Wednesday, August 31- Majoring in the Minors: Zealous For Zion

     (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today we continue Majoring in the Minors, a study that looks at the Old Testament Minor Prophets.)

     Today we close out Majoring in the Minors (next week we start a study on Forgiveness!) by looking at the Old Testament Book of Zechariah. After 70 years in exile, the people of Israel are FINALLY returning home, and one of the 1st things they want to do is rebuild the temple- the place where God dwells.

     They are quick to build altar and the foundation of the temple but then they meet with resistance, and a long delay ensues. To encourage the people, God sends Zechariah (which means “Whom God Remembers”), a man of priestly descent, to try and jumpstart them.
     For many, this book is considered one of the most difficult in the Old Testament- it is FULL of  Apocalyptic (end times) images. But it is also very messianic (predicting the coming of Jesus) in nature. The book, in part, focuses on 8 visions that Zechariah has- all in 1 night. And through these visions, Zechariah motivates Joshua and the people to rebuild. God uses Zechariah to inspire both the leadership and the people. And through it all, there is a basic message that pervades the book- God is zealous for Zion.
     Zechariah 1:11-2:11- “Then they spoke to the Lord’s angel, who was standing among the myrtle trees. They said, “We have gone through all the earth, and everything is calm and quiet.” 12 Then the Lord’s angel asked, “Lord All-Powerful, how long will it be before you show mercy to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah? You have been angry with them for seventy years now.” 13 So the Lord answered the angel who was talking with me, and his words were comforting and good. 14 Then the angel who was talking to me said to me, “Announce this: This is what the Lord All-Powerful says: ‘I have a strong love for Jerusalem. I will return to Jerusalem with mercy. My Temple will be rebuilt, and the measuring line will be used to rebuild Jerusalem.’ 2 Then I looked up and saw a man holding a line for measuring things. 2 I asked him, “Where are you going?” He said to me, “I am going to measure Jerusalem, to see how wide and how long it is. Jerusalem will become a city without walls, because there will be so many people and cattle in it. 5 I will be a wall of fire around it,’ says the Lord. ‘And I will be the glory within it. 10 “Shout and be glad, Jerusalem. I am coming, and I will live among you.” 11 “At that time people from many nations will join with the Lord and will become my people.
     Zion…Jerusalem…is in ruins, and the people are talking to an angel. And when one talks to angel, you are talking to God. Zechariah’s intercession is a bit…unusual…here. Usually the prophet represents God to the people. But here, it’s a bit different. The people want to know (to quote those great theologians U2 from their song Sunday, Bloody Sunday) “how long must we sing this song?” Israel expresses a deep desire to have God step up and act on their behalf. And God comes through- the 70 years of captivity are over, and God promises 6 blessings for Israel:
1) His unconditional love 
2) a return to Jerusalem 
3) the rebuilding of the Temple
4) the restoration of their ruined city 
5) an enrich by the fulfillment of God’s promises
6) they will again be God’s chosen, through a New Covenant
     Their protection and the rebuilding process are only a part of the larger picture- they will also witness the return of Shekinah- God’s glory has been promised to them. And when that happens, the people’s joy will be complete. The restoration of the temple is completed in 4 years after the time of the prophecy. The partial rebuilding of the city is completed a full 80 years later. But the true, full shekinah glory  of God is absent…until Jesus Christ comes.
     Zechariah 9:9-10- “Rejoice greatly, people of Jerusalem! Shout for joy, people of Jerusalem! Your king is coming to you. He does what is right, and he saves. He is gentle and riding on a donkey, on the colt of a donkey. 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the horses from Jerusalem. The bows used in war will be broken. The king will talk to the nations about peace. His kingdom will go from sea to sea, and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.”
     The people are called to rejoice, to shout for joy! The King coming- the One Who does right, the One Who saves. he is not a ruthless conqueror, but a humble King Who will fill their vision, even the very horizon. And what will be this Messiah’s 1st order of business? Justice, balanced by salvation. In a great contradiction to the proud kings of the day, this Messiah comes with great humbleness, gentle, on a riding donkey- the symbol of peacetime kings. What disarmament treaties could not accomplish, He will, by offering words of peace to the nations. The peace He offers is a spiritual peace- what good is political peace if our hearts are out of tune with God? His kingdom of peace will be universal, from sea to sea, even to the ends of the earth.
     So hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus, this Old Testament Minor Prophet tells about His coming. Hundreds of years before a baby was born in Bethlehem who would split time in half, Zechariah told us about it. Jesus- Emmanuel, God with us, who wrapped our injured flesh around Himself, breathed our air and walked our sod. Why did God send Jesus? John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everasting life.” And if that’s NOT enough, John 3:17 says, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” And if THAT’S not enough, how about Zechariah 8:1-2- “Again the word of the Lord Almighty came to me. 2 This is what God says: “I am very zealous for Zion.”
     Why does God want the best for us? Why is He always pushing for us to take the next step? 
Why does He challenge us to greater things? Why does He want us to reach out, make disciples?
Because He is zealous for Zion…for His people! What does it MEAN…to be zealous? It means to be enthusiastic, eager, intense, passionate and devoted. God is enthusiastic, eager, intense, passionate and devoted…to us. And He calls us to be the same- enthusiastic, eager, intense, passionate and devoted!
     Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah, Micah, Habakkuk, Zechariah- ordinary people called to do extraordinary things. You and I are also ordinary people, being called to do extraordinary things.
How will we answer? Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- I’ve Been Through the Desert On a Clock With No Face

Tuesday, August 30- OK…FINE…I’ll Mow the Lawn!

