Sunday, May 31, 2015

3 leadership challenges Answered

Read Zechariah 4.

It had already been a night filled with wonder and the prophet had fallen asleep.  The angel woke him up to deliver Vision #5.  Chapter 3 was  a message to Joshua, the High Priest.  Here, God delivered a word for Zerubbabel, the appointed governor of Judah.

Under the encouragement and resources of the Persian Empire, tens of thousands of the Jews in exile returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.  The governor faced three leadership challenges and needed God's help in overcoming them.
1. Disappointment: The expectation of the people.
No leader wants to disappoint people.  When the foundation was laid and the altar erected, there were mixed reactions of great joy and great weeping.   It saddened a good portion of the people when they realized they would not be able to duplicate the beauty of Solomon's Temple.  See Ezra 3 and Haggai 2.  By comparison, the project seemed to be so much less that it disappointed them.

Their focus was on the physical building rather than the spiritual reasons for it existence.  It was the place to come, to offer their sacrifices and offerings, to be taught, and to worship the presence of the LORD.  What the people needed was hope for the project's completion and the full exercise of their faith.  Such re-casting of the vision would help turn that into hope-filled anticipation.  "For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice..." (v.10).

2.  Discouragement: The completion of the project.
Few things discourage a leader like delays with no resumption in sight.  Neighboring nations had stirred up opposition to the Jews' return and lodged official complaints, full of false accusations, with the Persian government.  This stopped the construction for some fourteen years.  Most people apparently quit thinking about the project and went to work on their own stuff (Haggai 1).  Would the Temple ever be rebuilt?  If so, when?

God provided promises to encourage him.  This "the word of the LORD" was that Zerubbabel would indeed complete the work (v.9).  In fact, he would place the capstone on the Temple (v.7).

3. Development: The motivation of the process.
How will this leader be able to organize and inspire the people to get back to work and finish the job?  Some leaders will utilize force.  Some use the power of their personality.  But God's man doing God's work must depend upon God if anything is to truly honor Him.

Verse 6 is one of the most often quoted from Zechariah.
"Not by might (coercion, like the armed forces)
nor by power (personal strength or ability)
but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts."

Without dependence upon the Holy Spirit, the work will prove to only be a temporal accomplishment.  There is no greater power than His.  "Be filled with Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18b) is a command to be obeyed.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

O what a Day!

Read Zechariah 3.

Among those leading the return of the Jews from Babylon was Zerubbabel, the appointed governor of Jerusalem, and the High Priest, Joshua.  Vision #4 reveals God's plan for the eventual spiritual cleansing and restoration of the Jews when Messiah comes to reign as king.

The rampant and unrepentant sins of Israel and Judah brought their downfall.  Scattering the northern tribes and sending the southern kingdom into exile did not make them perfect.  So, when God's plan to initiate their return began to unfold, Satan himself hurled accusations against the Jews.  One can imagine the diatribe.  How could God work with such disobedient people?  Since the Jews had forsaken their commitments to the LORD, why should He keep His promises to them?

The name Satan means opponent, adversary, or accuser.  Any purpose or people of God has and will experience this opposition.  It is in fact a non-stop spiritual war.  Revelation 12:10 refers to him as "the accuser of our brothers...who accuses them day and night before our God."  In addition to attacking our weaknesses and failures, he will plot against those who live godly lives.  See Job 1.  But he is a defeated foe and he knows it.  All he can do is to wreak havoc and create questions against the truth.

God rebuked Satan (v.2).  He knows the Jews are not perfect.  He called them "a brand plucked from the fire."  The LORD is in the rescue business.  It is the exercise of His grace that saves people who do not deserve it.  That would include all of us.  Joshua spiritually represented the nation.  As he stood before the LORD, his garments were dirty.  What the LORD rescues, He cleanses.

Beyond the immediate applications of restoring the Jews to their homeland, there are promises of the prophetic restoration of the nation in verses 8-10.
1. "I will bring my servant the Branch,..a single stone with seven eyes." 
Jesus, the Messiah is coming.
"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)
"Behold the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD...and shall sit and rule on this throne." (Zechariah 6:12-13)
"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." (1 Peter 2:6)

2. "I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day." 
This looks forward to an eventful occasion when "the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.'" (Romans 11:25-27)

3. "Everyone of you will invite his neighbor to come..."
In response, Israel will be the welcoming place for the nations to come to under the umbrella of Messiah's leadership and to worship Jesus on His throne.

Friday, May 29, 2015

5 Messianic prophecies for the Millennium

Read Zechariah 2.

