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Week 31 Devotional Blog (July 29-August 4)

Day 1

Zechariah 9

This chapter start with a weighty word regarding to Israel regarding their enemies. God is telling His people, that He will be their defender and avenger. He names specific cities which are part of the empires who have attacked and oppressed them, and He is reassuring them that he will deal decisively and severely with those people and places that have been a stench to them. In v. 8, there is this declaration from the Lord that He will stand watch personally to guarantee their safety from enemies such as these... he will never allow them again to be overrun in the manner of Babylon, Assyria and the like.

But God's Salvation is not mere protection... it includes peace and prosperity and flourishing. Not only will he defend them. But he will send a ruler to govern them and guide them into the future that He will secure for them. v. 9 points toward a humble future King who will usher in a new era, a new beginning, and a new Kingdom.

This King will not only rule Israel, but he will bring peace and security and salvation to the whole earth. And he won't do so through the the traditional, expected weapons of war. He will dispense with the earthly way of kingdom expansion. He will not come in military conquest or coercive force. He will come in righteousness and peace, in humility and sacrifice, freeing captives and those living in fear through the blood of a new covenent.

This section fulfilled in Jesus' triumphal entry, recorded in all of the gospels... where Jesus comes into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, as he moves toward the cross. It is through Jesus' humility and sacrifice that Israel's enemies are defeated, that sin is atoned for, and it's thorugh his resurrection that victory is secured and salvation is unleashed.

The last section of this chapter points toward the day of Salvation, when the work of redemption is completed. Through this saving act, God's scattered people will be gathered. The good shepherd will preserve his flock and give them a future, because they are his treasured possession.

Zechariah 9 tells us something surprising and compelling about the kind of Savior and Salvation that God was sending, and the kind of future He was securing for his people... and all that is imagined here is ours through Christ and his finished work. This future for Israel then, is a present reality for us. This is possible for you and me right now to live in the midst of. I wonder if you have entered into that, and if you are experiencing the daily reality of it... you can, by grace through the empty hands of faith in Jesus. Whatever your past or current regrets, we can enter into this Salvation and better future today. And we can live there.

Day 2

Zechariah 10

This chapter continues to fill out the picture which Zechariah began painting in chapter 9, of the future messianic servant who would come to establisha new kingdom of a different quality and kind. God criticizes the leadership and governing of Israel as a people to this point and promises to care very personally for the restored Israel. God characterizes himself as a shepherd to a flock that has been wandering aimlessly for lack of a true shepherd. They've been oppressed and deceived and exploited rather than led and cared for and loved.

But this new King and Kingdom will confront the old patterns and established paradigms. This new King and Kingdom will embody and enforce a whole value system, with a new culture and new customs. This new King and Kingdom will restore hope and joy and humaneness... this new King and Kingdom will galvanize and unify and dignify God's people again.

Assyria is dealt with severely. Israel's earthly enemies are overwhelmed by a new empire, Persia. God does have compassion on Israel and they do finish rebuilding the temple and later on the city of Jerusalem. Geo-political Israel build a new foundation. But other earthly forces enter the fray. The Roman Empire will emerge in less than 200 years. The Kingdom God is pointing toward is not ultimately the geo-political kingdom of Israel...

These are hints toward the messianic Kingdom, which is inaugurated at the coming of Jesus. He is the true King and the Good Shepherd. And those who are gathered to God through faith in Christ are his flock who live under his care. God will yet make a spectacle of earthly governing authorities, worldly power structures and the coercive forces through which men try to establish their own rule. God will deliver his people from the darkness of their own assertion and brutality to the joy of his loving protection and security.

Zechariah was anticipating this future kingdom for the sake of Israel's hope and faithfulness in their own generation. But, brothers and sisters, we can enter into the present reality of this Kingdom for the sake of the world and the advancement of God's Kingdom in our generation. Jesus brought this kingdom into the now, and we, who belong to him by faith, are citizens of that Kingdom, called to embody the values, customs and culture of His Kingdom as his ambassadors to the earthly kingdoms we inhabit. This is the calling of the global Church and the responsibility of every local church: to be a Kingdom outpost or embassy, located within a foreign land, as a safe place for those who are already citizens of God's Kingdom, and as faithful representatives of God's Kingdom to those surrounding us.

We do this personally and collectively. And we do this by continually abiding in and being strengthened by the grace that is in Christ. We trust in the finished work of Christ alone for our citizenship, and we renounce our former allegiance to earthly assumptions and associations. And we lean into and rely upon God's Spirit, to lead us into the joy of living under the authority of God's Son... and we do this together, as God's people.

