Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Cousins

Matthew 3 is setting the stage for Jesus' public ministry, because who knows just how He was ministering during His 30 year in the carpenter shop of Joseph!

The Voice for God
Matthew uses this passage from Isaiah 40:3 to identify John the Baptist as the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah. In this role, John’s purpose was to prepare hearts for the Messiah, and to bring an awareness of sin among Israel so they could receive the salvation from sin offered by the Messiah (Matthew 1:21).

His ministry has in mind building up a great road for the arrival of a majestic king. The idea is to fill in the holes, and knock down the hills that are in the way.

So John’s main message wasn’t "You’re a sinner, you need to repent." 
John’s main message was "The Messiah is coming." 
The call to repentance was the response to the news that the Messiah was coming.

The Frauds against God
John accuses the religious leaders of the day of wanting to appear anxious for the Messiah, but not truly repenting and preparing their hearts; John demanded fruits worthy of repentance.

The Purpose of God
Baptize you with the Holy Spirit: This is the promised out-pouring of the Holy Spirit promised with the New Covenant (Ezekiel 37:14).

And fire: To baptize with fire means to bring the fires of judgment, which will purify the pure, but destroy the wicked like chaff. Chaff is the worthless residue of a wheat stalk after the kernel of grain has been removed. These proud and unrepentant leaders are just as useless to God.

The Jewish leaders thought that the Messiah would come with judgment, but only against Israel’s enemies. They were blind in their self-righteous confidence that only others needed to get right with God.

The Baptism of Jesus (God)
The purpose was for Jesus to completely identify Himself with sinful man. This is exactly what He did in His birth, His upbringing, and His death. So here is Jesus standing again in the place of sinful man.

The Voice of God
It was important for God the Father to publicly demonstrate that Jesus’ baptism was not just like anyone else’s, in the sense of being a display of repentance. It was not a display of repentance, but instead it was a righteous identification with sinners, motivated by love, was well pleasing to the Father.

This is an occasion when the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all manifested at the same time.

This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: When this voice of God the Father spoke from heaven, everyone knew that Jesus was not just another man being baptized. They knew Jesus was the perfect (in whom I am well pleased) Son of God, identifying with sinful man. By this, everyone knew that Jesus was different. Jesus was baptized to be identified with sinful man, but He was also baptized to be identified to sinful man.

O Father, Jesus is so much more than well-pleasing to us! He became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. And this step of baptism is just another way in which He associated Himself with us sinful creatures. Thank You for loving us so much so as to make a way for us to be reconciled to Yourself.

Father we do not want to be caught in self-righteousness, but desire a spirit of repentance. We know we have needs. We change our minds and agree with John the Baptist that You are right and we are wrong. Help our hearts and minds to line up with Your way of thinking and doing!

John's ministry must have looked mighty weird during his day, and I can only imagine how that would translate to today! But You blessed him with success. I pray that You will bless St. Philip's ministry to the Bright Zone with success as well. Not for their namesake, but for the hearts of the people who live, work and worship in the Bright Zone. But even more importantly, that more people will fall in love with Jesus and give Him the worship due His name.

I pray especially for the Birds, Babbili's (be with auntie Barbara, Willie, Helen, Manas and Shreeker), Brinkmans, Goforths (may they serve the same God with the same zeal as the Goforths of China), Harrisons, Harringtons, Lundes, Mirzaie-Golkahageh, and the Wintons (that Steven, Deven, Wren and Asa would find complete and total satisfaction in You). May they all draw closer to You especially during this time when the world seems to be crumbling! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

In the Beginning...

Yay!! We are in the New Testament in the 3-Year Bible Reading Plan at St. Philip's! Aside from the Psalms and Proverbs, the Old Testament books are behind us for a while!

And to think the New Testament opens up with a book written by that dirty, lo-down, rascally tax collector, Matthew. At least that is what he was before Jesus got ahold of him! 

While we read through Matthew it would be good to notice how often he refers to the Old Testament, whether by outright quoting, or simply alluding to it. He seems to be concerned about the transition from Old Testament Judaism and it's prophecies, to the New Testament Christ and His fulfillments!