In a single night, God revealed to the prophet eight visions of the future.  Vision #3 is the subject of this entire chapter.  As with each revelation, the explanation is also presented.

Zechariah saw a man surveying the city of Jerusalem.  Presumably, this had to do with rebuilding the walls that that the Babylonians tore down.  However, there is much more to the prophecy than the immediate return of the Jews from captivity and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  God's own statements point to a yet future time.

"In that day" (v.11), here is what life will be like on earth.
 1. "I will be to her a wall of fire all around." (v.5a)
Jerusalem will not need a wall to protect it.  The LORD Himself will be her protector.  There is also the implication that the population and inclusive area of the city will then exceed the area of the traditional walls.

2. "I will be the glory in her midst." (v.5b)
The presence of God will not be limited to the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  But, His glory will fill the city.

3. "I will shake my hand over" "the nations who plundered you." (vv.8-9)
God sovereignly chose Abraham and his descendants and made unconditional promises to them.  The Jews are "the apple of his eye" and the the focus of the LORD's love and attention.  He will execute appropriate judgments against all those who came against Israel and Judah.

4. "I come and will dwell in your midst." (vv.10-11)
These are words from the Messiah.  It is obvious that the details of the context here were not fulfilled in His first coming.  It is the second coming of Christ that will result in singing and rejoicing as "many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day."

5. "The LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem." (v.12)
This is the only place the term "holy land" appears in the Bible.  The exact geographical of what will be the center of the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth is without question in the Scriptures.

What should be our response?  Silence and awe as we consider what will take place.
"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." (Luke 21:33)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

O what a Night!

Read Zechariah 1.

In a single night, the LORD gave the prophet Zechariah eight visions of the future.  The purpose of these revelations met two very important needs.  First, the Jews needed hope.  For seventy years Judah lived in Babylonian exile.  Would they ever see their beloved promised land again?  Would God be faithful to the promises He made to Abraham?  The answers were all "Yes!"  And, as with many of the Old Testament prophecies, the more immediate events and the long-range future happenings are told as one.  Still today, we are living in between the fulfillment of many of things foretold in this book.

Second, the people needed to get back to work on the Temple and complete the project.  Some 50,000 had been allowed to return to Jerusalem when the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon.  The reason was not to reestablish their kingdom but to rebuild the Temple.  Because of opposition the work stalled and the people became busy with their own lives.  After about fourteen years, God raised up Haggai and Zechariah to motivate the people.  While Haggai's preached priorities, Zechariah spoke of the future, especially as it relates to the coming Messiah.

But no encouragement about God's work or His future plans would be of any benefit to them personally unless their hearts were right with Him.  So, before anything else, God issued a call for repentance.

God's anger and discipline of the nation was due to their sin.  "'Return to me', says the LORD of hosts, 'and I will return to you', says the LORD of hosts." (v.3).  Repentance is not only feeling sorry for one's sin and turning to God.  The same action must include a turning from "your evil ways and your evil deeds" (v.4a).  As mentioned in these opening verses, history proves the veracity of God's word.  His anger at their sin and the ensuing discipline were the responses of a loving LORD who desired to bless them.

There is no need to be confused as to the meaning of these visions.  Each is explained in the context.  This is "word of the LORD" (v.7).
Vision #1-A man on a red horse. (vv.7-17)
The omniscient God and His angels are on patrol throughout the entire earth.  With the seventy years of exile at an end and the Persian Empire experiencing peace, it provided a good opportunity for the Jews to go back home.  With that came God's "gracious and comforting words" (v.13).  The LORD was angry with those nations who had mistreated His people and at the same time had multiple blessings in store for the Jews.

Vision #2-Four horns and four craftsmen. (vv.18-21)
Specifically, God's anger was focused on the four Gentile powers that scattered Israel, exiled Judah, and destroyed Jerusalem (v.19).

For today, we need not be discouraged by the evil in this world.  God sees, knows, controls what is happening.  His love, His word, and His plans for our lives are eternally secure in Christ.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

4 encouragements to those who serve God

Read Haggai 2.

The nation had lived in exile for seventy years.  When the people saw the re-construction of the Temple, there were two strong reactions.  For those who were born in Babylon and only heard about the Temple, this was a glorious day.  But those who remembered Solomon's masterpiece, wept.  This place would never be like it was.  Ezra 3:11-13 describes the scene.

This could have been a divisive moment of discouragement among the people and even could have potentially caused the work to suffer.  Would God be pleased that they could not replicate the original Temple's appearance?