Day 3

Zechariah 11

This chapter points toward the corruption of Israel's leaders, and yet also to Israel's rejection of an alternative leader, namely, the promised King and Shepherd from chapters 9-10. Israel is being ravaged by exploitative leaders who are in it for their own power and gain, and the Lord despises them. He would gladly replace them and give his people the Leader they need who would love them and care for them at every level, and bring peace.

But His people don't want to be led. They want to be indulged. They want to be accommodated. The word of the Lord is anticipating Israel's rejection of the Messiah and God's judgement on them by giving them over to their own corrupt will and desire.

This is one of the scariest trends of God's judgement throughout Scripture... when he gives a people over to their desires and removes himself from the equation as a protecter, provider, defender and Savior. God will not force himself upon us. If we really want life without him and on our own terms, he will give that to us. He will remove his hand and allow us to live for ourselves and natural impulses and to suffer the reality of a life without his gracious presence and loving kindness.

There is judgement in such a withdrawal... but there is also love, even in this. This is often the mechanism by which God makes us totally aware of our brokenness and need for him. By giving us over to life without him, we may yet come to a place of desperate desire for him. I wonder if you've been through that for a time, or if you've watched people you love go thorugh what seems to that kind of season... I have. It's brutal. But sometimes we need to sit in that ourselves, or watch others suffer through such an existence, in order to feel our need.

Jesus has come to shepherd his people and he will chase down the wandering sheep to be sure. But he won't imprison you in the flock. He will allow you to leave and try your hand at life without a shepherd or life under abusive or neglectful shepherds. His heart is always to see a return to sheepfold. We need to nurture a loving submission in our own lives personally and pray diligently for those we know who might be drifting or wandering or outright resisting. May we all come to the end of ourselves so that we can live in glad dependence and loving surrender to the one who loves us perfectly and leads us into life.

Day 4

Zechariah 12

Day 5

Zechariah 13

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Week 30 Devotional Blog (July 22-28)

Day 1

Zechariah 4

This next vision, number 5 is so strange... but thankfully the angel tells Zechariah and us what it means. The 4th vision was related to Joshua, and his leadership role as priest. This one relates to Zerubbabel and his leadership role as governer in Jerusalem and the one who is overseeing the rebuilding of the temple.

And the word of the Lord to Zechariah is that Zerubbabel had begun the work, laying its foundation, and that he he will see it through to completion. And the Lord is affirming Zerubbabel, but simultaneously making it clear that it is "not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit," says the Lord.

It's the Spirit of God in a man that energizes and strengthens him for Kingdom work. We saw this last week, that God's empowering of us does not relieve of us of responsibility or effort, but rather it motivates us to take responsbility and give every effort. The Spirit creates urgeny and intensity about what really matters so that we give our earthly efforts to eternal or ultimate ends... the flesh can tolerate moderate Christianity... the Spirit generates radical and real Christianity. The flesh can be productive and successful on the surface... the Spirit is fruitful in visible ways that flow from motivational restructuring... his primary work is beneath the surface. The flesh is mindful of self... my accomplishments, my efforts, others perception of me, the credit I get, or the reward I earn. The Spirit makes us aware of God's work in us and for us... what he's accomplishing, what he's generating, his glory becoming visible, the praise he receives, and the reward which we don't deserve but which he gives freely in himself and his blessings.

The Lord's work in the Lord's way is accomplished only by the Spirit, but it is advanced through us and our Spirit-empowered efforts. Let's keep renouncing self and returning again and again to the Lord, so that we might bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Day 2

Zechariah 5

I'm not going to lie... the two visions in chapter 5 are bizarre. I always appreciate it when Scripture explicitly explains images like these, but we get no such help here. Here's how I understand them...

The 6th vision is of a flying scroll making it's way around Jerusalem, judging and punishing thieves and liars specifically. It seems to be pointing toward a future day, in the new Jerusalem perhaps, where the Word of God purifies his people, clarifying sin, convicting the guilty, and condemning the unrepentant. Zechariah is getting a glimpse, and giving us a glimpse, of a future reality when the truth and authority of God's word actually gives shape to the world and re-orders things according to God's design, where evil is punished and eradicated and where his people are conformed to His righteousness and holiness.

The 7th vision is super weird too. There's a basket whose cover is removed and a woman pops out, and the angel tells Zechariah the woman is "wickedness." So, she personifies evil and rebellion. Two other women with wings come along and pick up the basket and fly away and restrict wickedness to Shinar, a city in Babylon. The idea seems to be that God's reinforcement that though he is keeping covenant with Israel, he will not overlook persistent evil. Their exile in Babylon was the result of God's judgement for centuries of wickedness and if they revert back to such rebellion than God will send them away again.

My take away from this chapter and these two visions is that God's rescue of Israel is not just from oppressors, but it's a rescue to obedience. God is serious about his covenant, but he's serious about his commands. He isn't watering down what he requires of them so they can actually succeed this time... God is reinforcing the standard he has always set, and he's calling them to submit.

