Friday, March 24, 2017

TO OVERFLOW



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In Christ, Mark
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

Then I looked up, and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand. I asked, “Where are you going?”

He answered me, “To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is.”

While the angel who was speaking to me was leaving, another angel came to meet him and said to him: “Run, tell that young man, ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within.’”

Zechariah 2:1-5

This ends today’s reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

When you follow the Lord and have Him involved in your life circumstances, you will always find yourself fulfilled and blessed abundantly as He fills you to overflow with His provision and providence.

This truth is at the center of today’s devotion, the first from the second chapter of Zechariah, where we find the prophet having the third of eight visions, visions which concerned the restored nation of Israel. Look again at these opening verses:

Then I looked up, and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand. I asked, “Where are you going?”

He answered me, “To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is.”

While the angel who was speaking to me was leaving, another angel came to meet him and said to him: “Run, tell that young man, ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within.’”  Zechariah 2:1-5

In the second vision, Zechariah saw visions of horns and craftsmen who hammered the horns into oblivion, representative of the Lord raising up forces to defeat any enemy of His people.

Today, we see the vision involving something markedly different as Zechariah sees a “man with a measuring line in his hand”. We sense the man, identified specifically as an angel, was on his way somewhere because Zechariah asked about where he was going. The angel told the prophet that he was going to “measure Jerusalem” in order to “find out how wide and long” the city was.

In other words, the angel wanted to measure the city to discover its boundaries, seemingly in admittance that there would be a limit to how many people and animals might reside within.

Well, Zechariah no sooner discovered what the angel was up to that we find another angel come on the scene with a message for Zechariah, the “young man” mentioned. The message was as follows:

“Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,” declares the Lord, “and I will be its glory within.”

The message contained nothing but good news for the Israelite remnant who had just recently returned from the seventy year Babylonian captivity, settling back in their homeland which included the holy city of Jerusalem. That good news included not only full restoration to the nation but a total repopulation of it. Jerusalem in particular would be filled to overflow with people and animals, so much so that there would be no boundaries to contain the abundant flourishing the Lord was promising to bring.

But a flourishing Israelite population boom wasn’t the only blessing God was bringing to His people. We know this because He said so, vowing to also bring protection to His burgeoning people (the Lord would be “a wall of fire” around them) and surround them with His glory.

Indeed, God was back with His people and back in a big way.

Maybe you have strayed away from the Lord in your own life, held captive and separated from Him by sin. If so, God has a message for you today:

He wants to restore you to His favor and bless you to overflow in your life.

All you need to do is repent, return to Him, and commit to be fully obedient to His word and will.

Do so and you, like the Old Testament Israelites of Zechariah’s time, can expect to experience complete reinstatement into good graces with Him, revel in the assurance and comfort of His protection, and be surrounded by His glory

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

DEHORNED



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In Christ, Mark
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

Then I looked up, and there before me were four horns. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these?”

He answered me, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.”

Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. I asked, “What are these coming to do?”

He answered, “These are the horns that scattered Judah so that no one could raise their head, but the craftsmen have come to terrify them and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.”

Zechariah 1:18-21

This ends today’s reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

In the closing verses of Zechariah, chapter one, we find he prophet having his second of eight visions found in this book.

What were the particulars of the vision?

Look again at today’s passage to see:

Then I looked up, and there before me were four horns. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these?”

He answered me, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.”

Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. I asked, “What are these coming to do?”

He answered, “These are the horns that scattered Judah so that no one could raise their head, but the craftsmen have come to terrify them and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.”  Zechariah 1:18-21

How would you handle a dream where you looked up and saw four horns?

Maybe you would do as Zechariah did and ask the Lord what it all meant.

Before we go much further, it’s important to note that this isn’t the only place we see the imagery of horns in the scriptures.

Daniel had a vision of a beast which had ten horns and a smaller horn that emerged at the same time (Daniel 7:7-24). He would have another vision involving horns on a goat and ram (Daniel 8:3-22).

Fast forward to Revelation and you will find John describing a vision he had where a Lamb who looked as if it had been slain was sporting seven horns (Revelation 5:6). Visions involving horns would become a common sight for John as we find in Revelation, chapters 9, 12, 13, and 17.

So what do the horns represent?

The symbology was centered on the matter of power and strength, in this case the power and strength of nations who had opposed and scattered Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem. It is widely thought that the four horns seen by Zechariah represented Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia.

Yes, these horns (nations) had used their might to attack and devastate the land God had given to His people, taking away the Israelites into captivity, but note that they would be no match for the clout and authority of God who would turn judgment back around to the very nations who He used as instruments of judgment prior.

In other words, the enemies of the Israelites would all end up dehorned by the Lord.

