Like Men Of Issachar

    Well this has certainly been a long study. It has taken me far longer than I expected to complete this work. As I look at it I am stunned not by how much I have covered but by how much I have missed.

     The prophets are so expansive. They have  much to say regarding the days in which we live, much to say about the lives we lead and take for granted.

     To boil it down into a few sentences I have learned:

1. We are a people facing judgment.

2. Even the godly will be affected by judgment when their nations come under the hand of God’s fury.

3. That God works all things together for good when Christians trust Him.

4. Many Christians will fall away in the days ahead.

5. That trials have the potential to draw us closer to the Lord.

6. That the future of the sinner is fearful.

7. That the future of the Christian is beyond glorious!

    Much has change in my life since I began this study. I can say the judgment of God has begun to lap the shores of my personal island. Yet as I walk forward haltingly into the future God has prepared I am not dismayed. I am hopeful.

     “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” 2 Tim 1:12 KJV

      What have you committed into the hands of God?

       Where will you stand in the judgment to come?

Malachi: The Healing Wing

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings.  And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.” Mal 4:2

       The couple had come to me for gas money to get out-of-town. She was a widow and a member of our church. He was a wolf who had ruined her life and tempted this sister in the Lord  into a life of sin. Now he had convinced  her to spend her every last dime to rent a Uhaul to get them out-of-town to go who knows where.

     “I won’t help you.” I told them.

      “But I will help you sister. Say the word and I will have this man removed from the building. We will help you. Please don’t go with him.” I begged.

      “I love him.” She explained. “And I still love the Lord too. Pastor I can do both. Please help us to live our dream.”

      In the end she left with him. I heard several months later from her sister that she had died, away from family and friends alone and penniless.

     “What happened to this woman?” Many asked.

     On the outside she certainly exuded a love for the Lord. How could such a love be turned to sin so quickly?

      I have to tell you that while love for God will drive you to God, only the fear of God will drive you away from sin.  Proverbs 16:6 says, “Unfailing love and faithfulness cover sin; evil is avoided by fear of the LORD.” (NLT)

      I also want to point out that many of the promises in the Word are for those who “fear the Lord” not for those who “love the Lord”.

    I am working on my fear of the Lord. I know I love Jesus but I have questioned in my own heart do I reverence Him enough? I don’t think I do. I know I am part of a culture that does not. I am realizing I am still pretty attached to that culture.

      But I want to bask in the light of the Sun of Righteousness. I want to receive the healing that is in His wings. I long to reverence His greatness. To love what He loves and hate what He hates is my desire.

     Oh that His mercy would transform me to fear His name more, that I may be one of those freed in the promises of eternity!

     How do you practice the fear of the Lord?


Malachi: The Distinction

     Our community college just put in two wind turbines to generate electricity for the city. The mammoth constructions break Gardner’s skyline like giant steel dandelions gone to seed. Really they remind me of the enemy spaceships from War Of the Worlds .

     As the snow melts under the influence of the cold New England wind, many of these early spring days have been shrouded in thick fog that has the power to hide even these colossal  objects when they are right in front of us.

     It came to me as I was taking this picture that the wickedness of our present age is just like the icy Massachusetts fog.

     A friend of mine was recently defrauded of several hundred dollars by a person she trusted. My friend is now having trouble seeing God in the midst of this situation.

     Her words to me echoed the biblical writer Jeremiah.

     She asked me, “Why do wicked people get blessed, while people who serve God seem to always get the short end of the stick? It makes serving God seem pointless!”

     The prophet Malachi gives her this answer,

     “Then those who feared the LORD spoke with each other, and the LORD listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and loved to think about him. “They will be my people,” says the LORD Almighty. “On the day when I act, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient and dutiful child. Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” Mal. 3: 16-18 NLT

       In these last days the fog of wickedness is growing increasingly thick. Jesus said that these days were like the days of Noah. The wickedness that brought judgment then is about to bring it again.

    Our hope as Christians can never be for a fair shake in this world. We won’t get that. If that makes you mad talk to Bonhoeffer, Tenboom, or Mother Theresa. Christianity isn’t about our rights here; It’s about our reward THERE!

    The fog wickedness creates comes from that part of us that is still tied lovingly to this earth. We think that because people doing wrong in the world get blessed in the world that makes them the most blessed. We think that because people living for God in the world get kicked by the world that makes them the most cursed.