And the first verse is a great example of the prophecy/fulfillment idea! Jesus is the prophesied Son of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16), the promised Seed of Abraham by Whom all the nations will be blessed (Genesis 12:3).

In this legal lineage of Jesus which goes through Joseph, Matthew records five women, a rather unusual event for a Jewish recorder. 

Women were rarely mentioned in ancient genealogies, and the five mentioned here are worthy of special note as examples of God’s grace. They show how God can take unlikely people and use them in great ways.They are

Tamara: She sold herself as a prostitute to her father in-law Judah to bring forth Perez and Zerah. (Genesis 38)

Rahab: She was a Gentile prostitute, for whom God took extraordinary measures to save from judgment and her lifestyle of prostitution. (Joshua 2)

Ruth: She was a widow from enemy territory, Moab, a Gentile. (Book of Ruth)

Bathsheba (Uriah's wife): was an adulteress, infamous for her sin with David. (2 Samuel 11)

Mary: was just an innocent young woman (teenager) of whom it was rumored had become pregnant from a Roman soldier. But yet even with these suspicions (John 8:19, 41), she bore the Son of God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit. This is no greater wonder than the creation of the world by the Holy Spirit. There is no need to choke on this first recorded miracle in the New Testament.

The rest of Matthew 1 is Joseph's chapter. He could have had her stoned according to Jewish law, but he graciously and quietly was just going to cut off the betrothal. He already seemed to know of a higher law called love!

He has the open heart and ears to hear and discern the voice of an angel. I may have just taken some Tylenol PM and try to get past my wild dreams and hallucinations! After all, nobody had ever referred to him as Joseph, son of David before!

The fact that the angel had to share the news about the Holy Spirit conceiving the Child inside of Mary makes me wonder if Mary hadn't told him it was God's child for fear of being thought insane. Or if she had told him, and he did think her insane!

Jesus, Jehovah Saves! 
Jesus meets us in our sin, but His purpose is to save us from them. 
  • First from the penalty of sin, 
  • then from the power of sin, and 
  • finally from the presence of sin.
Immanuel, God with us!
This title of Jesus refers to both His deity (God with us) and His identification and nearness to man (God with us).

1:22-23 gives us the first usage of Matthew's mantra that it might be fulfilled!

What a man of integrity, openness, graciousness and temperance. The words did not know her till imply that Joseph and Mary had normal marital relations after Jesus’ birth. 

Jesus had four brothers whose names were James, Joseph, Simon and Jude. 

He also had sisters, but they are not named or numbered (Matthew 13:56).
Lord Jesus, Promised One, Who delivers from sin and its power, I pray that You will be with us in a special way as St. Philip's undertakes this outreach campaign in the Bright Zone. I pray especially for the Babbilis, Birds, Brinkmans, Goforths, Harrisons, Harringtons, Lundes, MG, and the Wintons. 

Lord, let them experience the same creatorial work by the Holy Spirit in their lives as was demonstrated in creation and in Mary. May they bear forth good fruit that has its roots in heaven. Fruit not of this world. Fruit that will make a difference in their lives, that will sustain them through even economic recessions and spiritual confusion.

Thank You Lord, that You did, and can, use people with checkered pasts and reputations. That somehow You brought forth clean (Jesus) from the unclean (prostitute, deceiver, foreigner, adulteress, etc). I pray that You will use St. Philip's to bring forth spiritual holiness in our neighborhood! In Your name, Jesus, Immanuel, I pray, Amen!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Divert from Reading Plan for Col. 1:24-2:3

Tomorrow at Women's Bible Study we will be looking at Colossians 1:24-2:3 together, and in preparation for that I am diverting from Malachi tonight to look at this portion of Paul's letter to the Christians in Colosse.

And we start off with a bang. I love to use this verse in opening up conversations with believers, just by asking "what do you think Colossians 1:24 means? Is there some lack in Christ?"

Well, one thing we know, this word afflictions is never used of the suffering of Jesus on the cross. Most commentators see this as a reference to the affliction Jesus endured in ministry. These afflictions are not yet complete, and in this sense Jesus still “suffers” as He ministers through His people, the Church.