So, God stepped in to give Haggai a series of encouraging messages.
1.  "Be strong...for I am with you...My Spirit remains in your midst...fear not." (vv.4-5)
As the LORD reminded Samuel, " looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)  God knew they lacked the resources to do what Solomon did.  Indeed, He is the owner of all resources (v.8).  Humans are only the managers of what the LORD allows us to have for a time.  Therefore, " is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have" (2 Corinthians 8:12).

The most vital ingredient that determines corporate worship is not the beauty of the building but the presence of God in the place!

2. "The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former." (vv.6-9)
God has a plan that is far greater than they could have ever imagined.  This is a promise of a still future Temple that will outdo what Solomon built.  In the Millennial Kingdom, God's glory will fill that Temple!  It will come after horrendous worldwide turmoil.  Twice in this chapter God promises to "shake" (literally to undulate) the heavens and the earth.  After waves of judgments during the Great Tribulation, as described in Revelation 6-19, Jesus will rule and reign from that future place.

3. "But from this day on I will bless you." (vv.10-19)
Two things prompted the blessings of God.  First, the people responded to the message of chapter one in making God's house a priority with their time and money.  Second, their sacrifices and offerings were clean, or holy, as it reflected a heart right with God.

4. "O Zerubbabel...I will make you a signet ring..." (vv.20-23)
Zerubbabel served God as the governor of Judah, overseeing the building of this temple.  The signet ring was a indication of royalty.  This man was a descendant of King David.  A part of his earthly reward is recorded in Matthew 1:13.  He is listed in the very lineage of Messiah!

The LORD takes note of our faithfulness and rewards those who serve Him.  "For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do." (Hebrews 6:10)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

5 results when putting God First

Haggai 1.

When the Medes and Persian conquered Babylonia, Cyrus became the ruler of the Persian Empire.  In 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, he acknowledged that "the LORD God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth."  Then, he encouraged the captive Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.  About 50,000 left under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the governor, Joshua, the High Priest, and teaching priests led by Ezra.

As the work began, local opposition and political changes in the empire resulted in a delay in completing the Temple.  The project sat idle for some fourteen years.  To motivate the people to get back to the reason God sent them there, the LORD delivered His messages through two writing prophets.  Zechariah spoke of finishing the Temple in preparation for the coming Messiah.  Haggai preached a short, sharp, direct message concerning their priorities.

God demands to be first and foremost in every area of life.  That requires each individual to know their assignment and why God placed them where they are at this point of time.  Haggai's message reveals that instead of putting God first in their use of time and money, they spent both on themselves.  This displeased God to the point of withholding His blessings and provisions for them (vv.9-11).

This is very similar to Malachi's writing concerning the obedience of tithing.  "Bring the full tithe into my storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.  I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of Hosts."  (Malachi 3:10-11)

When the people heard the message, five things happened (vv.12-15).
1. They obeyed and went back to work on their priority assignment.
2. They feared the LORD and the potential consequences of disobeying Him.
3. God assured them of His personal presence.
4. God stirred up the spirit, or gave energy, to all involved.
5. The project was underway.

Lesson learned.  God does not want our leftovers.  "Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce..." (Proverbs 3:9)  "...that in everything he might be preeminent." (Colossians 1:18c).

Friday, May 22, 2015

The joy is Coming!

Read Zephaniah 3.

The day of the LORD refers to God's judgment on this earth during the second half of the Great Tribulation and the great joy that will follow during the earthly Millennial Kingdom.  After two chapters of judgment upon the world, the Holy Spirit gave Zephaniah five insights into that 1000-year reign of Christ.

1. Jesus will restore the nations. (vv.9-10)
Morally and spiritually the world will be changed.  No more speaking against God or cursing Him.  All speech and behaviors will be pure as the people make their way to Jerusalem where Jesus will be sitting on the throne.

2. Jesus will redeem Israel. (vv.11-13)
All that Jeremiah 31 promised in the New Covenant will become a reality for Israel.  Their sins will be forgiven and Jerusalem will truly be a Holy City at peace.  This will not be the result of international negotiations, but, as Revelation 19 explains, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace will put down and destroy all those who oppose Him.

3. Jesus will cause Israel to rejoice. (v.14)
Singing will replace shooting.  Israel will be shouting praises to Jesus.  They will be rejoicing and celebrating their salvation in the Messiah.

4. Jesus will rule from Jerusalem. (vv.15-17)
His presence will remove all judgments and threats against the Jews and they will live without fear in the land.

5. Jesus will restore the fortunes of Israel. (vv.18-20)
Seven times in these verses God states "I will."  First, He will gather them.  Next, He will change them from being despised in the world to being praised.  Then, they will see His power as He gives back to them all that had been lost, taken from them, and/or withheld.