We know this because in Zechariah’s vision we find the Lord sending “craftsmen” to “terrify” and “throw down” the “horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah”. These four craftsmen are considered to be Egypt, Babylon, Persia, and Greece who each came to defeat a nation and assume power as an empire. Other bible translations substitute “workers with hammers” or “blacksmiths” which lends itself to the imagery of God’s appointed workers pounding Israel’s enemies into submission.

The point God’s word is trying to make here is that all of Israel’s enemies were eventually defeated. In fact, none of the opponents of God’s beloved nation ever persevered.

Perhaps nations who would choose to oppose Israel should remember this today. For the threats of Iran to obliterate and annihilate Israel, wiping it off the face of the earth, are laughable at best. If we don’t know it by now, God will protect and watch over His chosen people. It was true in Zechariah’s time and it’s still true today.  

Any nation who tries to rise up against the Lord’s cherished nation and its people will find it dehorned in a hurry. You can rest assured of that.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

RETURNING MERCY



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In Christ, Mark
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.

During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.

I asked, “What are these, my lord?”

The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.”

Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.”

And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.”

Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.

Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’”

“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there My house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

“Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’”

Zechariah 1:7-17

This ends today’s reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

As the first chapter of Zechariah opens, we find the Lord presenting His restored people with a three step process to get back to good standing with Him. You’ll recall they first had to turn away from sin and turn back to the Lord after which they were expected to repent and then obligate themselves to fulfilling the Lord’s purposes.

As we continue to look at chapter one, we find the prophet Zechariah experience the first of eight visions contained in this book of the Bible. Look at the particulars of the vision here:

On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.

During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.

I asked, “What are these, my lord?”

The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.”

Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.”

And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.”

Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.

Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’”

“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there My house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

“Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’”  Zechariah 1:7-17

If we look at verse one of this chapter, we can see that Zechariah’s first vision happens a little more than three months after he shared the word of the Lord regarding how the Israelites could return to His favor. The vision, which on the surface appears to be more like a dream someone might have, was centered on “a man mounted on a red horse” who was “among the myrtle trees in a ravine”. In the background were other horses of various colors (red, brown, and white).

Unsure of what it all meant, we read where Zechariah asks for an interpretation, a request that the angel of the Lord honors by having the man on the horse explain that the prophet was seeing “the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth” who then made a report to the angel of the Lord that they had discovered “the whole world at rest and peace”.

Well, almost the whole world anyways.

This is because the Israelites were definitely not “at rest and peace” as they had been terribly oppressed by the Assyrians and Babylonians who took liberties with destroying Israel and Judah respectively before taking all the Israelites away into exile. This truth prompted the angel of the Lord to cry out to the Lord in intercession for the Israelites, asking God how long He intended to “withhold mercy from Jerusalem” and the “towns of Judah” who He had been angry with, angry enough to impose a seventy year penalty of captivity in a foreign land.

Well, as we look at the scriptures, we find God providing an answer to the question at hand, one that contained “kind and comforting words”.

What made the Lord’s words kind and comforting?

It was a matter of mercy, a mercy that was returning to the Israelites underscored by God allowing them to leave exile and return home. Look at the Lord’s proclamation here, a proclamation Zechariah was to pass onto the Israelite remnant:

“I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.”

“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there My house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem.’”

“Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’”

Despite the punishment God imposed on His people, He still loved and cherished them, like a father will still love his child even though he needs to discipline to make sure they grow up right. God’s judgment bore the intent to get His people back on the right path, the path of righteousness He wants all to travel. He chose Assyria and Babylon to carry out His sentence on the Israelites but note here that both selected empires had gone too far. In fact, there was a point when Assyria and Babylon had both wished for the eradication of the Jews. And so now, God was angry with those nations, those who felt secure. They would now be in the crosshairs of His judgment.

As for the Israelites, they would be blessed as God returned to Jerusalem with mercy for His people as they rebuilt His holy temple as well as their homes, their lives, and their relationships with Him. God vowed that prosperity would be restored to His people through their rebuilding process and that they could expect peace and comfort to again found because He was with them.

Once again, they would be His people and He their God. ‘

Friends, do we not see this happen over and over again on our lives and the lives of others?

We sin in life and draw the ire of the Lord who will discipline us as needed to get us back where He wants us to be. But like the Israelite people in Zechariah’s day, what we find is that the Lord is always ready to restore us to His favor, allowing His mercy to return and be upon us. Truly, it is amazing grace.

So let’s all allow these words of the Lord and the message of this devotion take us to a place of higher praise unto the Lord who is willing to forgive us out of love and show us a compassion that defies understanding, a compassion that is born out of the deep mercy we only find in the Lord our God.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

RETURN TO ME



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In Christ, Mark
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:

“The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to Me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to Me, declares the Lord.  Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever?  But did not My words and My decrees, which I commanded My servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?”

“Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as He determined to do.’”

Zechariah 1:1-6

This ends today’s reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

Today, we start our look at the Book of Zechariah, the next to last book in the Old Testament. And as we have in the prior books named after prophets, we will begin with a little background regarding Zechariah.

The first thing we need to do is set the time in Israel’s history. God used Zechariah as His messenger at the end of the Babylonian captivity as the Persians defeated Babylon and assumed power over their empire. This transfer of power led to the release of the Israelites to return to Judah and rebuild their nation, their homes, their lives, and their relationship with God.

If this period sounds familiar, it should. This is because it was the same period which the prophet Haggai was used by God. In fact, the Book of Haggai opens with these words:

In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai. Haggai 1:1

Compare this with the opening words of the first chapter of Zechariah:

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah.

Thus both prophets were being used by God concurrently and although Haggai started two months before Zechariah, the latter served longer as a prophet.

Another interesting fact about Zechariah was that he was a Levite:

In the days of Joiakim, these were the heads of the priestly families…  of Iddo’s, Zechariah. Nehemiah 12:12a, 16a

Given this, Zechariah was not only a prophet but a priest as well which put him in company with Jeremiah and Ezekiel who also carried that distinction.

The final piece of information about Zechariah that we should consider is that he was born during the Babylonian captivity. He wasn’t even born when the exile began and would grow up in a foreign land, returning with the Israelite remnant to enter Judah for the first time in 538BC under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the new governor of Judah.

With all this as a background, let’s now look at today’s passage from the opening verses of Zechariah 1 and as we do, we need to remember that the main task at hand for the Israelites was the rebuilding of God’s temple, just as it was in the Book of Haggai. Look again at these words here:

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:

“The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to Me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to Me, declares the Lord.  Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever?  But did not My words and My decrees, which I commanded My servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?”

“Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as He determined to do.’”  Zechariah 1:1-6

There was little doubt that it was the actions of the Israelite ancestors that brought God’s wrath and ensuing judgment. They had been the ones who chose to worship false gods and idols in direct disobedience to have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:2-3). They had been the ones who had chosen the path of sin over righteousness which led to murder and a number of other social injustices against one another. Despite the Lord’s demands for them to turn from their evil ways and practices, the people refused to listen or pay attention and so the Lord did something to get their attention. He made good on His promise of punishment.

And so the Assyrians and Babylonians entered onto the scene in Israel, leaving destruction and devastation in their wake. Indeed, the Israelite ancestors were not just taken over but overrun by God’s consequences before being hauled away from their homeland, never to return again.

So as the Lord addressed the remnant of Israelites He had restored to Judah from Babylon, He had two messages to send, one implied and the other verbal:

The implied message was “Don’t follow in the footsteps of your ancestors.”

The verbal message was “Return to Me and I will return to you.”

You see, the only way the Israelites were going to start fresh and live in a way that would ensure they lived in God’s favor vice His wrath was if they placed Him first in their life and that would mean they would have to leave their old ways behind and exchange them for the Lord’s ways. Then and only then would they ensure to not go back to the evil practices of their ancestors.

So how did the returning Israelites respond to these words of God spoken through His prophet Zechariah?

The scriptures tell us the answer:

“Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as He determined to do.’”

Did you catch that?

The first step in returning to God came in the way of repentance, in the Israelites confessing the wrongs of their ways and the ways of their ancestors while acknowledging that God’s consequences were what they deserved in response for their wicked ways and practices.

You see, that’s the way it works. We get from God what we deserve for the way we live our lives.

Live in sin and you can expect judgment and punishment.

Live in righteousness, in a way that is pleasing in His sight, and you can expect His favor and blessing.

This one of two messages the Lord has for us today in this first devotion from Zechariah.

The other has to do with actions we need to take to get right with God if we have gotten off course and are living in ways that are not acceptable to Him. If that describes you today, then the steps to getting back in the Lord’s good graces are as follows.

Step 1: Turn from sin and return to the Lord.

When we fall away into sin, we separate ourselves from the God who despises iniquity. In other words, we turn away from the Lord when we turn toward sin. If we’re going to reverse course, then we need to turn from sin and return to the Lord.

Step 2: Repent.

A turning away from sin always involves confession of some kind, an admission of wrongs before the Lord and a profession of commitment to turn away from those wrongs, exchanging them for the Lord’s will and way.   

Step 3: Intentionally obligate yourself to the Lord’s purposes.

This means you seek and carry out what the Lord wants you to do willingly and willfully. Your desire is to please Him through your dedicated service to Him and others.

Let’s just call this the three step program to getting right with the Lord, a program that will always produce favorable results. I pray it helps you today if you have allowed yourself to be separated from God by sin.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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