      We are failing to take into consideration the fact that the world is fallen into sin. It can never do anything but elevate wickedness and persecute righteousness. That failure to truly understand the nature of things creates a fog.

    We also forget that blessing in this world is as transitory as that morning mist that blocks our view on the way to work. Trapped in these “jars of clay” we call our bodies we think of 70 or 80 years as a long time. We long for that much blessing and begrudge the wicked who seem to “have it all” for their 70 or 80 year sojourn on the planet. The truth is 70 or 80 years is a blip and the wicked had better enjoy it because it’s all they get. Me I may struggle for  that same 70 or 80 years to serve God (and let’s be real most of us don’t struggle the entire time) but then I will enter into 70x70x70x80x80x80 years of blessing the wicked will know nothing of.

     We have to be very clear brothers and sisters in our minds about the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, so that we will not be pulled into ruin by the fog that is blinding so many.    How has the fog threatened to obscure God in your life?

Haggai: The Big God of Little Things

      “On October 17  of that same year, the LORD sent another message through the prophet Haggai. “Say this to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Jeshua  son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of God’s people there in the land: Is there anyone who can remember this house–the Temple–as it was before? In comparison, how does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all!” Haggai 2:2,3 NLT

      It is true, Christian; We serve the God who pasted the stars into Heaven; We serve the God who built the storehouses of the snow (let’s just say it He came up with snow); We serve the God who destroyed the world by flood and who parted the Red Sea; He is the God who caused the sun to stand still for a day and who caused the sun to go backwards; He is the God who killed all the first-born of Egypt and the God who raised His own Son from the dead.

     He is the God of all these tremendous acts and more. Why is it, then, that to us at moments He seems so amazingly underwhelming?

    I think I just heard a lot of hands slapping over open mouths. Some of you just said “I can’t believe He said that.”

     I’m just being real here. God is just not that awesome to most people. We know the stories. We believe them. Still, as C.S. Lewis said, most of us live our lives as practical atheists.

     It’s not that we don’t want to believe. It’s just that out believing God is really restricted by our ability to see what He is doing.

     God understood this about the Israelites. He knew what the new temple built under Zerubbabel would elicit as a reaction:

     “Really!? That’s it? I thought it’d be bigger.”

     “That’s the best we could do? Maybe I should worship Zeus His temple’s huge!”

    ” Last time I donate to a building project here.”

    How things looked greatly affected the Israelites faith and to them things looked…little. Some of them, like some us, suffered with the mindset “little temple little God”.

     That mindset is wrong!

     The truth is God is the big God of little things. He chooses at times to use things that are  weak, broken, little,  old, and poor. He proves Himself to be the God of great miracles precisely because the vessels He chooses to flow through are so utterly useless, helpless, and itty-bitty.

     As men and women of faith we have to stop relying on our human sight for understanding. We have to begin acknowledging that when things start looking smallish, when the battle seems to be going against us that is precisely when God is working.

     The Father gave the Israelites a little divine encouragement concerning their little temple in Jerusalem.

      “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD Almighty. The future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory, says the LORD Almighty. And in this place I will bring peace. I, the LORD Almighty, have spoken!” Haggai 2: 8,9 NLT

     I want to tell you Christian, if your dealing with a situation right now that seems a little less than what you had hoped, just know God is working. The future glory will be greater than you could imagine. You serve the big God of little things. Receive the little now and let Him make it much in His time.

    What investment in His kingdom are you waiting to see a return on?

Haggai: Head For the Hills

     In 538 B.C. Cyrus of Persia released the Israelites from their captivity in Babylon and commissioned them to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple in honor of the God of Heaven.

     Twenty years later the job still wasn’t done. The people had run into some roadblocks along the way; So  shortly after the foundation of the temple was laid they gave up and turned to building their own houses.

     Reasons abounded for the work stoppage: Civil unrest, oncoming winter, discouragement over the floor plan of the new temple, oh yeah and a direct order from the new emperor to cease and desist with the building.

     If you or I had been on the Temple Planning Commission no doubt our vote would have indefinitely tabled the work order too. We would have gone off with our brothers and built our houses, planted our gardens, and planned to live off the fat of the land.

      The only problem was God did not vote for a work stoppage. He waited for twenty years hoping the other fellows on the board would come around to his way of thinking. But failing that, the good Lord sent another prophet.