As believers in Jesus, we, who are not Jews but grafted into the family of God by faith, will witness these events and more as we rejoice with them in that day.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Keeping the faith in the bad Times

Read Zephaniah 2.

The devastation during the coming "day of the LORD" will be global; "all the lands of the nations" (v.11b).    Zephaniah's message includes both near-term and the ultimate earthly judgments of God.

God's anger will be displayed in all four directions.
-To the west (vv.4-6): Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron.  These were the coastal cities occupied primarily by the Philistines.
-To the east (vv.8-9): Moab and Ammon.  These were descendants of Lot from incest after the rescue from Sodom.  Interestingly, their judgment is compared to Sodom and Gomorrah.
-To the south (v.12): The people of Cush were descendants of Ham.  They became the Ethiopians and controlled the lands south of Judah, including Egypt.
-To the north (vv.13-15): Assyria.  The capital city of Nineveh was considered impenetrable.  But their pride went far beyond physical defense.  "I am and there is no one else" (v.15b).  Their sense that they were untouchable by man or God would result in their downfall.

Three insights for our faith:
1. God has hope for the future.
The second part of "the day of the LORD" will bring hope and restoration.
"For the LORD their God will be mindful of them and restore their fortunes." (v.7b)
No matter how awful things become in this world, God's plans for His earthly kingdom and our eternal home will unfold right on time.

2. God sees and hears our circumstances. (v.8)
"I have heard the taunts...and the they have taunted my people and made boasts against their territory."  Every generation has had those who stated goal was/is to annihilate the Jews and drive them from their God-promised land.  The LORD has heard every word and will respond accordingly.  That is not only true of the Jews but equally applies to Christians under persecution.  "The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry" (Psalm 34:15).

3. God will be honored by every person. (v.11)
" him shall bow down."  People may now claim to have their own beliefs but in that day the exclusive worship of the LORD will be seen.  "So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:8-9)  

His invitation in verse 3 is simple.  Life-change is evident in three areas:
Seek the LORD-upward
Seek righteousness-outward
Seek humility-inward

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The cause and cure of God's coming Judgment

Read Zephaniah 1.

The Holy Spirit revealed to Zephaniah a vision concerning "the day of the LORD."  The phrase is used 20 times in these 53 verses.  It refers to both the future judgment and the future blessings God has in store.  This prophecy majors on judgment.

Immediately, the message proclaims worldwide punishment on everything (vv.2-3).  Pointedly, Judah and the capital of Jerusalem will be among the targets.  This indicates that the prophecy blends the impending invasion by Babylon and the ultimate judgment of God on the earth.  Often, the prophets' visions of the events to come were joined and not separated by time, as is the actual case

The Apostle Peter wrote of the earth's judgment as still future.  "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed." (2 Peter 3:10)

What is the root cause of such an horrific future?
"Because they sinned against the LORD" (v.17b).  It is the sin of "those who have turned back from following the LORD who do not seek the LORD or inquire of him."  Instead of seeking and worshiping God, people have turned away from Him to their own devices.  Verses 4-5 provide just a few examples: Baal worship, following idolatrous spiritual leaders, looking to the planets and stars for guidance, and the Ammonite god Milcom (Molech).

What is a common response to God's announced judgment?
"The LORD will no do good nor will he do ill." (v.12b)  In other words, they do not believe God cares about their beliefs or behaviors.  They willfully ignore the plain statements of God's words to them.  His warnings do not prompt them to change the spiritual direction of their lives.

Jesus taught the same messages of warning.
"The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 13:41-42)

"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken." (Matthew 24:29)

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains of him." (John 3:36)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

When our prayers are not answered as we Imagined

Read Habakkuk 3.

The prophet wanted to know why God was not responding to the sin in Judah.  God answered by saying that He had prepared the Babylonians to come and mete out His discipline.  That is not what Habakkuk wanted to hear.  He presented his complaints to God and waited.  In chapter two God answered the prophet a second time in clear and no uncertain terms.

God's powerful plan for Judah's captivity by a foreign nation scared Habakkuk (3:1).  His whole body trembled at God's words (3:16).  But, under the inspiration and movement of the Holy Spirit, Habakkuk wrote chapter three as a song of prayer.  It tells us what he learned and of his faith commitments as he faced the future.

1. Prayer Requests (v.2)
Though the title of this chapter is a prayer, there are only two requests:
-He asked that God display a refreshing of His people in the middle of this adversity.
-He asked that God display mercy during this time of discipline.