Notice that Paul didn’t suffer for himself the way that an ascetic might. Instead he suffered for the sake of the body of Christ.

Ascetics focus on their holiness, on their spiritual growth, and on their perfection. Paul followed in the footsteps of Jesus, and was an others-centered person. Instead, Paul found holiness, spiritual growth, and maturity when he pursued them for others.

In the Biblical sense, a mystery is not a riddle. It is a truth that can only be known by revelation, not intuition. Now it can be known, because it now has been revealed to His saints.

The wonder and glory of the abiding, indwelling Jesus was not clearly revealed in the Old Testament - especially that He would abide in the Gentiles. Therefore, this aspect of the work of Jesus in His people was a mystery that wasn’t revealed until the time of Jesus and the apostles.

This is the Christian’s hope of glory. It isn’t our own hard work or devotion to God, or the power of our own spirituality. Instead, it is the abiding presence of Jesus: Christ in you.

This was the focus of Paul’s preaching. He didn’t preach himself, or his opinions, or even lots and lots of entertaining stories. He preached Jesus.

Some translate warning “counseling.” It means, “to impart understanding,” “to lay on the mind or the heart.” The stress is on influencing not only the intellect, but also the will and disposition. It describes a basic means of education.

The goal of Paul’s ministry was to bring people to maturity in Christ, not dependence upon himself.

Paul’s work was empowered by God’s mighty strength and energy. 

Chapter 2
This great conflict was inside Paul (I have for you). It wasn’t that Paul fought with others about the Colossian Christians. Paul described his spiritual warfare and heartfelt care for the Colossians as a great conflict. 

  • Paul was concerned about their enthusiasm, because he longs that their hearts may be encouraged. Paul knew that discouraged, downcast Christians are easy prey for the world, the flesh, and the devil.

  • Paul was concerned about their unity, because he wanted to see them being knit together in love. The unity wouldn’t come from coercion, but love.

  • Paul was concerned about their understanding, because he wanted them to gain all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God.
The term mystery of God is used in a few different ways in the New Testament. Here, Paul uses the term regarding the character and person of God - something we could not know unless it were revealed by Him.

Real riches are found in the believer’s full assurance

It’s not wrong to seek after wisdom and knowledge; but we must seek it all in Jesus.

So much more to this portion, but I am struck foremost by the fullness we have in Jesus Christ, and not just in one arena, like spiritually, or mystically, or emotionally. But in every arena. ALL the FULLNESS dwells in Christ and He in us! O the riches!
Lord Jesus, thank You that when we suffer, You feel it, You are intimately acquainted with it. There is just something comforting about knowing we are that closely connected.

Also, Father, as St. Philip's attempts to go Beyond Ourselves and into the Bright Zone, I pray we would be faithful to Jesus and to them. That it would be more than just a social outreach, but like Paul, we would counsel, teach and proclaim the glorious riches of Christ! Equip us O Lord, and use us. 

I pray especially for the Birds, Brinkmans, Babbilis, Goforths, Harringtons, Harrisons, Lundes, Mazrie-Goltehebrath and Wintons. That You would be their Wonderful Counselor, their Prince of Peace, and Mighty God. We all need power during this time of our nation. We desire Your energy to be working in us! Give us a glimpse of what it is to be in conflict for someone else, rather than ourselves, by Your power. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Monday, March 30, 2009

God's Sacrifice of the Good Shepherd

Zechariah 12 ended with Israel’s return to the LORD through the once rejected but now embraced Messiah. And Zechariah 13 opens with the fountain flowing from their embrace of the Messiah. 