     We have had a REALLY dry summer here in Central Illinois. It’s be SO dry (“How dry is it?”)…it’s been SO dry that:

10. the birds are building nests out of barbed wire.
9. the trees are whistling for the dogs.
8. the dogs are marking their territory with chalk lines.
7. the cows are giving powdered milk.
6. the Red Cross has launched a wet blanket appeal.
5. crooks are siphoning off radiators instead of gas tanks.
4. they’ve had to close two lanes at the swimming pool.
3. the river only runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
2. you’re only permitted to eat watermelon between 8pm and 8am.
And the #1 proof that it’s been dry this summer- the Baptists are sprinkling and the Methodists are spitting! (Buh-doom-ching! Thank you! I’ll be hear all week! Try the veal! Be sure and tip your  waiters!) 
     Seriously, it has been very dry. In the past 90 days, we have had a total of ABOUT 5.5″. (To give you some perspective, the average rainfall for May is almost 5″!) We are currently considered by the National Weather Service to be in what they term “moderate drought”: conditions. It has clearly has an effect on the farmers. Corn has not matured quite like it should and is browning sooner than normal. The soybeans, while producing good-looking plants, aren’t producing very big seeds. It stands to have a relatively substantial impact on them and, by association, us.
     The way, however, that it has most impacted me is in the area of my lawn! My lawn is NOT all brown and dead, but it is certainly not lush and green either. I have NOT watered it at all- that just doesn’t make sense to me. The more I water…the more I have to mow it! So…do MORE work in order to do EVEN more work? That’d be like sorting the grain of salt in the salt shaker by size and weight….why?!
     But here’s the bottom line- as my lawn goes. My oldest son mowed the lawn on Friday, July 8th, the day before we moved him to Chicago. The next time I mowed it was…ready?…last Saturday…the 27th of August! Don’t go back and re-read that- you saw it right the 1st time! We went FIFTY days without mowing the lawn! I can’t EVER remember going that long without mowing! (And, while I don’t mean to brag, I have mowed some lawns in my day!) And even then, we only mowed the front yard- the back yard simply doesn’t need it yet! And of course, it is COMPLETE coincidence that my younger son started learning to mow the lawn as soon as my older son moved out!!
     The lawn needs water to ensure it’s ability to flourish. Sure, it has SURVIVED this summer without it…but is has certainly NOT flourished…just held on. Our spiritual lives are much like that- with the daily watering of the Holy Spirit, we might survive, we might eke out an existence…but we will not…CANNOT…flourish. But when we spend some time each day in prayer, when we read a bit of God’s Word every day…our souls are nourished. And when that happens, we begin to flourish. And when THAT begins to happen…there is no limit to what we can do in the name of Jesus Christ!
     Make sure you are nourishing your soul right along with your body every day- you WON’T be disappointed! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Majoring in the Minors: Zealous For Zion

Monday, August 29- “Walnuts Keep Falling On My Head!”

     When we moved into the parsonage (another “church word” that simply means the house, owned by the church, in which the pastor and his/her family live) in which we currently live, it had been vacant for 6 months. The church took good care of it, but when we moved in we had to figure out a lot of things by ourselves- for instance, which thermostat handled the air conditioner and which one handled the furnace. (Yes…there ARE two separate thermostats- one for each system. Actually, there are FOUR thermostats in the house- 2 for each system, one on each floor! Never seen that before!) 

     We moved in at the very end of June, got settled in, and pretty much “figured the house out”. But then, along about September-ish, we started noticing a rather ODD thing. We would be laying in bed at night, or sitting at the dining room table, or watching TV, and all of a sudden there would be this loud BUMP…..bump, bump bump, bump on the roof. We thought it was squirrels (there are a LOT of them in the neighborhood) and were amazed at how loud…and apparently big…these squirrels were. I mean, it sounded like a herd of elephants were jumping from the trees, landing on the roof, and bouncing down. 
     Then…it hit us…they were BOUNCING down. It was my wife who actually figured it out (she is, after all, the smart one!)- they were walnuts! The green walnuts were getting too heavy to stay on the trees, so they would fall off, THUNK onto the roof, and bounce down to the gutter. It was great to finally figure out what was making the noise! We agreed that we would make sure the next family who lives in this house will be warned about the walnuts!
     When I shared this story with some folks from the church, one particular lady told me, in no uncertain terms, that I should be harvesting all those walnuts, drying them, shelling them, SELLING them…and donating the money to the church! Seriously! I assured her that she was welcome to come, collect them and do that herself…but I was NOT going to do that! “Well, then, if you’re not going to do that, then we should just cut down all the walnut trees, sell the wood…and donate it to the church! I assured her that any tree cutters who showed up would not be met with warm wishes!
     I always love it when other people want to tell you what YOU should be doing. There are those kinds of people, we all know them, who seem to think it’s their DUTY, perhaps their RIGHT, to tell other people what to do. And what I find about most of those people is this- they usually don’t have their own “house” in order. It seems to me that we each have enough of our own things to worry about without focusing on somebody else’s stuff! 
     Do YOU have people who do that to you? Don’t let them- stand up for yourself. Be strong and confident. Assure them you can handle your own life. Do you do that to other people? Don’t…simple as that! If someone WANTS your opinion, your input…GREAT. But if they don’t ask for it…keep it to yourself!

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
   Tomorrow- OK…FINE! I’ll Mow the Lawn!

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