Obedience before Motivation

Today’s Reading: Luke 20:41-47, Haggai 1

Today is the first of two days looking at the short book Haggai.

The book of Haggai is addressed to the faithful Israelites who had returned from Babylon to the Promised Land after the exile. Haggai’s oracles take place in 520BC 19 years after the resettlement. What they encountered on their return was unrelenting difficulty. Haggai’s message in Chapter 1 was intended to stir them into action.

 

The Exiles: Not yet, I’m Busy

It seems the returned exiles were more focused on re-establishing their families, their households and their livelihoods than they were on rebuilding the temple. They left Babylon full of righteous fervour and enthusiasm for temple building. However, 18 years on after meeting heavy opposition to their construction efforts under Kings Xerxes and Artaxerxes (Ezra 4), the rebuilding had stopped. They had lost their enthusiasm for temple building and were caught up in just “making ends meet”.

“These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord” v2

 

The Lord’s priorities.

Jesus said “Seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).  Haggai’s clear message to the exiles echo’s Jesus Words spoken hundreds 500 years later.

God rebuked them because they had their priorities wrong. The people thought that their economic circumstances – their poverty – prohibited religious activity, whereas Haggai proclaimed that their economic plight was caused by their lack of commitment to God. His message to the Israelites was “Build the temple first – Honour God first – get your priorities lined up with God’s priorities – and he will bless your hard work and establish your success himself”

When the Israelites heard the Word of the Lord, and they obeyed it, their fortunes changed.

 

Obedience before motivation

I find it interesting that God moved in their lives to motivate them to build the temple in response to their obedience. It was only after they obeyed that  ..

… the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. 

God demanded their obedience to His Word as their first priority. And when they obeyed he provided the motivation and resources and determination to get it done. In other words – they obeyed even though they didn’t feel like it!

 

The 21st Century Christian: Not now, I’m busy.

I find it hard to criticise these hardworking Israelites. They had tried to rebuild the temple and had been stopped under heavy opposition. It seems sensible to me, even responsible to work hard – to provide your family – to establish your livelihood having been uprooted and carried everything you owned on the back of a camel to resettle in a new land.

It’s busy being me!  Being a dad / father / worker in 21st Century Australia is time consuming – sometimes all-consuming. There are weddings and school fees and career and family and a host of other things to do. However it would seem the message to me from Haggai today is if in doing these good things I neglect the best thing – obedience to God – I am missing the point and missing the fantastic plan God has to use and bless me and my family, for his glory.

Pray that today God would “Stir up our Spirit” to obey and seek His Kingdom as our first priority today.

Peter.

 

 

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The emotional challenge of discipline …

Bible Reading: Zephaniah 1 & Luke 19:28-48

Yes, it’s time for a reality check before we start. Were you tempted to skip the Zephaniah reading for today (whoever Zephaniah might be and wherever the book might be located in the Bible) to go directly to all that is familiar with the passage in the gospel of Luke?

I have to admit that until I opened my bible, I couldn’t say for certain that I’d actually read any of Zephaniah. That is until I sneak peaked further into the book and discovered a passage that was very familiar, expressed in a beautiful song that I love based on Zephaniah 3:17.

But to be fair, skipping ahead takes away from how important it is to read through – no SLOG through the confronting words of judgement and discipline rather than naturally try and gravitate to seek out words of encouragement and comfort.

So whether we like it or not, today the opening words of Zephaniah are a reminder that God always has and always WILL continue to … irrespective of what we think … deal with the issue of sin!!

And we should not be surprised, based on what God put in place thousands of years ago as a COVENANT or promise with His people. If we flip back to Deuteronomy 28, it’s very clear that God’s heart of compassion and justice was always very clear.

Obedience to God resulted in blessing, If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you HIGH above ALL the nations on earth. All these blessings WILL come on you and accompany you IF you obey the Lord your God.’ Zephaniah 28:1

Disobedience would in contrast result in curses, or in other words, people would REAP the consequences of THEIR  behaviour; ‘However, if all these curses YOU do not obey the Lord your God and DO NOT carefully follow ALL his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses WILL come on you and overtake you. You WILL be CURSED in the city and CURSED in the COUNTRY.’  Zephaniah 28:15

Of course, UPPER CASE are my personal reflections; the words that jumped out at me with the passages.