They now enjoy a fountain that brings cleansing for sin and for uncleanness. The cleansing comes after their mourning for the One whom they have pierced.
“According to the verse before us this provision is inexhaustible. There is a fountain opened; not a cistern nor a reservoir, but a fountain. A fountain continues still to bubble up, and is as full after fifty years as at the first; and even so the provision and the mercy of God for the forgiveness and the justification of our souls continually flows and overflows.” (Spurgeon--of course!)
Idolatry and false prophecy were the two principle ways Israel was led astray from God. God not only provides a fountain to cleanse, but He also promises to cut off the source of uncleanness - in this case, idolatry and false prophecy.
God promises ultimately to take away even the memory of our sin.
Zechariah prophesies a coming day when public opinion will not tolerate false prophets. There will be such a commitment to the LORD and His truth that even the family of a false prophet will condemn the false prophet.

The man accused of being a false prophet insists the scars on his body are not the self-inflicted wounds often associated with false prophets (1 Kings 18:28; Jeremiah 48:37), but merely the result of a brawl in his friend’s house. This unlikely, ironic explanation shows just how desperately people will avoid being identified with false prophets in this coming day Zechariah speaks of.

(Some take verse 6 as another Messianic prophecy in Zechariah, because Jesus was clearly wounded by those who should have been His friends. But the context demonstrates that this is about false prophets.)

But in the context starting in verse 7, and especially in light of the quotation of this passage in Matthew 26:31, we understand that the Shepherd is Jesus the Messiah - and it is God the Father Himself who calls for the Shepherd to be struck.

Zechariah relates a thought also said in Isaiah 53:10
Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. 

The prophets Isaiah and Zechariah gloriously and emphatically, state that the suffering of the Servant of the Lord was ordained by the Lord. This was God’s doing! He gave the command to strike the Shepherd. Jesus was no victim of circumstance or at the mercy of political or military power. It was the planned, ordained work of the Lord God, prophesied by Isaiah hundreds of years before it happened. This was God’s victory, not Satan’s or man’s triumph.

As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. The Father and the Son worked together at the cross. Though Jesus was treated as if He were an enemy of God, He was not. Even as Jesus was punished as if He were a sinner, He was performing the most holy service unto God the Father ever offered.

Jesus quoted from Zechariah 13:7 in Matthew 26:31 in reference to the scattering of His disciples during His arrest and suffering. There is also a sense in which the disciples were a type of Israel as a whole in being scattered.

Without Christ and His work on the cross, we are without a Shepherd and are lost and scattered. Thank God for His provision.
O Pierced Shepherd, we thank You for being willing to take the punishment that was our due. O bless the heart that planned it! We pray Lord that You would guide the Bright Zone outreach. We take confidence that it is from Your hand, that we should live Beyond Ourselves and minister to those in our neighborhoods during these hard times.

I pray especially for these families: Birds, Babbilis, Brinkmans, Lundes, Harrisons, Harringtons, Mazrie-Goltehebrah, Goforths and the Wintons. That any stress or pressure they may be experiencing would drive them to You. And that any joy or thanksgiving they may be experiencing would draw their hearts to You! Give guidance to the committee as to how we all can be a part of this outreach, and that we will all be willing to live Beyond Ourselves. In Jesus' name, amen!

O Christ, it woke ’gainst Thee!
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake;
Thine heart its sheath must be;
All for my sake, my peace to make;
Now sleeps that sword for me.
(Anne R. Cousin)

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
(William Cowper)

Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.
(Augustus Toplady)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Look upon Him Whom they have pierced...& so will I

Zechariah 12 begins with praise for God’s creative power, reminding us that He is in control and completely able to accomplish what He predicts. 

And for those who believe in the mass conversion of Jews just prior to the physical return of Jesus to this earth, Zechariah 12 is their passage, along with Romans 11:26

But before we cover that, let me just go to the verse that strikes me most, verse 8. King David was renowned for his fighting ability, courage, and success. God promises that the weakest saint will be as mighty as David - and the leaders can only be compared in might to God! Even in our weakness in Christ, we are mightier than that mighty king of Israel, David!

Now, back to the Jews…Part of this great outpouring of strength and might to defend God’s people will be an outpouring of the Spirit - but also it will be of grace and supplication. God will move among Israel and bring saving grace and repentant prayer.

