by now.

What does the word love in this graphic mean exactly...?


These are only a couple of examples out of countless posts online related to love and how God wants us to love our neighbor, or that the hate needs to stop, or that love wins, that love is supreme. It really does seem that love is something around which all of us can rally. Regardless of your lot in life, your ethnic background, your religious affiliation or lack thereof, your age, your personal preferences, or criminal history - love seems to stand out as good.

So what is the problem? If we all agree that love is good why is this not more simple? Do we even know what it means...?

I would suggest to you that the reason it is not more simple is because everyone is throwing around the word LOVE with the assumption that everyone else is using the same meaning. I would even go so far as to suggest to you that some are throwing it around knowing full well that you are using a different meaning and use that as a means of manipulation.

Equivocation of terms. (definition taken from Google)



Now, while the definition implies some measure of intention, I will acknowledge that a great deal of this probably happens innocently enough, with most folks not even realizing it when it comes to the word 'love', but difficulty will follow if two people are trying to talk about the same thing using two different meanings. It is therefore extremely important to ensure that when entering a discussion on any topic that you start by defining the terms.

So when you HEAR something like 'Jesus loves everybody' or 'Love your neighbor as yourself' - what does that mean to you? What does it mean when you SAY it?

The Command To Love
Let's look at the command to love your neighbor that is given to us in the Bible. Where do we find it?

Leviticus 19:18
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Matthew 5:43-48
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 22:34-40
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

Now these are only a few of the places where we might find mention of this in the Bible but it will suffice.

First, we can see from the passage in Leviticus that this concept is not solely a New Testament one. God even spoke it to Moses!

Secondly, the Sermon on the Mount! Jesus actually steps it up a couple notches doesn't he? Not only are we to love our neighbor but our enemies as well. If we only love those who love us - how are we any different?

Third, Jesus lays it out again but indicates it as a second commandment to loving God himself with all heart, soul, and mind. He also indicates that the two together are on what all the Law and the Prophets depend.

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount (v. 17), Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."

Absolutely! Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself. What exactly does that look like...? In a world where people have different definitions of what love really is... what does 'love your neighbor' look like?

Who Gets To Make That Decision?
Who gets to come up with the definition of love?

Well, I would suggest to you that since God gave the command, God gets to define it - not us. The good news is that God created us in His image and through His son Jesus, we have all the access to God that we need in order to find out what it looks like to love your neighbor.

See the Image of God video from the folks at Join the Bible Project

How do we love our neighbor? I have a suggestion. Let's go back to Matthew chapter 22 where Jesus indicates the first and greatest commandment of loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind for a moment. Loving our neighbor comes in second. Focus on God first and the rest will come as a natural outpouring of the hope that is within us.

Here is an acronym that may help.

Live
Out
Volitional
Exaltation

Live Out - this is our expression and lifestyle that people see - what we live out. To be volitional is to be willful in our choice. Exaltation is worship. Worship God. 

God gave his son Jesus who died on a cross for our sins that we might accept that gift and come to a relationship with Him. That we might not perish as the consequences of our sins would dictate but have everlasting life in communion with the One whose love for us was so great that He sent His son to die on a cross to take care of those consequences for us. Now that is love and through this relationship we can come to know love as it was meant to be.


God, who IS love itself knows full well what it looks like. He loves us all in a way that we can only dream to imagine. If we would but turn our hearts away from our own flawed definitions and turn to Him for the definition instead... 

I pray that we might all come to know Him and live out a volitional exaltation of Him in all that we do and that through our willful expression of worship to God we can come to understand how to love our neighbor as ourselves because we will know firsthand how He loves us.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Ravi Zacharias...
Unless there is a change in the heart of a human being, laws are but a surface solution. It is putting a band-aid to a joint that is out of order."

Let Jesus come and change your heart and let us all begin to truly love our neighbors.

09 July 2016

Stone 26 - Daniel

Our next prophet is Daniel. For some reason, I see him as one of the more well known ones. That may or may not be true. Let's meet him.


Company Merger
Right away we learn that Daniel was one of the people brought to Babylon in exile after the siege at Jerusalem. He was no ordinary exile, however, as Daniel was one of the chosen to be trained and eventually serve King Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 1:3-7).

**While I cannot say I have ever worked for a company that was bought out by another one and forced to learn all new policies, procedures, etc., I have been part of companies when a new boss takes over and completely flips the apple cart so to speak. Sometimes it goes well and other times they simply come in and make everything worse.

How many times worse must this have been for Daniel and his companions? They even had their names changed to reflect the new culture. While not uncommon at that time, I can only imagine that to be uncomfortable at best. What is awesome about Daniel is that despite his precarious situation, he chose not to disobey the Lord which could have easily cost him his life and the life of his friends.