IN the same way, for us, our redemption on through Jesus' finished work is not a rescue from the oppression of sin only, it is a rescue to obedience and surrender to Jesus as our King. God has saved us to purify for himself a people, and to conform us more fully to the image and likeness of Christ. He continues to lead us by His word into lives that are worthy of the calling we have received. God is no less interested in or serious about our obedience today than he was Israel's obedience in the 6th century B.C.

But he doesn't leave us to obey as a way of earning our salvation. He saves us and secures our eternity and then leads us to obey, not for His blessing but because of His blessing. And our obedience is no more possible today than theirs was in that day, left to ourselves. Like the angel said of Zerubbabel, our obedience will not be might or power but by the Spirit. God has sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us as an agent for our obedience. We give every effort to obedience, but it's the Spirit's work in us to remind us, motivate us, and empower us to actually adopt the life and character which God calls us to, not perfectly but visibly.

The atoning work of Christ is not God winking at sin or enabling our sin. It's the measure of how serious God is about sin. He has rid us of our record of sin and he is in the process of ridding us of the rule of sin in our present lives, by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. We live and grow by these means or we we're missing out on personal reality with God. We need a daily, conscious pursuit of God's Word, and a moment by moment, opened awareness and surrenderedness to the Holy Spirit to experience personal reality with God.

Day 3

Zechariah 6

The 8th and final vision for Zechariah calls the first to mind. We saw then the four horses who had been patrolling the earth, representing God's watchful governing over the events unfolding in history. The first vision was those horses returning from their patrol and reporting peace, which anticipated Persia coming in and defeating Babylon which marked the end of Israel's exile.

This last vision is of four chariots led by horses patrolling the earth again. When the angel says "I have set my Spirit at rest in the north country," it seems to re-affirm the earlier prophecy of peace coming to Israel, though the specific timing of that is still not given. The point is that God is still governing over his people and guiding the events in real time, space, and history toward their resolution, and he will keep his promises and his word to his people despite how things may sometimes appear.

Zechariah then transitions out of these series of images and visions, to a more direct verbal form of prophecy. He is instructed by the Lord to make a crown and go to place it on the high priets, Joshua, who is to be the one to overses building temple. God says he will gather the people to come and do the work but it will be a priest on the throne to reestablish Israel, if Joshua will indeed obey the Lord.

While this was to happen in real time, it is pointing beyond itself to the future God has for his people when Jesus comes, both as High Priest and King of Kings, to re-establish God's Kingom and gather God's people to himself to do God's work in God's way that God might be rightly worshipped and honored as God.

Zechariah is pointing, 500-plus years before Christ, to Christ, that he might recognized as the ultimate Priest who brings his people into the presence of God, and the true King who leads his people into the purposes of God. And as Israel was invited into then, we are invited now to enter into that ultimate reality by placing our faith in Christ and giving every effort following Christ wherever he will take us.

Day 4

Zechariah 7

As Zechariah's series of visions closes here, time is marked in chapter 7... it's been two years since the word of the Lord first came to Zechariah in chapter 1. So after two years, some prophetic words and 8 prophetic visions, all seeming to anticipate the renewal of God's favor and the return of Israel to their former glory and prosperity, people are excited and energized, but also apprehensive.

A generation of people have lived in exile, grieving the desolation of Jerusalem and some of them have fasted and prayed toward their return and the renewal of Israel... they come to Zechariah asking, essentially, "are you saying the time is up, or should we keep our rhythms of fasting and praying going?"

They are wondering if God's Kingdom is on the horizon, and if His promises are coming to fulfillment. And God, through Zechariah, rather than answering their question directly, sort of proposes his own question. He reminds them of what God required of the previous generations, whose failures brought about the exile in the first place. God re-iterates his commands to them of living justly and uprightly with one another, caring for the vulnerable, and walking in covenant faithfulness with Him. God reminds the current generation that the previous generations hardened their hearts, revolted against God's commands, nurtured in justice and greed and corruption and idolatry, and that the exile of Israel and the desolation of Jerusalem was His answer to their rebellion.

The implication here, is that God's character and standards have not changed at all. They're asking if his kingdom is finally coming in their generation, and He turns it on them and essentially confronts them with the question of whether they are the generation that will finally be ready to enter into the life of God's coming kingdom. Will they submit to him, and honor him and worship him, and fear him? Will they wak with integrity and renounce corruption? Will they use power to defend the vulnerable rather than to oppress the vulnerable? Will they they treat one another with radical dignity and humaneness, according to God's law?