The significant correlation for me to the passage in Zephaniah to that in Luke is Jesus’ very EMOTIONAL reaction to the city of Jerusalem on His approach where He WEPT. Had anything really changed for the chosen people of God – the cycle of rejection or ignorance of God’s promises?

‘As he (Jesus) approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.’ Luke 19:17-18

There is nothing pleasant in what we read about ‘the day of the Lord’ in Zephaniah 1; the warnings to be aware of discipline and consequences.

‘Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter … a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, and day of darkness and gloom, a day of …because they have sinned against the Lord’ vs 14 – 17

The writer to the Hebrews also spoke very clearly about discipline, around 700 years after the writing of Zephaniah.

Our father’s disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11

So honesty check #2. Are we really any different?  More than 2,000 years later, have we really changed?

The Lord’s day is all about God’s power to act simply because of justice; justice because God is a sovereign God who is faithful to His promises. At the same time for us in our knowledge of Christ, the cross and life eternal through faith, it’s also about loving grace.

Christ wept over a people and a nation who knew God’s promises, yet failed to recognise or understand the signs or the period of time they were living in.

So how different is this for you and I today? Are we so distracted by the culture we live in that we fail to see that each day is ‘the day of the Lord’?

KD

Shout for joy to the Lord

Sometimes when we read scripture, a familiar expression like the opening phrase like today’s reading from Psalm 100 jumps out at us.

What does it mean to “Make a joyful noise to the Lord”? or as the NIV translates “Shout for joy to the Lord”.

We all have cause to shout occasionally – either calling out to someone distant or close by failing to listen or as a warning or in anger or in celebration. The dictionary defines shouting as “utter a loud cry, typically as an expression of a strong emotion”.

So how do we “Shout for joy to the Lord”? The Psalmist also uses this exact invocation in Psalms 66.1; 98:4 & 6, and other Psalms speak about “shouting for joy” in the context of praising God.

A joyful noise is not merely noise for its own sake. The world is filled with noise (especially our Australian summer) – much of it harmful or distracting.

The Bible reveals that a joyful noise is a bold declaration of God’s glorious name and nature, that often includes music, such as singing, playing instruments, and dancing (Psalm 95:1; 98:6; 149:3; 1 Chronicles 15:28) and other outward expressions of praise.

While there is a time for quiet reverence in the presence of the Lord (Psalm 5:7; 95:6), God also delights in our outward displays of joyful abandon as we worship Him with all we have. Scripture is filled with examples of God’s servants praising Him in a variety of ways, many of them noisy and active. David danced (2 Samuel 6:14); Miriam played the tambourine, singing and dancing (Exodus 15:20–21); the children of Israel shouted and sang (2 Chronicles 15:14); Solomon lifted hands before all the people (1 Kings 8:22); Paul and Silas sang loudly in jail (Acts 16:25); and Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem with loud shouts of joy (John 12:13).

Often what prevents us in our praise and worship from taking the opportunity to make a joyful noise to the Lord is that we worry about “What will other people think?” rather than focusing on praising God. Why is it that most people who feel too reserved to make a joyful noise to the Lord, would think nothing of shouting, clapping, and cheering at their favourite sporting event or music concert?

While our corporate worship should always be “done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40), they should never stifle the joyful expression of praise brought before the Lord by his people. When the fear of man either prompts or stymies any type of outward expression, we are not doing “all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

When the fruit of the Spirit dominates our lives, we cannot help but express it—and part of that fruit is joy (Galatians 5:20). God wants us to find such joy and excitement in Him that we cannot contain it. Ephesians 5:18–19 instructs us to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we desire to sing to the Lord and edify others. Our musical talent has nothing to do with it. A joyful noise incorporates many creative expressions of praise: dancing, singing, clapping, shouting, raising hands, as well as playing instruments. When the focus of our hearts is God and His greatness, our noise is a sweet sound to His ears.