Go back to Ezekiel 14:12-23 - Here we read about how Daniel is held up in the same regard as Noah and Job. This should give some idea as to how much Daniel came to be respected.

So in Daniel 1:5 we read that they were to be fed from the royal pantry and allowed to drink the wine. For many people this would likely be a welcome perk to have. However, this newly offered diet likely contained meats and other items deemed unclean to eat for Daniel so he chose to decline the offer and requested only vegetables and water. Immediately, the chief official assigned to them recognized the dire consequences if they were to be caught disobeying the King's orders to serve them food from the royal kitchen (Dan 1:10). So Daniel proposed a compromise; Allow them to eat vegetables and water for 10 days and then compare them to the other trainees.

Lo and behold! They looked better and healthier than the others and so they continued to remain on their diet (Dan 1:15-16). How easily would we have been willing to go against the new boss?

As reward for their obedience, Daniel and his companions were granted knowledge and understanding and eventually were found to be without equal among those who had received training (Dan 1:19).

The Interpreter
Daniel was also given the ability to interpret dreams (v.17). And surely by no mere coincidence, the king was having some dreams that needed some interpretation. All the people he had summoned were not able to fulfill the king's request. What is interesting is that the king wanted them to tell him what his dream was so that he would know they had the ability and would not make something up that would please the king. Since they could not, the king wanted all the wise men killed (Dan 2:12). Daniel requested some time and asked God about the matter to which God responded in a vision for Daniel.

Daniel described the dream and gave the interpretation and King Nebuchadnezzar responded by promoting him (Dan 2:48).

Now consider Daniel 2:37-38 - Daniel informs the king that the God of Heaven has given him all these things. He is also told that he is the head of gold in the statue from the dream.

Don't Let It Go To Your Head
So the king decides to make a statue of himself (Dan 3:1) which is perhaps conceited enough but then he actually says that when people hear music they are to bow down and worship the statue or else be thrown into the furnace. Say What!? Worship me or else...

So Daniel's friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who he had appointed to manage Babylon after he was promoted for interpreting the dream choose not to obey. They do not worship idols or false gods. Some others who were interested in ousting them from their positions used the opportunity to snitch on them knowing that they would be thrown into the furnace for disobedience.

So they were brought before the king and questioned. Wow! Consider the boldness of their response in 3:16-18. Of course the king was enraged so he had the furnace heated up even more and had them tied up and thrown in. Now the furnace was so hot that the guards who threw them in were consumed by virtue of getting too close (Dan 3:22-23).

Even If He Doesn't
Daniel 3:18 is really powerful; "But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up."

These guys recognized that while God had the power to rescue them, He was not obligated to do so. They stuck to worshiping the one true God.

Now see what happens next - they fall into the furnace and shortly after, King Nebuchadnezzar hops up in alarm saying "Didn't we throw three men, bound, into the fire?" He now sees four men in the fire walking around unharmed noting that one looks like a son of the gods. I imagine that the ropes and other binding materials were consumed in the fire. The king calls them out and they appear completely untouched by the fire. Nebuchadnezzar responds by praising their God and issues a decree that anyone who speaks against their God would be punished and he rewards the three (Dan 3:24-30)

Wake Up, Man!
Sometime later, the king had another dream and called upon Daniel to give an interpretation. This time, however, the interpretation was a bit more grim. The dream foretold of what would happen. King Nebuchadnezzar. He would be driven out and would live off of the land for seven years but would be restored to his kingdom when he acknowledged that the Most High was the ruler. About a year later King Nebuchadnezzar gave himself credit for all that he had and at that point God sentenced him to the dream as it was interpreted.

**Sigh - we simply have trouble listening to good advice.

Finally, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges God and comes to his senses and soon after was restored to his kingdom.

So then we have Belshazzar who is the successor to Nebuchadnezzar and has himself a feast. In his drunkenness, he has the gold and silver vessels brought in from the temple of the Lord so they could all drink from them, all the while praising other gods.

Then this mystery hand appears and starts writing on the wall which, of course, freaks the king out so that he calls for his advisors who were unable to interpret what had been written. Soon after, the queen shows up and tells Belshazzar about Daniel who did this work for Nebuchadnezzar. So Daniel was brought in to take a look. He told Belshazzar of the inscription and as promised, Daniel was clothed in purple, given a chain, and declared third ruler in the kingdom. Shortly after, Belshazzar was killed and Darius took his place as king.

Going Into The Den
Just as with Daniel's friends - there were some others that wanted Daniel out of his office. However, finding no fault in Daniel they instead devised a plan to take care of him in a similar way that used against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They got together and talked the new King Darius to issue a decree about worshiping him and him alone or else be thrown into the lion's den (Dan 6:10). Of course, Daniel was not going to worship anyone but the Lord and they knew it. So they waited to catch Daniel praying to the Lord and snitched on him. Bound by his own decree, he had to throw Daniel into the den even though he did not want to.