There is no answer or response from the people... the call of God is simply reiterated to his people for their consideration. It's posed to us too, for our consideration. In our own generation, which clearly has impact on the coming generations, will we be a people who are submitted to God's word, faithful to God's commands, and whose hearts are receptive to God's love toward us and authority over us. Or will we take his blessing for granted while we pursue our own agendas and rule our own lives, and determine our own morality, and build our own lives?

Day 5

Zechariah 8

God's word to Israel here is one of hope and restoration and a bright future. Where there has been fasting, God is leading them to feasting. Where there has been desolation and desperation, God will give them cause for celebration. He is reversing their fortunes and will pour out his favor and blessing upon them as a people, making them the envy of nations rather than the scorn of nations. He is hitting the reset button for Israel. These are incredible life-giving words for those who have endured such loss and misery.

This was going to be Israel's opportunity to steward God's blessing differently than previous generations. God would bless them in the coming days. But as with every previous generations, they would squander and abuse and misuse His blessing. They would ignore his commands. They would repeat the patterns of their fathers. And God's wrath to former generations would come to a future generation (or in the next 100 years). God would go quiet. He would silence his voice and distnace himself for a time (400 years), while Salvation got it's boots on. Jesus would come fulfill in himself as faithful Israel, what unfaithful Israel never could. And he would gather a people from all nations to himself, united to him by faith, to be clothed in his righteousness and to share in the reward of his perfections.

Ultimately, God's promise to Israel here in Zechariah is fulfilled in the future of all those who are joined to Christ by grace and through faith... He is the one through whom God's ultimate blessing would come and through whom we can enter into life with God now and forever.

So this is not empty sentimientalism, or what could have been only... this is the reality and eternity for all who belong to Christ. This is personal. This is for you and me if we're identified with Christ.

We can enter into the joy and celebration and feasting of this now. But only to the degree that we follow the word of the Lord to Zechariah, "therefore love truth and peace."

To love what is real and solid and firm and reliable. Specifically, we are to love the truth of God's character and kindness to us and the safety and security of living in his presence and under his protection and with his provision. We are to love what is true in him and of him and because of him, and not embrace alternative narratives of which the world wants to persuade us.

The peace Zechariah speaks of here is the word Shalom. It's the totality of a person being at peace and in good health... it's wholeness and flourishing at every level. So, we are to love the truth of God revealed fully in Jesus and his gospel, and we are to love the felt reality and lived-in experience of that truth which remakes us and everyone at every level of their person if it's the defining truth of our lives. Shalom is about the sustained encounter with the reality of God's love and grace and favor and presence and blessing, which settles our hearts and minds and breathes life into every dimension of life.

Loving truth and peace is about living in the personal reality of Christ's finished work, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and bringing other people into that reality by how we live and relate to them. And that's possible, not by might, nor by power but by the Spirit.

We We can experience a substantial

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Week 29 Devotional Blog (July 15-21)

Day 1

Haggai 1

So, the setting of Haggai is this... the first waves of Israelites has returned to Jesualem from exile in Babylon. They began to rebuild the temple as a first priority but then gave up and stopped the work. Instead, they rebuilt homes for themselves... these are the "paneled houses" referred to in v. 4. So, Israel is re-establishing their life in Jerusalem, getting comfortable again, while the temple lies in ruins. What this is represents is Israel's willingness to rebuild their lives and reroot themselves with their worship of God as an afterthought. They feel the pinch of getting themselves in order, and they presume to do so without having hte hearts and their worship rightly ordered. And into that space Haggai is speaking.

And v. 5 and 7 give this exhortation to them, and I believe, to us. "Consider your ways," says the Lord. The first admonition is followed by a description of the futility of life without God at the center. This is such a pertinent word for us in the 21st-Century American church.

All of our hard work and dogged determination and economic investment and advancement; all of our fun and entertainment, our indulgence, opulence and satisfying of earthly appetites; all our dieting and exercise and obsession with health and insulate ourselves from exposure to hardship; all of our saving and accumulating of wealth; and yet we're depressed, anxious, lonely, fragmented and joyless. And into that space Haggai still speaks the word of the Lord, "CONSIDER YOUR WAYS."

God will not honor a people bearing his name but ignoring his glory. He will not bless a people openly identified with him who are not truly worshipping him. God declared then what remains true now... that he will not give himself to fleshly efforts to engineer earthly pleasures for the sake of personal gratification. This is so convicting as a Christian, and particularly as a pastor, that we can go about the Lord's work, as Israel was in some sense, returning to reclaim and resettle Jerusalem and rebuild the temple on their non-urgent time table. God does not smile on that.