Jesus fan theory – Luke 19.28-48

Luke 19.28-48

As we read this story we need to get into the mind of someone from the time who had written this. We need to see things with a slight sense of a Fan Theories. Fan theories are all about making sense of a TV show, or a series of books, or something to see a bigger story going on. Everything is connected. When you are looking for connections then it makes it look for meanings in all events.

Fan theories like –

  • Titanic – Jack is actually a time traveller sent back to save Rose from killing herself. makes you watch that movie completely differently. Mentions places that dont exist yet to Rose and he has a haircut straight out of 1930 – 18 years after titanic sank.
  • Pixar universe – that all the pixar movies take place in the same universe on a singular timeline beginning with Brave and finishing with Monsters INC. Google it – change your life.
  • My favourite is that Bananas in pyjamas is secretly played out in a mental institution where each of the characters has a different mental health problem and the main form of currency is crunchy honey cakes also known as the medication they receive. B1 and B2 are not twin brother bananas but one banana with split personality disorder. This makes watching ABC kids in the afternoon and whole different experience.

As we look through this passage we need to be thinking fan theory. What are the little parts in this story that point to other parts of God story so we can see what is being said here.

Lets walk through it and see the fan theory that pops out –

Read v28-36 picking up these points – 

  • Bethphage and Bethany near the mount of olives – Mount of Olives points both backwards and forward. It looks back to 2 kings when King David (one of God’s kings) walks up the mount of olives to repent of disobeying God and comes down glorifying the Lord and looks forward to the moment when Jesus is arrested about a week from now and is given a crown of thorns as king of the jews.
  • Colt – or a foal of a Donkey. As this part of the story happens Zechariah 9.9 – a prophecy of the king pops into our minds.
    • Zechariah 9.9 – Rejoice greatly , O daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 
  • The Lord needs it – with authority of someone who has power he gets the colt.
  • cloaks on the ground and on the colt – reminiscent of 2 King 9.13
    • 2 Kings 9:13 (NIV) – 13 They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”
  • a sign of respect for the king.

Read v37-38

  • a kingly procession extolling the good works of the king
  • misquote psalm 118 but like on purpose. They misquote it to capture something else.

They celebrate with these words from a Psalm. This is of massive importance to them. Right now they are under the rule of the Romans. There is even rumour in some texts that on this day that Jesus is entering on one side of town and on the other side enter Pontius Pilate who represented the Roman Rule.

From one side of town we have a ruler representing one Roman rule and on the other we see Jesus entering representing God’s rule. For the people of the time there is a significant clashing of images going on. Two rulers entering Jerusalem at the same time.

The point being made again and again and again. Rather then a slightly imaginary fan theory this text which in simple terms is describing a man riding into a town on a donkey is actually a statement of the identity of the man. He is the king.

Jesus is the king

Jesus is the king

Jesus is the king

Jesus is the king


As the story continues in v38 the people are also proclaiming

The pharisees who are priests of the jewish temple ask Jesus to rebuke the disciples for what they are saying.

Jesus, as he is prone to do, instead rebukes the Pharisees. He says the stones will cry out which is a quote from another old testament prophet Habbakkuk 2.11. It is him making a reference to the unstoppable nature of God’s mission, that it would be an injustice. Even if the disciples were to stop shouting it wouldnt stop the truth that the king is in town. If I was a disciple though I totally would have asked everyone to stop to see if the stones cried out – Jesus does some legit miracles.

 

Jesus makes one of the most explicit statements of his nature here. Stating you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you. As in right now – I am God and I am here you guys are in trouble.

A tension is created here in the story. The people had just been proclaiming Jesus as the king who is returning to Jerusalem which was to be the centre of his Kingdom. The centre of God’s kingdom. Yet he says that the city and its people will be destroyed. Jesus is bringing this new kingdom and yet immediately predicting the end of it. In fact his prediction comes true 64 years later when Jerusalem is destroyed by the Romans who kill and force the rebellious Jews to flee.

This tension is picked up even more when a week after Jesus comes into town as a king whom is praised is up on a cross alone being shamed. King fail. Yet that is not the end but the expanding of the kingdom and the disciples perhaps unknowingly proclaim it.