2. Powerful Reminders (vv.3-15)
-Who God is.  The LORD is God Almighty.  All nature and nations are in His control and do His biding at His command.  As Israel witnessed in the Exodus, God needed no assistance in defeating the entire Egyptian army.  The same would be true of the Babylonians.
-Why God acts.  In verse 13, there are two reasons for His intervention.  First, He is preserving the nation of Israel.  This temporary discipline was part of His long-range plan of fulfilling the unconditional covenant made with Abraham and his descendants.
Second, He is preserving the lineage of the Messiah who will ultimately redeem His people and restore them to world prominence when He rules and reigns from Jerusalem.

3. Praise Commitments (vv.16-19)
Again, the true awesomeness of God shook Habakkuk emotionally and physically.  Spiritually, however, the prophet was refreshed.  He announced two faith-commitments that changed his attitude and his life.
-"Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come..."  He knew what would happen and his commitment was to not to panic or fret.  He could quietly wait because he also knew God was in charge.  His prayer from chapter one was being answered but not in the way he imagined.
-"Yet I will rejoice in the LORD..."  This is not an emotional celebration because it is a happy occasion, but this rejoicing is an act of the will.  It is a choice to trust God through tough times, knowing one is in the center of His will.  As Nehemiah encouraged the people, "And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10b)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

God's response to those who question Him

Read Habakkuk 2.

The prophet complained and then tried to argue with God.  He appeared so confident in taking a stance and waiting to see how the LORD would respond to his logic.  God responded as forthrightly as possible.  "Write this down!," He ordered, so it could be clearly communicated.

Having gained the prophet's attention and with pen in hand, God unfolded His plan.  Indeed the Babylonians were wicked.  They were greedy, evil, violent, pride-filled, given to drunkenness, and idolaters.  The LORD did not overlook one of their sins.  In His time, He will judge that empire.  But, in the meantime, Judah was in need of God's discipline.

Three insights we all need to learn from verses 2-4:
1. God wants everyone to know what He has revealed.
"The vision" is the Word of God that He revealed and, therefore, is totally reliable and without error.  As the Apostle Peter explained, "...we did not follow cleverly devised prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 2:16 and 21).  We have in writing and, thankfully, in our own language exactly what God wants us to know.

2. God acts on His time schedule, not ours.
He will not be late in carrying out His plans.  All will be fulfilled.  Those who love God need not be discouraged about the sin in this world and the difficulties in this life.  Solomon wrote: "He has made everything beautiful in its time" (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
3. Our response to God's plan and timing is to trust Him.
It may seem that the wicked get away with their sin and ungodly behaviors.  But those who know the LORD see beyond the current circumstances and look to the One who is control of all things.  He is worthy of our trust.  He is ever faithful.  In great contrast to the world around us, "the righteous shall live by his faith" (v.4).

The plan of God also looks forward to a day when every wrong will be made right.  In that day, when Jesus rules and reigns in the Millennial Kingdom, "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (v.14).  So, let the idolaters cease crying out to their made up objects of worship and life-guidance, and stop complaining or questioning God.  The LORD is in control, "in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him" (v.20).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why doesn't God do something?

Read Habakkuk 1.

This is the only book in the Bible where the prophet initiates the message.  Habakkuk was frustrated.  Everywhere he looked in Judah all he could see was sin and injustice.  He complained directly to God, "Why aren't you doing something about the sin in this nation?"  He falsely assumed that God was somehow idle or ignoring the blatant wrong-doing.

In verses 5-11, we have the response.  God had all along been preparing to activate His plan for Judah.  In verse 5, God explained why He did not reveal His intentions to Habakkuk.  The prophet would neither believe it, nor would he like it.  The LORD empowered the Babylonians to conquer the Assyrians.  With their rise to world power, Judah would be the next Babylonian target.  God's plan was to use that wicked, violent, ungodly empire to discipline His people.

As predicted, this was not what Habakkuk wanted to hear at all.  He reacted with what he thought were two strong, irrefutable arguments:
1. God is too holy to use sinners to accomplish His work. (v.13a)
2. Judah was more righteous than the Babylonians. (v.13b)
With that, the prophet seems to smugly believe that he had God cornered and in 2:1, he said, "I will take my stand" and wait to see how God will answer now.

Three insights for us to know about the sovereignty of God.
1. God is always active fulfilling His plans for individuals and nations.
"'I am the Alpha and Omega," says the Lord God, 'who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'" (Revelation 1:8)  He eternally knows and controls the beginning and the end of all things.