We tend to think in the binary categories of doing the Lord's work and doing the work of the enemy... but Scripture breaks the first category into 2 categories... doing the Lord's work in an earthly or fleshly way, or doing the Lord's work in the Lord's way... and doing the Lord's work in a fleshly way is really a counterfeit version of the Lord's work... and what it really is, is a well masked way of doing the enemy's work. And that's why God calls them and us to "CONSIDER OUR WAYS."

It's dsitinctly possible to do the Lord's work in a way that dishonors him. We must do the Lord's work in the Lord's way. And the scariest thing in the world is that their are churches, and we could all fall into this at any point in the life of our church... but the scariest thing is that we could become a church that does what appears to be the Lord's work, with all the appearances of success and blessing from the Lord, and yet actually be leading people toward a sub-Christian, anti-Christian way of life that is wholly dependent on human effort and human wisdom and human strategies and human production. Beloved, we can build churches that Jesus wants no affiliation with whatsoever and which he will withhold himself from decidedly.

That's what Israel was facing in the late 6th century B.C. But praise God, the prophetic word of Haggai provoke Zerubbabel and Joshua, the governer and the priest, and through their leadership, the people were stirred in their hearts and returned to the Lord, and to His work in His way. They trusted the Lord and became consumed with obedience to Him and they enjoyed, v. 13 tells us, the power and peace that comes with the presence of God. This is the stuff of revival that we should all long for in our own generation... where the word of God is preached accurately, boldly, courageously, and then that word is responded to with conviction, repentance, faith, obedience and urgency, on a large scale. That's revival. When the Spirit of God brings a people low, and moves them out in radical obedience and submission and humility to do whatever the Lord calls them to with all their hearts.

Oh that he might do this in our generation... and perhaps even among us at Generations.

Day 2

Haggai 2

I love how the Lord's presence with Zerubbabel and Joshua and all the people doesn't free them from having to work... his presence and power compels them to work and energizes them for the work. Our efforts will always be insufficient to accomplish God's work. But God's work doesn't advance apart from our efforts. His work generates and sustains our efforts. God didn't just heap the stones back on themselves and reconstruct the temple magically. He supernaturally motivated, galvanized and made effective the work of the people to see the job through with urgency. And it was God's work, in them and through them.
And while they may have been aiming at a rebuild of an old building, God was imagining and moving them toward something greater, something new that surpassed the former temple. God was doing a new work in Israel even as he is always seeking to do a new work in our own hearts and lives. The glory of the new temple would go far beyond the glory of the former temple. And this is true in the physical sense, but also in the messianic sense. Haggai is pointing not just to physical place of worship and the beauty which it would display, but he's also pointing beyond the temple, to Jesus, who would be revealed as and who remains the focal point of all true worship. It's the beauty and glory of Christ to which the beauty and glory of the temple was pointing.

And it's in their obedience to turn their focus toward the temple, and to set their shared lives on the only firm foundation of God's promises and God's presence which the temple represented, that they receive forgiveness and healing and a new beginning. So it is with us... that it's in turning to Jesus, the one who brought God's presence near and fulfilled God's promises completely, that we find our new beginning. God's grace is pleased to wash over and remake and rebuild all those who give themselves to his word and his ways, with a humble heart.

Going back to yesterday... CONSIDER YOUR WAYS... this is the Christian life in a very short summary phrase... it's the willingness to continually lay our lives before the Lord and consider our ways before him, surrendered to what he shows us by his word, that we might walk in the obedience of repentance and faith an urgent pursuit of the newness of life that he leads us into.

Day 3

Zechariah 1

Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai. In the introduction we see that his initial prophecy takes place in the midst of God's people rebuilding the temple. Haggai was really focused on the rebuilding of the temple as the place of worship for the Jews, while Zechariah is more focused on the their worship itself, and their return to the Lord. The first half of the book has a series of prophetic dreams or visions which Zechariah receives from the Lord, with some sort of bizarre images that may not seem important for us today, in the application sense. But there is some structure to them as we'll see along the way, and the book as a whole, is instructive for us even today.

v. 1-6 are just an introduction to the book which are a warning to the Jewish exiles who have returned to Jerusalem and are rebuilding the temple. The thrust of this warning is not to fall back into the pattern and cycle of behavior which their fathers did. God faithfully sent prophets to every generation of Israel and Judah, but their fathers would not listen and they hardened their hearts. So Zechariah is pleading with them not to follow in those footsteps, but to listen to the word of the Lord and obey, understanding that the exile from which they had returned was the result of past disobedience.

Then there are the first 2 visions which Zechariah receives...