     Haggai walked onto the Jerusalem landscape in the second year of King Darius the Mede’s reign. His first words to Governor Zerubbabel came out something like this, “This is what the LORD Almighty says: The people are saying, `The time has not yet come to rebuild the LORD’s house–the Temple.’ ” So the LORD sent this message through the prophet Haggai: “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? This is what the LORD Almighty says: Consider how things are going for you! You have planted much but harvested little. You have food to eat, but not enough to fill you up. You have wine to drink, but not enough to satisfy your thirst. You have clothing to wear, but not enough to keep you warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes! “This is what the LORD Almighty says: Consider how things are going for you! Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house. Then I will take pleasure in it and be honored, says the LORD.” Haggai 1: 2-8 NLT

     I am not sure but I think God probably arranged for the Temple Planning Commission to be at the scene of this prophetic utterance. Can’t you here it now?

     “But Lord the civil unrest it caused…”

      “There was so much disagreement over the plan!”

      “But God we have an order from the top…”

      No money, no time, no wood… I am sure the list went on and on. They had their list of why nots and we have ours. To both sets of lists God says “Head into the hills to get what you need.”

     The Psalmist writes to us ” I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1,2

      When you can’t figure it out down here on Earth look up. God always has a solution.
      Haggai told the Israelites that’s what they should have done in the first place. It could have saved them twenty years.

     I don’t know about you but I don’t have another twenty years to lose. I’m headin’ for the hills of Jesus as we speak to find my answers.

     What thing has God told you to do that seems impossible?

Zechariah: Don’t Forget the New Turban!

     Have you ever noticed how when the tough get going the going suddenly gets tougher?

     How many times have you decided it was time to rise up and do that “something” the Lord had been prodding you towards only to meet with a roadblock the moment you stepped foot out of your house?

     I am part of an intercessory prayer group that meets three times a week. In the course of our work we have opportunity to pray for many missionaries.

     Here are just a few of the requests we have sought the Lord for: Missionary friends in Honduras lost a thousand dollars of monthly support; A missionary friend to college campuses lost a hundred dollars of monthly support; A new missionary got to his field only to discover the building his church was meeting in was no longer available; Bible translator friends were almost finished their translation only to have their computer crash and their double redundancy back ups fail.

    Joshua the high priest in Zechariah’s day would be able to sympathize with these folks. The Bible says of this man, “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.” Zechariah 3:1 NIV

    You may be saying, “Sure, I can believe Satan resisted Joshua. He was a high priest. I can certainly believe the Devil is out to get missionaries. But me?… I am just not that important.”

     Allow me just a few words if you will. You are probably right. Satan himself is probably not going to attack you personally. He is too busy lining things up for the anti-Christ. But you are part of a “royal priesthood” according to I Peter and that makes you a viable target for at least one of Satan’s flunkies.

     If these are the last days then the kingdom of darkness is going to do everything in its power to weaken the kingdom of light using discouragement and demoralization.

    These days we are all hearing, “You can’t do it!”

     “You’re too weak!”

     “You are such a sinful loser. You can’t even fix yourself.”

     That’s not just negativity on our part. It’s the devil.

     So what do we do about it?

     We must wait on the Lord. James tells us to “submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7

   Notice that step one is submitting to God. In Zechariah Chapter 3 as Joshua is accused by Satan, God rebuked the devil on Joshua’s behalf. God also told Joshua that if he would follow the ways of the Lord that he would be given authority to rule. God himself put Joshua in royal robes and at Zechariah’s request gave the high priest a new turban.

     We need that from God too! We need God to cover our minds with His cleansing power so that when the enemy comes at us with all his “You’re not worthy hoohah” we are ready to come back with “I am the righteousness of God in Christ.”

      Such a mindset in the face of a spirit of discouragement requires wholesale submission to God so that the Father can rebuke the devil on our behalf. In these perilous times the church must not be disempowered by the arguments of the enemy. We have to pull down every lofty thought that raises itself up against the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

    How? Don’t forget the new turban!

Zechariah: The Political Landscape Of the Millenium

     For those of you who thought you’d escape politics once Jesus came, guess again. There will be a government and it will be upon “his shoulders”. Jesus will put democracy under his feet along with every other idea of men. Maybe it is the best governmental idea fallen men can come up with but as Isaiah reminds us “His ways are higher than our ways”. Isaiah 55:9

    Zechariah, among other prophets gives us a glimpse into the rule and reign of Jesus during the Millenium.