As Jerusalem is supernaturally defended and the Spirit is poured out on the nation, they will turn to Jesus, the pierced One. 
  • His head was pierced with thorns, 
  • His hands and feet were pierced with nails, 
  • and a spear pierced His side.
They will look: They will turn away from their trust in the foolish, worthless shepherd and turn their focus on the Good Shepherd. When we see Jesus crucified - understanding why He went to the cross and what He accomplished there - we are drawn to Him in humble repentance (John 12:32). So am I.

Whom they pierced. They will realize that they did it, and that they bear responsibility - not sole responsibility, but responsibility nonetheless - for the crucifixion of their Savior. So do I.

They will mourn: The Jewish people will turn to Jesus in repentance, mourning their past rejection of Him. The mourning will be deep, as if for an only son, the firstborn. Firstborn was synonymous with the most beloved. So will I.

Spurgeon is by constant companion and by far my favorite preacher. He was the Billy Graham of the 1800's. He takes time to point out this nugget:

They will look . . . they will mourn: Here we see the pattern for coming to Jesus and true repentance. First we look to Jesus, then we mourn for our sins. Looking to Jesus must come first.

“A great mistake is very common among all classes of men - it is currently believed that we are first of all to mourn for our sins, and then to look by faith to our Lord Jesus Christ. Most persons who have any concern about their souls, but are not as yet enlightened by the Spirit of God, think that there is a degree of tenderness of conscience, and of hatred of sin, which they are to obtain somehow or other, and then they will be permitted and authorized to look to Jesus Christ. Now you will perceive that this is not according to the Scripture, for, according to the text before us. Men first look upon Him whom they have pierced, and then, but not till then, they mourn for their sin.”

“It is a beautiful remark of an old divine, that eyes are made for two things at least; first, to look with, and next, to weep with. The eye which looks to the pierced One is the eye which weeps for Him.” 
They will look upon Me: Comparing Zechariah 12:10 with Zechariah 12:1 and 12:3 (Thus says the LORD . . . says the LORD) makes it clear that the Me they look upon is the LORD God - Yahweh - Himself. This is astounding and wonderful evidence that Jesus the pierced One is God, and that Yahweh is the Triune God.
O Pierced One, thank You for taking the penalty my sin deserved and bearing them in Your body on the tree. That is the greatest act of love. It isn't so much the cross or the crucifixion or even what Mel Gibson portrayed in The Passion, but it is the pain of taking on the sins of the whole world into that sinless, pure, and perfect bosom and doing it all for me. My life cannot be radical enough for You, it can never compare to the radical extent You went to for me. Thank You so much.

I pray that the families in the Bright Zone will get to discover Your outrageous love, and if it be Your good will, that St. Philip's will get to be a part of that discovery! We pray that You will own this initiative of living Beyond Ourselves and bless all the families that live within the Ida Bright Elementary attendance zone. Especially the Babbilis, Birds, Brinkmans, Lundes, Harrisons, Harringtons, Mazrie-Goltehebrah, Goforths and Wintons. Thank You for Your sacred love, Amen!

The Price of a Dead Slave

Zechariah 11:1-3 is often understood to be yet another history lesson for us (though it was a future lesson when Zack spoke/wrote it!). 

Some would say it describes the events of 70 AD when Vespasian and Titus came down through Lebanon to destroy Israel and Judah and Jerusalem. These Romans destroyed Jerusalem after the Good Shepherd was crucified. 

(Josephus, who was Jew taken into Vespasian's family, recorded the whole event in his book called Wars of the Jews commissioned by Vespasian himself.)

But the rest of Zechariah 11 seems to be an allegory (difficult as it may be) that speaks of God fulfilling His promise. In it God speaks to a person yet unnamed (4) and tells him to pasture the flock "marked for slaughter." They are so marked by their own leaders, who think only of the profit they can gain by selling out their people (4-6).

But when the Good Shepherd comes to care for the flock, and "particularly for the oppressed of the flock," He is rejected! Though He rids them of false shepherds and seeks to guide them with grace (favor) and unity (union), He is detested by His sheep!