First, there are these four horses, one of them with an angelic rider who speaks with Zechariah. And these horses represent God's watchfulness over the nations as they are said to have been patrolling the earth on God's behalf. And they are declaring that the earth is at rest, and the angel when the Lord will have mercy on Jerusalem... and the Lord responds that the 70 years of exile, which had been prophecied by Jeremiah, was coming ot an end. God reassured the angel of his love and zeal for Jerusalem, and that he was coming again in mercy to his people. While he was angry with Israel over her injustice, his anger with the Babylon exceeded his anger with Israel because their oppression exceeded hers. God is raising up Persia to deal with Babylon and God promises that Jerusalem will again prosper and enjoy the favor of the Lord.

The second vision is about 4 horns which represent the nations that had scattered Israel... namely Assyria and Babylon. But then these horns are themselves scattered by four craftsman, or blacksmiths, which represent Persia.

These visions and this chapter do not resolve anything. What they do however is serve as a reminder that God does not forsake his people or forget his promises. He deals justly with his people but he also remembers his covenant. God is giving Zechariah these little windows into what's coming, reassuring him and Israel that he is still in control, and his promises of a new kingdom and a messianic king remain intact. Despite the 70 years of exile and the helplessness Israel feels, God is overseeing the events of history and governing over the nations of the earth and the affairs of men to make sure that his plans and promises do not fail.

We are being reminded in Zechariah that God is never distant or far off. He did not create the world and then step back to watch things unfold. Neither does God occasionally get involved in the affairs of men to move things in a certain direction or to supernaturally intervene. God is always near, always watching and always active, moving around us and among us to advance his purposes. The biblical view of the world, and one which Zechariah reinforces clearly, is that there is an invisible reality running parallel to the visible reality we perceive. It's not that God sometimes gets involved in visible ways, it's that God is always involved and sometimes that becomes more visible.

The ultimate reality is the invisible one which we too often ignore or dismiss, but God is sovereignly engaged with the world and the events of our lives, both at the personal level as well as the national and international and even global level. Zechariah, if we'll let him, is enlarging our understanding of our God and helping us to more accurately see the world and our lives... let's pay attention.

Day 4

Zechariah 2

The third vision of Zechariah is of a man measuring the city of Jerusalem. God presents this image to picture the rebuilding of the city and gathering his scattered people back to himself where the Lord himself will dwell among them and give them peace. The vision includes the many nations over the face of the earth also joining themselves to the Lord and to His people.

God is communicating to and through Zechariah his unwavering commitment to his promises to guard his people and to gather the nations to himself... to bless Israel and through them to bless all the nations of the earth. God is telling his people that his plans and intentions are unchanged. He will see the work of salvation through to it's completion. He will not let their enemies or even their own sin and rebellion undermine his plans or overrun his promises.

God is at work in the mess of their lives and in the chaos and confusion they find themselves in. He has not forgotten them nor has he forgotten his promises. And though no timeline is given, a reason to hope and hold fast is given... because God is ruling over the earth, and moving history toward it's climax and conclusion. Neither the earthly forces that threaten Israel and us, nor the internal forces which cause unrest in us, are strong enough to stand against God's resolve to bring salvation and renewal by the predetermined means he established.

Again, Zechariah and prophets are enlarging our view of God and giving us a more opened and accurate awareness of God's active involvement in the world and in our lives and the scale of God's sovereignty over all things. We need to see our lives as a small but significant reality, embedded in the larger reality of God's redemptive narrative unfolding in seen as well as unseen ways. We must nurture a mindfulness that God is powerfully at work in the global events of our time as well as personally involved even in the seemingly trivial things of our lives. And he's moving all those things and everything in between toward the grand end of his glory and grace made visible.

Day 5

Zechariah 3

This 4th vision is a little easier to understand and interpret than some of the earlier ones. Joshua the High Priest is set before Zechariah wearing filthy garments while Satan himself accused him before God. The High Priest was a representative of the people of Israel. In this vision, his filthy priestly garments represent the guilt of Israel which Satan is prosecuting before the Lord.

Their sin and guilt are real. The enemies accusations are completely legitimate. But nonetheless, God rebukes and silences Satan, and raffirms that he has chosen Israel for himself, and that he would take away her guilt, and replace her filthy clothes with pure garments. Though they stood unworthy in God's presence, hew ould make them worthy.

And then the angel of the Lord tells Joshua that if he will keep his heart and ways pure before the Lord, God would make him and the priests of his day a sort of symbol of the coming messianic King. And pointing toward that messianic King, the angel anticipates a future day, when God's servant will come and remove the stain of sin on his people in a single day, and bring them forever under his protection.

The gospel is being preached here to and through Zechariah... Jesus, is the Branch, and he is the one who will remove the guilt of God's people in a single day, and bring them under us covering... he will give us shade from the heat bring refreshing to our souls. Zechariah is inviting Israel into something of that future reality in his own day. God was going to do among them something beautiful, restorative, and salvific, that would imperfectly but visibly reassure them of their coming redemption. And it's that redemption that we live in the midst of because of Christ's finished work...