      38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  

         “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Rather then being a king of a group of people in the middle east Jesus dies and rises again to achieve much more. He becomes a king not of a kingdom bound by location. But a kingdom bound by what he does on the cross. For the issue was that there was not peace in heaven and through Jesus death and resurrection peace is brought between God and man. The insult of sin is removed and a new kingdom begins. One where the king is eternal, and his kingdom is not bound physically but is found wherever the people of God who are in it are.

We need a king. We need a king that can make Psalm 118 come true. For the disciples who were celebrating Jesus coming to town they were hoping for a king. i take it that they quote the one line from that Psalm to point us to that Psalm to see what the king and his kingdom is like. They are hoping this kingdom becomes real.

Why?

Habakkuk 1:1-2:1

The passage set for reading today is divided up in the NIV as 1:2-4 Habakkuk’s Complaint; 1:5-11; The Lord’s Answer; and 1:12-2:1 Habakkuk’s Second Complaint.

“Habakkuk was probably a contemporary of Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and possibly Joel”. He sits in that juncture of history where Assyria was in rapid decline, Babylon was in the ascendancy, and Israel was on its way to captivity in Babylon.

Our passage for today should be read with thoughtfulness and prayer. God will vindicate His Name and His people though nations will come and go under the judgement of God.

Our world is a world under judgement, judgement which will have an ultimate and final expression. 1 Peter 2:11-12 gives counsel as to the way we are to operate at this point in God’s dealing with our world.

Habakkuk’s resolve in 2:1 is a stance we too might well adopt.

 

On the Way to the Cross

Luke 18:31-43

This account shows wonderfully the great love of the Lord Jesus.

Before him is the prospect of his own agonizing death as God’s Lamb to take away the sin of the world. But that momentous prospect, with all that it will entail, does not block his ears to the cry of just one single blind beggar. Both truths, or both expressions of the one truth, rightly draw our praise and thanksgiving. He cares eternally.

Sinfulness Does Not Go Unpunished

Sinfulness Does Not Go Unpunished

Nahum 3

“… the book of Nahum tells us in very straight terms that evil will be punished. It warns us about our own sin, and it encourages us when we are oppressed by great evils by reminding us that God will have the last word. We need this message bringing home to us at times when our persecutors ‘increase like the locusts’, or on the other hand, at times when we think we are getting away with behaviour which is not strictly honouring to God. The book may have a limited scope, but its message is a vital one.” (M. Butterworth)

It is worth reading Revelation 20:11-15 as a New Testament equivalent.

Entering the Kingdom of Heaven

Luke 18:18-30

Who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Thank God that what is absolutely impossible for sinful human beings is possible with God. Only by His undeserved mercy and grace can any of us be saved. Thanks be to God, He does save those who call upon Him.

For Those “Confident In Their Own …..”

The readings set down for today are Nahum 2 and Luke 18:9-17. Sit down, relax, remove all the distractions and let these passages soak into your soul.

In this Nahum passage we see one of the descriptions of the fall of Nineveh. The river gates are opened and the city is flooded and then burned. Nineveh was situated on three rivers, with a canal system that fed the different districts. Once the suburbs were captured, the canal gates could be thrown open and the cities defences flooded. The walls of the palace collapsed, enemy soldiers swarmed into the city and plundered it.

We can only imagine how confident those in Nineveh felt living inside their fortress city. They would have thought they were perfectly safe with no-one able to get any where near them. But that self confidence was misplaced.

Our second passage (Luke 18:9-17) is one of Jesus’ parables and it is specifically directed to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others (presumably because these “others” were not as righteous as they were)”-v.9. The Pharisee who represented this group thought that all he did was a ticket directly into God’s Kingdom (“Do not pass go”). In contrast, the tax collector, a representative “sinner”, simply cried out to God for mercy.

Confidence in ourself, or what we do, or what we own, is a fantasy. Those who think and/or pray as the Pharisee have their eyes fixed on themselves and not on God. This can be a huge problem for us – almost without us knowing it.

Only by us taking our place beside the despised first-century tax collector, admitting to God (and others) that we are sinful, and relying ONLY on God’s mercy, can we be justified before God.

Have a great day,

Peter Clark.