The first thing He does is remove three shepherds. Perhaps "these three shepherds should not be seen as three individuals but as three classes of individuals, namely: the prophets, priests, and kings of Israel.” (Boice) 

The offices of prophet, priest, and king were taken away from Israel after the Roman conquest of Judea and have never been restored - because they are now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

But the sheep detest these acts, as well as the very Shepherd Himself. For His care for them, the only pay they offer is "thirty pieces of silver." 

Strikingly, this price is the amount set in Old Testament law as compensation to be paid for a dead slave (Exodus 21:32)! And the price of the Good Shepherd is thrown "into the house of the Lord to the potter" (13).

The Gospels present this passage as a prophecy about Jesus. 
  • He came, announcing Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18). 
  • But the flock He came to pasture detested Him. 
  • The priests weighed out the price of a dead slave to Jesus' betrayer (Matthew 26:14-16). 
  • And later, after Jesus' death, the coins were brought back by a remorseful Judas and thrown into the temple. 
  • The chief priests picked up the coins and "decided to use the money to buy a potter's field as a burial place for foreigners" (Matthew 27:1-10). 
  • Thus the words of Zechariah found fulfillment in Jesus, as did the similar prophecy of Jeremiah (32:6-9).
With the Good Shepherd slain, the staffs of grace and unity are broken. He is replaced by worthless shepherds (14-17).

And so this chapter ends with the death of the Good Shepherd. But His death is not the end, for evil has not and will not overcome!

Whew Lord Jesus! We do not want to treat Your provisions with such disdain. We rejoice with what You are doing, and what You are yet to do. Help us to join You and be a part of it, rather than criticize and crucify the vision before we even see what it is all about. We do not want to be guilty of doing the very thing the Jews were guilty of when they nailed You to the cross 2,000 years ago...rejecting the provision of Jehovah!

Father, bless the Beyond Ourselves effort as it seems to throb of the very heartbeat of Jesus, just by the mere fact that we are other-focused rather than self-focused. Guide St. Philip's exactly how they are to reach out to everyone in the Bright Zone, and raise up at least 300 people to be a part of this outreach!

I especially pray for the Harringtons, Harrisons, Goforths, Babbilis, Wintons, Lundes, Brinkmans and Mazrie-Goltehebrah. Lord, may these families be directly contacted and impacted by the Beyond Ourselves campaign and brought into a closer relationship with You! Amen!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jesus Our Shepherd

We may have further history in Zechariah 10:1-12 as some say it is a reference to the successful stand made by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers against Antiochus around 165 BC. 

Israel had no irrigation system, and relied on rain to water their crops. In a time of drought, nothing grew - so Israel relied on both the former rain (falling in autumn) and the latter rain (falling in spring).

So when God says that He will give them showers of rain: The Lord is challenging His people saying, “Be bold enough to ask Me, and I will answer your prayer. I will provide what only I can provide.”

In man’s ideas of equality, often everyone ends up equally poor. But with God, His idea of equality means abundance for everyone. (10:1)

The people have listened to false and deceptive leaders, and part of the reason is because there is a lack of godly leadership. But God will make His people as royal horses in the battle. In mercy God will take His people and transform them from a flock of sheep to a herd of powerful horses, ready for service.

Though God is displeased with Israel’s shepherds, He will raise up the perfect Shepherd from and for Judah.
God has strengthened us, and will strengthen us. Ephesians 6:10 says that we can draw on His resources for strength: Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.

The availability of God’s strength means there will be opportunities for us to use it. “The Lord does not say, ‘I will take you away from your labors,’ but ‘I will strengthen you, so that you will be able to perform, them.’ ” (Spurgeon)

Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen St. Philip's as the partner with Frisco ISD to reach out to the Bright Zone, everyone who lives, works and worships in the Ida Bright Elementary School attendance area. I pray our focus in this area of Frisco will have a ripple effect for all Frisco, Collin County, Metroplex, Texas, USA, World. We want to dare to dream big, for without vision the people perish!

I especially for the Goforths, Harringtons, Harrisons, Lunde, Babbili, Wintons, Brinkman and Mazrie-Goltehebrah. May these difficult economic times drive them not to a bigger government (be that as it may) but rather to You Lord Jesus. May they know You as Jehovah-Jireh, The Lord Provider!