     “the LORD will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past.On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west, for half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. On that day the sources of light will no longer shine, yet there will be continuous day! Only the LORD knows how this could happen! There will be no normal day and night, for at evening time it will still be light. On that day life-giving waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half toward the Dead Sea and half toward the Mediterranean,  flowing continuously both in summer and in winter. And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one LORD–his name alone will be worshiped. All the land from Geba, north of Judah, to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, will become one vast plain. But Jerusalem will be raised up in its original place and will be inhabited all the way from the Benjamin Gate over to the site of the old gate, then to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s winepresses. And Jerusalem will be filled, safe at last, never again to be cursed and destroyed. …In the end, the enemies of Jerusalem who survive the plague will go up to Jerusalem each year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Shelters. And any nation anywhere in the world that refuses to come to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, will have no rain….On that day even the harness bells of the horses will be inscribed with these words: SET APART AS HOLY TO THE LORD. And the cooking pots in the Temple of the LORD will be as sacred as the basins used beside the altar.  In fact, every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be set apart as holy to the LORD Almighty. All who come to worship will be free to use any of these pots to boil their sacrifices. And on that day there will no longer be traders in the Temple of the LORD Almighty.” Zech. 14:3-21 NLT

     After the Battle of Armageddon the Lord will institute his reign on the Earth. He will be the King of Earth. He will not ask for a vote of the people. Nor will he seek the permission of a parliament. He will not rule to please men but out of His divine right to rule.

      Freedom of religion will be a thing of the past. Jesus alone will be worshipped and shall bring glory thereby to the Father. Further he will dictate how He is to be worshipped. It seems that the Jewish system of festivals (at least Tabernacles) is instated for the nations.

     All of Jerusalem will become dedicated to the worship of God, Everything in it will be used for worshipping Him by sacrifice. Yes the Jewish system of sacrifice is reinstated in the Thousand Year Reign! Why we do not know. The writer to the Hebrews indicates that the need for sacrifice was done away with when Jesus gave His life on the cross. Yet need it or not Ezekiel 40-42 and Zechariah 14 indicate that the sacrificial system is very much a part of the worship which is to come.

     I believe that King Jesus will rule his world and his nations through the group of immortals who return with him at the Battle of Armageddon. It is an awesome thought that I would ever be considered worthy of such an honor, me a man of so many failings and foibles, me!

      Oh as I think of it I have to speak the words of Paul, ” I  consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us!” Romans 8:18 NIV

    How about you?

The Branches of Men Part 3

       In the Millenium the accursed will be those who refuse, in spite of all that will have happened, to follow Christ in his new government.

        “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach  a hundred will be considered accursed.” Isaiah 65:20

    These accursed ones then will be the third branch of men living in the Millenium. They will live and dwell among the race of immortal men and the race of long-lived men. But their span of existence will be much shorter. Somehow disease will still affect them. Age will still take them. Perhaps they will be survivors of the tribulation who received the mark of the beast. Perhaps they will be descendants of those reprobate ones. Perhaps they will be rebellious descendants of the righteous men and women who repopulate Earth. Whoever they are it is these individuals who will organize into nations and oppose Christ.

     For those who conceived  an entirely peaceable kingdom during the Millenium I would say that peace is the general rule, but as with all things earthly there is always an exception. The prophet Zechariah seems to agree.

     “Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain. If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The Lord will bring on them the plague he inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.” Zec. 14:16-18 NIV

     Perhaps war will not ensue directly after Jesus takes the throne but we know eventually it will come. These accursed ones will grow in population until they rise to threaten the entire world one last time.

     “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth-Gog and Magog-to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.” Rev. 20:7-9 NIV 

     It is a frightening thought that the power of sin is so great that there will be those who, even after walking through the terrors of the Tribulation, even after seeing Jesus ascend the throne of nations, will still oppose God’s rule.

     There is a line from “Come Now Is the Time To Worship” that is very telling here.

     “One day every tongue will confess You are God. One day every knee will bow. Still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose you now!”

      I am choosing Jesus now so that my hope may be secure in that Thousand Years! My life is already hid with God in Christ and so it shall remain. How about yours?

The Branches of Men Part 2

     My son is taking a Victorian Novels class in college. So when he calls we often talk about the latest book he is reading. He just started Tess Of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Somehow today as we got talking about the class we went off track to discuss our blogging and ended up in a conversation about J.R.R. Tolkien (heady conversations really).