2. God can use anyone to accomplish His will.
"Surely the wrath of man shall praise you." (Psalm 76:10)

3. God decisions regarding His plans is a of our test of faith.
If we could see the future, we probably would react a lot like Habakkuk.  There would be things we would not like or want to hear.  Trusting the steadfast love of God in the uncertainty of life and the hardships that come is the essence of living by faith.  God will teach the prophet this in the next chapter.  "But the righteous shall live by his faith." (Habakkuk 2:4b)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

5 behaviors that brought God's Judgment

Read Nahum 3.

Nineveh thought that their city was impenetrable.  The walls were high and wide.  Water surrounded the city, forming a natural barrier.  In addition, Assyrian soldiers were well-known for their fierce brutality.  Who would dare even try to conquer them?

Chapter three continues to describe the Babylonian assault on Nineveh with even more graphic detail.  The city walls were breached with a flood of their own water.  Babylonian attackers came upon them so quickly that the assailants tripped over the dead bodies as they advanced (v.3).

Why did God inflict this punishment upon Assyria?
1. They were infamously cruel. (v.1a)
They did not merely conquer enemies.  They butchered them.  Thus, God referred to Nineveh as a bloody city.

2. They were full of lies. (v.1b)
The Assyrian Empire had been built on deceiving other nations in order to control and conquer them.

3. They plundered in excess. (v.1c)
In conquering, they stripped the cities and nations of all valuables, especially gold and silver.  Moreover, they excised enormous tax burdens to feed their greed.

4. They betrayed their neighbors with enticements. (v.4a)
God compared them to prostitutes.  They would do anything for selfish gain and control.  Their offer to aid and help others was a hook to reel them into their snare.

5. They practiced witchcraft and divinations. (v.4b)
In attempts to make decisions, to seek guidance, to gain success, and to know the future they committed themselves to doctrines of demons.  Charms, necromancy, astrology, various kinds of readings, and worship practices were all present in Nineveh.  God asked, "For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?" (v.19c).

Their independent pride of power and wealth caused them to believe that no one, not even God Himself, could touch them.  But the LORD truly is Almighty.  He said he would shake them like fig trees with ripened fruit (v.12).  All Nineveh's defenses and security systems will fail.

Individuals can fall into the same pride-filled trap.  Ego and self-protection causes people to mistreat others, lie to others. use others for personal gain, live a lifestyle of deception, and turn to anything but God and His Word for life-guidance.  Every false way will eventually fall as sure as did Nineveh.

There is only one certain personal security in the entire universe.  Jesus promised, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The lion's roar is no More

Read Nahum 2.

God used the Assyrians to discipline the northern kingdom of Israel.  Now, about a hundred years later, it was Assyria in need of punishment.  The Holy Spirit revealed to the prophet Nahum the sights and sounds of the Babylonian attack on Nineveh in 612 B.C. about thirty plus years in advance.  The details are amazing, intense, and confirmed by archaeology.

What they did to others will be done to them.  They killed and scattered the northern tribes throughout their empire.  The Babylonians will kill and scatter them.  There will be no defense against the attackers.

In verses three and four, even the clothing of the soldiers, their shields, the chariots, and spears are all described.  So swift will be the battle that the destruction will come upon them like a torrential flood.  Indeed, the diggings around the site show two dams that the Babylonians may have built, then breached, to overwhelm the city.

The once proud empire that referred to itself as a lion in the world and often used the symbol of a lion, is mocked in verses ten through twelve.  "Where is the lions' den?"  Instead of roaring and devouring its prey, Nineveh became the hunted.  "Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins."

Babylon could take no credit.  God is in control.  He is working out His plans among the nations.  See these statements from the LORD to Nineveh in verse 13.
"I am against you."
"I will  burn your chariots..."
"I will cut off your prey from the earth and your messengers shall no longer be heard."

Where is the hope for God's people?
In verse two, the LORD stated that He is relieving them of the Assyrian oppression and He promised to one day restore the "majesty of Jacob."  That full restoration has yet to take place.  The Millennial Kingdom and Israel's exaltation is coming.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

7 characteristics of the God of the Bible

Read Nahum 1.

About a century had passed since the days of Jonah and the mass repentance of Nineveh.  At Nahum's writing, the Assyrians forgot that time of turning to God.  They resumed their pagan worship and cruel behaviors.  This time there would be no relenting of God's judgment.  The downfall of the Assyrian Empire, as predicted here, was swift and final.  The Babylonians come upon them like a torrential flood (v.8)  

Empires, world powers and their leaders come and go.  From a human stand point, it most often appears that the mightiest and strongest win.  "The survival of the fittest" or "might makes right" is the basis of evolutionary thought.  However, the God of the Bible claims sovereign control over His creation.  "But it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another" (Psalm 75:7).  The Babylonians, unknowingly, were used to carry out the LORD's plans and His punishment against the Assyrians, exactly as predicted in this book.