Daniel was still alive in the morning and let out and King Darius had his accusers along with their families thrown in. Darius in turn honored the Lord.

**This is another great example of how God does not always prevent bad things from happening. Daniel was still thrown into the den, the three men were still thrown into the furnace. God, instead, was with them and helped them to come out unscathed. God may not prevent our tragedies but if we trust in Him he can be there to help through it.

Daniel's Turn For Dreaming
Daniel dreams of the four beasts and of the ram and goat but is unable to interpret them himself. Instead, an angel came to help him understand the dreams. I understand that the dreams were about the 400-year intertestamental period between Malachi and Matthew.

Until next time, give praise to Him

02 July 2016

Stone 25 - Ezekiel

Ezekiel, like the other prophets, shared a message of hope to a sinful and rebellious nation but not without calling them out on some things. Indeed, Ezekiel brings it. God is not pleased and through Ezekiel, He makes the Israelites well aware. Let's hear what he has to say.


The Vision
The book opens up with a pretty vivid picture of Ezekiel's vision. The reason for the detail is to establish that what Ezekiel saw was a true theophany and not some sort of natural event. Ezekiel's response is similar to that of many others who have encountered God; He fell facedown on the ground (Ezek 1:28).

Chapters two and three describe the mission that God has for Ezekiel. He is to go and share a message to the people of Israel who are in exile (Ezek 3:11). God also appoints Ezekiel as a watchman over the people (Ezek 3:17). This is no small charge. God informs Ezekiel that he will be held responsible for the deaths of the people if he fails to share the message and also for the lives he saves if he warns them and they listen.

Ezekiel prophesies the fall of Jerusalem and is given instructions for food and drink. This was to be a symbol of the famine that would be experienced. Ezekiel plays out the siege and crates imagery for the fall. The imagery details what is in store for the Israelites and includes cooking over dung (Ezek 4:12-13) and cannibalism (Ezek 5:10). The intent is that they are being informed of the severity of what was to come. Perhaps chief among the sins of the Israelites was their constant idolatry and worship of false gods. Ezekiel 6:4-5 make it clear that God intends to exercise judgment against this sin in a way that demonstrates His power and the powerlessness of the idols to do anything about it.

The Judgment
Chapter seven announces the coming judgment. Make no mistake - when all this happens, you will know it is the Lord! God then takes Ezekiel on a sort of field trip to visit several great abominations that are some of the false gods and idols being worshipped in the temple and elsewhere. God shares a vision with Ezekiel of the slaughter to come as a result of all of the idolatry. Remember that the sins of the people of Israel were punishable by death - as are our own - but the slaughter was going to come by the hands of the Babylonians rather than the six with war clubs from the vision.

God cannot remain in the presence of sin - his character will not allow it. As such, His temple is vacated. It seems reasonable to suggest that God has been more than patient with His people. Several centuries have passed and God has brought many prophets, kings, and judges over the years to try and warn the people. God is just and does not allow the sin to go unpunished. They were warned.

Ezekiel 12:2 echoes a sentiment that we have read repeatedly. They have eyes but do not see, ears but do not hear. In a way, I find this interesting considering the culture we live in today. Our culture has a strong bent toward the empirical, toward the things that we can see and hear. Interesting, almost comical, and so very tragic that we remain blind and deaf.

Consider Ezek 12:22 and the proverb mentioned there - "The days keep passing by, and every vision fails."
**Are there not those who feel the same to this day? We have scoffers that do not believe because it is said that the Lord is coming and they have not seen it yet. Do not wait until that time comes or it will be too late! Chapter 18 focuses on our personal responsibility for sin. Each of us is responsible for our own sins and not for the sins of others.

Ezekiel 18:21!

Ezekiel 18:24!

How many times do we need to be told? LOL - I seem to recall both hearing and using a variation of those words myself. These two verses inform us that there are consequences but there is hope. Tuen now. Repent and follow the Lord! Moses said it, Joshua said it, so many others said it. Oh Lord, clean the wax from our ears that we might hear and practice obedience!

God wants to deliver us! He wants a relationship with each one of us. Why do we so often decline His offer?

In chapter 33 Ezekiel is met by a man from Jerusalem who shares the news that the city has fallen (Ezek 33:21).

The Hope
Ezekiel 36:24-38 tells of how the Lord will restore Israel. God is holy and just. Imagine the sight in the valley of dry bones as described in chapter 37! Imagine! God has the power to redeem even that which seems beyond restoration.

The last several chapters speak about the restoration of the nation of Israel. Again it is worth noting that like the other prophets, Ezekiel spoke a great deal about the coming judgement for a rebellious people but also brought a vision of hope and restoration.

Next time we will visit Daniel.