     Anyway that led  us to the topic of the future race of men you and I have been talking about in these last few blogs. Tolkien’s books discover many races of creatures: elves and  orcs, dragon and hobbits and oh yeah three kinds of men. The wizards or the Maier are a race of immortal humanoids. The Dunedin are a race of men, mortal but very long-lived. Finally there are the race of “middle men” ordinary men with shorter life spans.

     I see three races of men in the Millenium. Those who rule and reign with Christ, we spoke of in our first blog on this subject. These men and women will have glorified human bodies immortal and filled with power.

    But there is a second group of men, alluded to in Scripture, which corresponds to Tolkien’s Dunedin.

     “No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.” Isa. 65:22 NIV

     I believe something is going to happen in the Millenium which restores mankind’s ability to live long and prosper, so to speak. Something in the atmosphere changes, something in the water…something to make it like it was in the beginning. You know Adam lived 828 years. Methuselah lived to be 969. I believe that there will be a race of men who while not immortal will have lives that go on for centuries and centuries. Why do I believe it? Well because the Bible says there will be such a race  in Isaiah 65. Now this is one of those fun-house mirror things I talked about three blogs ago. We can’t really tell for sure what we are looking at. The image is kind of blurry but I really don’t think Isaiah is talking about the people who come back to rule and reign with Christ in Revelation 20:4,because those people will have been resurrected and its pretty clear according to I Cor. 15 they will then have incorruptible and immortal bodies. How can something immortal and incorruptible die? I don’t think it can.

    So who are these long-lived mortals? Hmm not really sure… Maybe they are people who lived through the Tribulation but didn’t take the mark of the beast or end up getting whacked by an earthquake or a hundred pound hail stone. Maybe they are children born to those who rule and reign with Christ (can they still have kids?)

    Anyway what we do know about them is that they are blessed.

    “They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. ” Isa. 65:23,24 NIV

      The mysteries of the Millenium intrigue me. I long to discover that day for myself and see if what I have thought all these years on this side is really how it will be or will it look entirely different?

     Now for the third branch of the race of men? Can you guess who they are?

The Branches of Men Part 1

      In the Millenium the race of men will have three branches.

      The first branch is seen in the New Testament:

      “Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus, for proclaiming the word of God. And I saw the souls of those who had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their forehead or their hands. They came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Rev. 20:4 NLT

     This first branch of humanity is the branch that rules and reigns with Christ. It is composed of all those who are part of the “first resurrection”, a divine act carried out by Christ in which all the righteous dead of the ages are brought back to life and granted new redeemed bodies capable of living forever. Revelation indicates that this group is composed of two types of people. As the Millenium begins there will be people already sitting on thrones of authority. This will include all the saints who have passed on to Heaven in death as well as those who rose in the rapture.

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.” I Thess. 4:16,17 NLT

     The raptured righteous together with the Old and New Testament saints will be judged at the Bema seat of Christ during the 7 years of Earth’s Tribulation. While Earth and its inhabitants face a time of trouble unlike any other in history the saints of God in Heaven will worship God and be qualified for their role of rule to come.

       “But there is going to come a time of testing at the judgment day to see what kind of work each builder has done. Everyone’s work will be put through the fire to see whether or not it keeps its value. If the work survives the fire, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builders themselves will be saved, but like someone escaping through a wall of flames.”  I Cor. 3:13-15 NLT

        The second type of person included  in the first resurrection will be those who did not leave Earth in the rapture because they were not true Christ-followers, but who came to follow Christ during the Tribulation. Many of these late-comers will be slain for their faith and at the first resurrection they shall be raised to rule with Christ as befits their martyr’s status.

       As the Millenium begins this branch of man’s race will be revealed immortal and indestructible. Our new bodies will not retain their current weaknesses but will be filled with a Heavenly power that makes us glorious in power and life.

      “It is the same way for the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies, which die and decay, will be different when they are resurrected, for they will never die. Our bodies now disappoint us, but when they are raised, they will be full of glory. They are weak now, but when they are raised, they will be full of power. They are natural human bodies now, but when they are raised, they will be spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, so also there are spiritual bodies.” I Cor. 15: 42-44 NLT

     Oh for this day to come! Even So Lord Jesus come quickly!