Our union with Christ is what takes away our guilt and shame and gives us the refreshing that our suffocating and depleted souls need and long for. By hiding ourselves in him and under his branch, our wearied and withered hearts find shade and are reinvogorated and replenished.

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Week 28 Devotional Blog (July 8-14)

Day 1

Well, through a blunder of mine in planning, I had the same texts on our devotional plan this week as last week, which works out okay because I didn't blog last week. God is Sovereign even over our stupidity. Hope that hasn't thrown anyone off. Here we go...

1 Peter 5:6-14

This passage shows Peter's keen awareness of the multiple dimensions but single reality we find ourselves in. He gives this call to a conscious and intentional pursuit of humility that's reinforced by warnings of our eratic emotions, confused thoughts and mindsets, and the unseen attacks of an enemy whose bent on our destruction. With our own weaknesses and personal vulnerabilities, there is no room for arrogance.

In v. 9, Peter tells us to, "Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world..." he doubles down in v. 10, saying "And after you have suffered a little while..."

The realities of our own sin and weakness, as well as the enemy of our souls and the worldly systems that are anchored in the flesh and feed the flesh leads to an unavoidable reality that Peter is explicitly clear about... we are going to suffer. Life with Jesus and lived for Jesus will entail suffering. It will hurt. It will be painful. We follow a Savior who was crucified and killed. How could following Him be otherwise? How could our pursuit of Christ, the man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief, be expected to be so sorrowless or painless?

Peter is unequivocating here... suffering is part of the deal. It's absolutely worth pointing out that suffering is part of the deal for the non-Christian too, by the way. It's not like you choose between suffering for Jesus and living the dream without Jesus. We get suffering with Jesus or suffering without Jesus. Those are the options. The idea that Jesus is a ticket to life above the fray or a life immune to fallen and war-time realities is fanciful and fictional. Life is hard. There is no fixing that. But life isn't pointless, and neither does our pain have to be pointless. We can make it count.

And Peter says that when we live for Jesus and walk with Jesus and surrender to Jesus and suffer like Jesus, for doing good, for walking in humility, and standing firm against the enemy... well, then there is a really bright future for us and a solid place for our souls to land. I love the promise and hope of v. 10... that if we'll suffer for the short while our earthly lives are unfolding, then "the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you."

If you will enter into these realities with ultimate reality in full view, then that ultimate reality will be confirmed and made obvious soon enough, and you will enter into the peace and rest and comfort of the Father that is far more real and all-encompassing then the pain we endure now. As much as our sufferings consume us here and now, there is coming a time when we will be utterly caught up in and swallowed up by the life and love we were created.

Day 2

2 Peter 1:1-11

Peter lays out some lofty ideas in his opening here, which are summed up in this assertion, that "we are partakers of the divine nature." That is not to say that we are God, but that God has embedded something of his godness in us. Like a biological son of his earthly father, we are not our Father, but because of our union with Jesus, the Son of God, we bear the marks of His glory, and resemble something of His likeness. As those who are sealed with the Spirit of God, we have taken on some of the characteristics, mannerisms and traits of God... certainly not perfectly or completely, but identifiably and visibly. That's almost scary to think about.

We have not had our human nature and sinful flesh fully eradicated at this point, but now alongside that old nature, we have a new nature that is empowering us to live a new life... we are not bound to sin, or controlled by sin, or ruled by sin any longer. We have a new nature that is godly in all it's impulses and reflexes. That new nature is now warring within us against the old nature to lead us into the life God wants for us and which we crave ourselves. A real Christian won't be sinless because of our retained weakness, but we should feel the tension always of desires for holiness and fruitfulness which are asserting themselves against the old man that desires to indulge the flesh and live for self.

A Christian doesn't stop sinning completely, but a Christian can no longer sin peacefully. Instead, God's Spirit in us, gives a new instinct and appetite. And as we lean into that and follow that, it will something like v. 5-7 which is essentially a description of taking on the character of Christ. It doesn't just happen to us. God's Spirit is giving us a new impulse yes, but we must "make every effort" to comply with that impulse and live into that impulse. The Christian life requires effort... and no small amount of effort... but every effort.

Peter is saying that we will give ourselves to something in life and expend effort in some direction or some activity developing habits and character... you may as well apply all that effort toward that which is truly satisfying and beatuiful. So effort is an essential thing.

But it's not the only thing. What will largely determine the direction of our efforts, Peter indicates, is where are thoughts take us. He says that when these qualities are yours and growing, it is at some level because of your conscious awareness of what is true and real in Christ. And if you are not, it's because you have forgotten the truth and reality of the gospel. What we believe will drive where we place our efforts. And how deeply we believe those things will determine the strength of those efforts.