Thank You for family, friends, and all the people you have put in my life. You sure so spoil me. Amen!

One Thing for Sure...He does Restore 2x as Much!

Zechariah 9 is loaded!

Some say it speaks against nations that follow Alexander the Great's path of destruction, thus making him the fulfillment of this chapter in 331 BC. It makes for some very interesting reading to cross these two elements: 
  1. The Great Greek's conquering path
  2. the nations and cities mentioned in Zechariah 9:1-8
especially when you consider that Alex spared Jerusalem (compare to 9:8)!
(See Josephus' interesting account of this in his eleventh book, Chapter 8, paragraph 4-5)

If the first eight verses are about Alexander's march through the regions surrounding Israel, it makes verse 9 all the more stark as it describes Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem as "lowly and riding on a donkey!" (See Matthew 21 & John 12)

And ever since Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the Gospel has been riding on throughout the earth from sea to shining sea!

The rest of the chapter carries the idea that the Lord Himself leads the battle in the end. Both the Bible and the Koran have the idea of the holy war - which Islam calls Jihad - but there is a huge difference between the idea of the holy war in the Bible and in Islam. 
  • Jesus alone carries out the Biblical holy war - never His people. 
  • In Islam, the Jihad is the responsibility of every good Muslim.
God will, and does, protect His people who are covered by the blood of the Lamb. And we "will sparkle in His hand like jewels in a crown!" How precious is His mercy and grace!

Lord Jesus, thank You for conquering our hearts by Your love and beauty! Thank You for protecting Your house (for it is all of us). Father we ask that You would be just as zealous to protect Your name and reputation in our own lives.

Thank You especially for verse 12! 
Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; 
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.
To be Your captive is to be a "prisoner of hope!" And You do more than just doubly restore, You go so much beyond that in our lives. 

So I ask Lord, that we would live Beyond Ourselves, especially towards those who live in the Bright Zone. Help St. Philip's be a world-changing factor for the Bright Zone. Be with the leaders tonight as they unveil our intention in this outreach. I pray that the Harrington family will be one of many who are impacted by this ministry.

And help me to successfully and purposefully get into prison, as You deem best. We love You Lord. Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bright Zone

St. Philip's is focusing their efforts on the people who live and work in the Bright Zone. And just what is the Bright Zone?

Frisco ISD has divvied up the area into 27 regions identified by Elementary schools. The region where St. Philip's exists is named after the school that St. Phil's had its start...Ida Lee Bright Elementary (or Bright for short!)

As you can see on this map, it is located in the heart of Frisco going from Main street south to Stonebrook, and from Preston to the Tollway (with a little westward peninsula that encompasses St. Philip's!) 
(Coordinates = LY-LZ:511-512)

It also is one of the most, if not the most, impoverished region of all 27 districts. Instead of a building campaign, St. Philip's is going to focus on a people campaign, that of reaching out to everyone who lives and works in the Bright Zone for the Lord!

Growing Faith that Impacts the Bright Zone for Christ!

Step One to Step Twelve

Zechariah 8 continues to answer the inquiry made at the beginning of chapter 7 of whether or not we should continue to remember the sins of our past that took us into a 70-year captivity! You just gotta love this chapter!

Truth and Love Must Prevail

The Lord declares that His passionate love for Israel has not diminished.

A series of sayings of the Lord assures His people that they are the objects of His love. The hard-heartedness of their fathers in 7:11-14 has not swayed the Lord from His commitment to Jerusalem and her people.

Zechariah describes at length the prosperity awaiting the chosen city. The Lord had returned to dwell there (and where ever the Lord is there is freedom and transformation), and the old men and women who were at the end of life should join with happy boys and girls who were at the beginning in the enjoyment of the blessings of peace. 

So entirely would the memory of the past be obliterated that fateful anniversaries would soon fade from their minds. Indeed they would discover that their dark days had been the source and origin of their glad ones.