In this chapter we learn a few core elements regarding the character of God.
1. The LORD is jealous. (v.2a)
This characteristic is mentioned several times in Scripture.  It comes from the fact of God's ownership of all things.  He does not allow our spiritual affections to be given to others, nor the misuse of His property, without accountability.

2. The LORD is avenging. (v.2b)
Three times in this single verse we are told that He will mete out punishment and take revenge on those who rebel against Him.

3. The LORD is wrathful. (v.2c)
Wrath is a passionate outburst of anger.  The LORD "keeps wrath for his enemies."  Those who choose to ignore or rebel against God foolishly have no fear of Him.  "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:31)

4. The LORD is slow to anger. (v.3a)
His patience has a purpose.  "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."
(2 Peter 3:9)

5. The LORD is great in power. (vv.3b-6)
He is omnipotent.  There is nothing He cannot do.  The entire creation responds to His presence and His word.

6. The LORD is good. (v.7a)
That is a moral value that ultimately is defined by God.  All His works are designed to direct people to know, love and worship Him.  Even the times of hardship in this life are meant to help us to cast our dependence upon God's goodness and purpose.  (Romans 8:28-29)

7. The LORD is a stronghold in the day of trouble. (v.7b)
Faith is personal.  Faith in the LORD is a personal relationship, not a religion.  He knows those individuals who have turned to Him in faith.  Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me." (John 10:14)

Monday, May 4, 2015

3 pillars of hope for the Future

Read Micah 7.

"Woe is me!"
The time had come for Judah's punishment (v.4).  Everywhere Micah looked there was nothing but sin.  Leaders ran the country by bribery and violence.  No one could be trusted, not even one's own family members (v.6).  There was nothing good left; nothing worth saving.

"But as for me..."
However, through it all Micah maintained hope squarely based upon three eternal, unchangeable pillars of his faith.  His personal relationship with the LORD, the promises of God, and the character of God.

Personal Faith (vv.7-9)
Not everyone lived in rebellion against God.  Micah, as well as many others, stood in contrast to their culture with individual commitments to the LORD.
1. "I will look to the LORD."  When one keeps looking down, all they will see is sin and the negatives of life.  It is only when we look up to Him that we remember that God is in control.
2. "I will wait for the God of my salvation."  Since God is in control, only He can deliver.  Praying and waiting for God to respond is the true test of faith.
3. "When I fall down, I shall rise."  Failure is not final.  The godless culture may knock us down, but the fight is not over.
4. "When I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me."  Often we cannot see or understand what is happening.  The confusion may overwhelm us as a darkness.  But God's word is "a lamp to my feet and and light to my path." (Psalm 199:105)

National Future (vv.10-17)
With the downfall of Israel and the looming destruction of Judah, the enemy nations taunted God's chosen people.  "Where is the LORD your God?"  And, the Jewish people surely were wondering what happened to the promises God made to Abraham and his descendants.  These punishments did not break God's promises in Genesis.  The people violated the covenant of Deuteronomy.  The scattering of the northern kingdom and the exile of the south were temporary.  The prophets consistently looked forward to the day when Messiah will rule in Jerusalem and the world come to worship Him.  This earthly, Millennial Kingdom was and is Israel's national hope.  Micah called to God, "Shepherd your people with your staff, and the flock of your inheritance."

Spiritual Foundations (vv.18-20)
"Who is a God like you?"  In closing the book, Micah provided some clear, crisp statements about the character of God.  No other faith system or religion can compare.
1, The God of the Bible forgives sin.  There is not one alternative in the universe.
2. "He does not retain His anger forever."  Yes, the God of the Bible will discipline His people.  But it is for the purpose of discipleship and teaching how to obey Him.
3. "He delights in steadfast love."
4. "He will again have compassion on us."  
As Jeremiah wrote, "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The response to God's judicial Indictments

Read Micah 6.

As the third message begins, the courtroom metaphor returns.  The LORD delivered His indictments and challenges the people to "plead your case."

Next, God presented three pieces of historic evidence.
1. He redeemed them. (v.4a)
The nation lived in slavery and by blood, both of the Passover lamb and the death of Egypt's firstborn, God bought them and brought them out.

2. He sent them godly leaders. (v.4b)
The LORD called Moses, along with Aaron and Miriam, to provide His word and His worship.

3. He provided for them. (v.5)
He protected them from those who wanted to curse His people.  They saw miracle after miracle as they traveled to the promised land.