I wonder if people can look at my life or your life, and clearly determine what we believe and know to be true, by the efforts they see and the character displayed. I wonder what you claim to believe about Jesus is obvious by watching you and observing how you use your time, energy and resources as well as how you approach your relationships and work and interactions. That's something to think about...

And where you're falling short, even woefully short, don't be condemned by that old man inside you... be reminded of what you are prone to forget... that you have been cleansed from your sin and you are now a partaker of the divine nature... that is Christ in you, the hope of Glory.

Day 3

2 Peter 1:12-21

Peter gives us some insight into two essentials for Christianity:

1) Reminder

Peter already made clear that our lack of progress in following and becoming more like Jesus is the direct result of our forgetfulness about what’s in Jesus. We simply get distracted by and fixated on the visible circumstances surrounding us, the powerful emotions and natural thoughts within us, the reflexive behaviors which dominate our lives, and the relational dynamics which seem to swallow us up. These things, and others, shape our experience of reality more than the Truth of Jesus, and his grace to guilty sinners and the newness of life available to us through our union with him. We forget all that.

So Peter says he intends always to stir his readers up by way of reminder… he isn’t trying to come up with new ideas, or to create new truths, or to invent a new system, or come up with a new way to motivate them, or to generate new information. He is totally convinced of the power of the gospel and the centrality of the gospel for all of life and he isn’t intending to divert from it.

This is what gospel ministry is… it’s reminding people of what is Real and True in the ultimate sense; refreshing them with the encouragement of God’s nearness to them and approval of them; re-embedding them and their lives in the story of redemptive and purposes of God; reassuring them of the love and grace of Jesus, the significance of their lives and the hope of their future.

This is how we move forward in our discipleship… we stay anchored to the unchanging gospel, continue grounding one another in the gospel and surround ourselves with other people who rooting themselves and us in the gospel. Christianity is always tethered to and advanced by the Spirit’s work of making the gospel real and personal.

2) Revelation

Peter then goes on to explain why it is that this gospel is so reliable, powerful and transformational. It’s because it is not a human invention, but it is divine revelation. This is a First Concern of Christianity. If Scripture is only human ideas, than we remain the authority of our own lives and what’s true, and because we can just pick and choose the parts we find helpful or worthy of our acceptance. Scripture’s claim about itself is that it is God’s revelation of Himself, and his purposes and of us and ultimate reality. Either that’s true, or the Bible is like any other book that’s ever been written or compiled.

And Peter isn’t suggesting that God literally wrote things down through robotic human agency. Rather, the Bible is written by human authorship and human personalities with human language and style, but God is the source for the material written. These are not their ideas or their thoughts or their truths… it’s God’s revelation. Voddie Baucham offers a helpful and succinct summary of this passage when he explains why he believes the Bible. He says that it is "a reliable collection of historical documents, written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies, and they claim to be divine rather than human in origin.”

If this isn’t true than the Bible is as most, worthy of our consideration, just like any other book. But if this is true, than we have to pay closer attention, and engage more seriously and personally they we have. If this is human wisdom than take it or leave it. If this is God’s wisdom than why are se cavalier with it?

Brothers and sisters, the wisdom of our age attacks the credibility of Scripture, undermines the authority of Scripture and even resents blames many evils on Scripture. We have to decide what we believe about Scripture. If you aren’t convinced of it’s reliability, authority, necessity and sufficiency, then the world and your own pride will convince you of it’s illegitimacy. If you are convinced of those things, then be prepared for criticism, rejection, dismissal, mocking, accusation and increasing persecution in our cultural climate because you will be considered a fool and a freak and on the “wrong side of history.”

But if Peter is right, then you will experience the peace of God and settledness of heart in the midst of such opposition; you will be on the right side, not just of history, but of eternity; and you will continue to find the revelation of God i his word to be a sufficient help and guide through the insanity and chaos of this world.

A Prayer for Understanding:

Father, I confess I waver in my own heart and mind regarding your Word. I want to believe it and engage it and understand it, but I often detach from it and ignore it. Give me a persuaded heart and mind regarding the authority, reliability, necessity and sufficiency of your Word, and give me an voracious appetite to read and study it, that I might receive understanding and insight. I don’t want to read or engage at an intellectual level only. I want to be changed by it. As the Psalmist wrote, “give me life, according to your Word.” Let me love Scripture, lean in to Scripture and live out of what is revealed there. Human wisdom has had it’s day… our ideas have had their opportunity. I submit myself under your Word and to your Truth… Holy Spirit, enhance my understanding, illuminate my reading, so that I might know Jesus more deeply and personally and transformationally. Amen.

Day 4

2 Peter 2

Day 5

2 Peter 3

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