One last thought from Dr. James Boice regarding the last verse:
“We are all clinging to the seamless robe of that one Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, who because of His work on the cross is the only basis on which anyone may approach God and entreat Him for spiritual blessings.” 
Lord, we are so thankful that you can even redeem our poor choices and use them for good. It takes no great God to use good people who always makes the right choices. But what a marvellously gracious and powerful God You are, that can take rebels, self-willed, constantly-finding-trouble, children and use them to minister to others. 

I pray for all those who trapped by addictions and are working the 12 step program. Let them discover how You can turn their powerlessness into a care and compassion and ministry to others. 

We pray for those who meet at St. Philip's for AA, and that anyone in the Bright Zone who struggles with powerlessness, that they would come and see Your transforming power in their lives. I pray that if the Harrington's are experiencing any captivity or bondage, that You will be their Savior and Deliverer! Amen

Focusing on Past Sins tends towards Self-indulgence

Zechariah 7 starts off with a delegation being sent, apparently from Babylon to Jerusalem with, of all things, a question about fasting. At this point, the temple was somewhere around halfway completed.

There are seven feasts that the Jews observed during their captivity, four of which recalled the destruction of the temple and their captivity:
  • 1) First enclosure of Jerusalem by the enemies' lines
  • 4) the capture of the city
  • 5) destruction by fire of the Temple
  • 7) murder of Gedaliah.
The national life was depressed by this constant memory of disaster. These men knew that during their forced exile in Babylon they observed these feasts that remembered the tragic fall of Jerusalem. 

But now since God’s people were back in the land and the temple was nearly rebuilt, they wanted to know if it was appropriate to continue to these fasts of mournful remembrance.

(The matter brings up an issue relevant today: How long should we remember and mourn over our past? Should we do things to remember either our sin or the tragedies of the past?)

So representatives were sent to ask the views of the leaders. 

The delegation is not answered directly. Instead a word from God comes to Zechariah "to all the people of the land to the priests" (4). 

What is the purpose of their fasting? Is it really for the Lord? Or is it an expression of their own needs, like eating and drinking? Fasting must not be motivated by self-interest but by concern for the glory of God (4-7).

(This also shows us that when we cling to the memory of sin or tragedy in the past, we often do it out of simple self-indulgence. We do it for our self, not for the Lord.

Instead of actively remembering the sin or tragedy of the past, God wants us to focus on active obedience and an active walk with Him. 
“There is no need to observe the sad anniversaries of our sins and their accompanying punishment, if once we are assured of God’s free forgiveness. When He forgives and restores, the need for dwelling on the bitter past is over . . . Too many of us are always dwelling beside the graves of the dead past.” (Meyer))
Then in a second word from God, Zechariah calls on Israel to recognize the basic issue facing them. God's real concern, as shown in the history of Judah before her fall, is that His people "administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another." 

What God wants is that they "do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the stranger or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of one another." (9-10) Some among the people of God found it easier to fast a few days a year instead of truly treating others in a godly way. 

The issue is not fasts, but the willingness of this people to commit to a life that pleases God.
Interesting progression is mentioned in verses 11-12:
Refused to heed . . . shrugged their shoulders . . . stopped their ears . . . made their hearts like flint: 
Zechariah vividly describes a progression of rejection. It begins with simply refusing to heed God, then a self-justifying shrugging of their shoulders, then stopping their hears. It all ends with hearts as hard as flint.

Their disobedience and disregard for God led to scattering and desolation. This is always our fate when we allow religious rituals to take the place of a real relationship with God.
Lord Jesus, we hunger for a real relationship. Deliver us, or prevent us, from being ensnared by activities, rituals and past sins. We want to focus on You and Your word for us. 

You say You have a plan and a future for us, one of hope and brightness. Because You have cleansed us and forgiven us, help us to focus on You and strive towards the goal of this bright vision. I pray this for us as individuals, and also for us as a church. May we walk in obedience by showing mercy and compassion especially to the people in the Bright Zone.

May the Harringtons be recipients of Your mercy and grace through us. And if they be anywhere in this progression of rejection, that You would intervene and soften their hearts to You. Thank You for Your guidance, love and deliverance. Amen.