How should the accused respond?  (vv.6-8)

The nation had focused on outward rituals of religiosity both at the Temple and in worshiping false gods for life-guidance.  Micah offered several exaggerated statements of hypothetical sacrifices to pay for their sin.  True, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).    Those outward sacrifices only had value when they came from a heart that was personally in right relationship with the LORD.  But none of these is what God had already told them to do (v.8a).

Micah 6:8 is, perhaps, the second most quoted verse in the book, after 5:21.  It refers back to God's previous instructions in the Law, such as Deuteronomy 10:12-"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

Here is how Jesus stated it: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it; You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40).

Our personal relationship with Jesus will determine how we treat people.

As Bill Gaither wrote, "It's not that complicated."

Saturday, May 2, 2015

6 prophetic statements identifying the Messiah

Read Micah 5.

The southern kingdom of Judah faced enormous stress from the impending invasion of the Assyrians.  However, Micah 4:10 added to their misery by prophesying that, when the Assyrians are through, the Babylonians will take Judah into exile.

Is there any hope?  What about God's promises to Abraham and his descendants?

To finish his second message, Micah returned to the theme of the coming Messiah.  As in many of the prophecies in the Old Testament, their vision was one.  They did not see the first coming separate from the events of Messiah's second coming.  The New Testament carefully and completely affirms the identity of the promised Messiah is no one else but Jesus.

1. He will be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah. (v.2a)
This is where King David had been born some five hundred years previously.  Now, another leader of Israel will be born in this city, just a few miles from Jerusalem.  The angel announced to the shepherds, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11)

2. He will be born in Judah. (v.2b)
When the northern tribes separated and anointed their own kings, not one of them proved to be godly men.  The royal lineage must come through the family of David, of the tribe of Judah.
"The book of genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." (Matthew 1:1)

3. He will "come forth" from God, the Father. (v.2c)
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1)  "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me." (John 6:38)

4. He will be ruler in Israel. (v.2d)
There is no way to spiritualize this statement.  A literal rule was what the Jews expected of Messiah in Jesus' day and what the disciples asked about just before the Ascension (Acts 1:6).  Indeed, when Jesus returns, He will rule the world from the throne of His father David and "the government shall be upon his shoulders." (Isaiah 9:6)

5. He is the eternal God. (v.2e)
The Apostle John quoted Jesus: "'I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, 'who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'" (Revelation 1:8)

6. He will shepherd His people. (v.4)
"I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me." (John 10:14)

The results for the regathered Jews (v.3) will be personal security  and international peace (v.4).  There will be a cleansing of all forms of demonic and man made faith systems (vv.12-15).

"Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
Does his successive journey's run;
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more."
Isaac Watts

Friday, May 1, 2015

9 prophecies for the latter day Saints

Read Micah 4.

In the midst of all the bad news about coming judgment, the LORD provided a message of hope for the future.  Though the nation lived in sinful rebellion during Micah's day, all God's promises to the Jews will ultimately be fulfilled.  When?  "In the latter days."  Reading the descriptions of what those "latter days" will look like, it becomes immediately obvious that such a time has not happened yet.  These prophecies are still ahead.  So many of statements in Micah replicates the prophecies of Isaiah.

1. There will be a Temple. (v.1a)
The historic site for the Temple and the only location for the new one is where the Dome of the Rock stands today.

2. Gentiles will be coming to it also. (v.2)
"and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:3)

3. They will come for instruction. (v.2)
There is no substitute for learning the word of God.  During this day and age we have a Bible to study  in order know exactly what God has said.  Then, there will be the added feature of instruction from Jesus Himself.

4. They will come for application. (v.2)
Knowing God's word is not enough.  What pleases Him is when people put His word into practice.

5. The location will be in Jerusalem. (vv.2 and 8)
There can be no spiritualizing this when the Scriptures provide exact geographical information.  No more despised among the nations, this will be a place of international prominence and oversight of the world.

6. The LORD will make international decisions. (v.3)
"and the government shall be upon his shoulder..." (Isaiah 9:6)

7. The result of His decisions will bring a time of international peace. (v.3)
The "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace". (Isaiah 9:6)  Note the fulfillment of beating swords into plows and the end of war is not the result of negotiations between nations.  World peace will come when Jesus reigns from Jerusalem.

8. People will live securely. (v.4)
With no wars, there will be no fear.

9. The Jews will live for Jesus. (v.5)
Though in Micah's day all the Gentile nations worshiped pagan gods.  The prophecy is not only that Gentiles will come to Jerusalem to worship and learn (v.2) but so will all the Jews.  Finally, Paul's comment of Isaiah will come true.  "And in this way all Israel will be saved." (Romans 11:26)