Wednesday, January 01 2020
THEIR HEARTS ARE GREEDY…"When Christmas is over, when you have had all your presents and food, Jesus is all we have left”. Yes, after we’ve had all the things we thought we needed, what we really needed was a Middle Eastern refugee in a tent, who didn’t have presents and food, to remind us that all we ever really needed, WE ALREADY HAD.
The Almighty certainly nailed it when He gave us this lesson on His calendar to start the first day on our calendar for 2020. It's an ancient lesson about another nation who focused on their needs, and how it ended for them. New Year's Day, 2020 on our Gregorian calendar, is the 5th day of the 10th month on God's calendar, the anniversary of the fall of the mighty city of Jerusalem, capital of the nation God called "the apple of His eye".
“In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, "The city has fallen!" Ezekiel 33:21. This 10th month on God’s calendar is the fateful month that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched against Jerusalem. The once great, grand glorious, nation of Judah, the remaining remnant of Israel, fell, and fell hard.
Ezekiel 33:22-26 begins as a Word from the Lord to the prophet Ezekiel about the murmuring people, who felt that God should restore their nation to them because it was rightfully theirs. “...Then the word of the LORD came to me: 'Son of man, the people living in those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, "Abraham was only one man, yet he possessed the land. But we are many; surely the land has been given to us as our possession." 'Therefore say to them, "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Since you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood, should you then possess the land? You rely on your sword, you do detestable things, and each of you defiles his neighbor's wife. Should you then possess the land?"
The entire chapter of 2 Peter 2 in the New Testament talks about "Christian" leaders and teachers who are caught up in this kind of idolatry. Peter even goes so far as to say some are “experts in greed, an accursed brood” and “the blackest darkness is reserved for them”. He ends the chapter with a couple of colorful proverbs that he says define them. "A dog returns to it's vomit" and "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud."
When we pridefully glorify the religious concept of ourselves, instead of the Risen Savior. this is idolatry. Indeed, "pride" is defined as "a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired." God's Word speaks further by saying that God opposes the prideful, but lifts up the humbled, James 4:6.
In Colossians 3:5, Paul even places greed in the same sentence with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires, calling it "idolatry", and admonishing that “it must be put to death”. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Ephesians 5:5, when he also warns that the greedy will not inherit the kingdom of God, he's concluding that those whose lives are characterized by greed are really not true believers after all.
You'd think the people in Jerusalem wouldn't have fallen into that sinful mindset, since they had an awesome house of worship, the magnificent Temple of Solomon. Everyone went to worship on Sabbath, and many other holy days. They even worshiped for whole weeks at a time, and prayed and fasted together as a nation and called upon the Name of the Lord.
But they had also cultivated in their hearts the belief that their nation and place of worship had become their legacy, to do with as they needed. They greedily brought the world into God’s house, and bowed to its traditions, justifying it because they also continued to worship God on His appointed days. The real truth was that their daily lives were full of religious hypocrisy and disrespect for the Almighty’s Word. And now, their expectation, indeed their self-righteous prayer, was that God would look favorably on them and restore their nation?
This is God’s reply in Ezekiel 33:27-29: "Say this to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: As surely as I live, those who are left in the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured, and those in strongholds and caves will die of a plague. I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end, and the mountains of Israel will become desolate so that no one will cross them. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have made the land a desolate waste because of all the detestable things they have done.'’
Finally, God sums it all up as He speaks these words to in Ezekiel 33:31-33 “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. When all this comes true--and it surely will--then they will know that a prophet has been among them."
"Their mouths express devotion, but their hearts are greedy...”
Wednesday, December 11 2019
YOU HAVE BEEN UNFAITHFUL...In stark contrast to festive strains of "O Come All Ye Faithful", God voices the exact opposite of what we want to hear this holiday season. It's a powerful lesson of another nation who turned from dependence on God for deliverance and began to rely on their own independent spirit to accomplish the task.
“…And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion…You have been unfaithful.” Ezra 10:9-10.
December 17 on our 2019 Gregorian calendar is the 20th day of God’s 9th month. So we know for sure this is certainly “holy interruption” appointed by the Almighty for just such a season as this. In the midst of our appointed “holidays”, which is really just a contraction of “holy” and “days”, we are called to repentance.
The first scripture of this Bible lesson points to the fact that distress appears to be a prerequisite for repentance. Why were they distressed? The Prophet Ezra spoke these words to the chosen people of God in verse 10: “You have been unfaithful…”
Ezra said this in verses 1-2: “…the leaders came to me and said, ‘The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.’”
It wasn’t just that the wives they had married had an idolatrous mindset. All these man-made deities and the celebrations their mates brought with them became entrenched in the entire family’s personal, social, and religious life. Worst of all, their religious leaders cemented the idolatry deeply into the nation's mindset by participating themselves, and not speaking out against it. "The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices..."
This lesson is not something that will be popular at all during our “holidays.” But if God has given it as a Bible lesson for this week, we have 2 choices. We can ignore it, like the people of Judah did for a long time. (They eventually fell as a nation) Or we can embrace God’s Word as the truth. As we can see from this lesson, sooner or later, we’re going to recognize that doing things our own way, even while calling on the name of the Lord, only leads to heartache and despair “…all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion.”
Ezra expressed his anguish with the people of God in prayer in verses 5-6: “At the evening sacrifice I arose from my fasting; and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God. And I said: “O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens.”
Ezra had not taken part in the idolatry of intermarriage, but we can see from his tense of writing that he has definitely taken on the role of intercessory warrior. There are many of us Christians in America today that feel the same way, especially during this season of Christmas. God Almighty appointed seven holy days, or holidays, over 3500 years ago, and placed them on specific dates on His calendar for mankind to celebrate. Every single one of them is about the appointed times of the ministry of Jesus. Christmas isn’t one of them.
Being divided over the issue of celebrating Christmas is nothing new. "The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston by the early Pilgrims. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident...After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870...The North and South were divided on the issue of Christmas, as well as on the question of slavery. Many Northerners saw sin in the celebration of Christmas; to these people the celebration of Thanksgiving was more appropriate. But in the South, Christmas was an important part of the social season...Since that time, materialism, media, advertising, and mass marketing has made Christmas what it is today. The traditions that we enjoy at Christmas today were invented by blending together customs from many different countries into what is considered by many to be our national holiday." http://wjmi.blogspot.com/…/the-history-of-christmas-in-americ.htm
Delve a little further into the Christmas mindset, and consider the history of Santa Claus. He (or “it”) was introduced to most of America through the well-known poem, “Twas The Night Before Christmas”, written in 1822. At that time he was an elf with a miniature sleigh and miniature reindeer. In 1931, Coca Cola began putting up billboards of a human sized Santa with a beard and ruddy complexion, wearing the coke colors of red and white. Of course, they sold lots of Coke that year, and have ever since.
As you can see, we Christians definitely need to question why we’re doing what we’re doing, and NOT doing what we should be doing. Our Christmas spending and celebration is a good place to start. The National Retail Federation predicts during this winter holiday season of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, Americans will spend a mind-boggling 730 BILLION dollars! Using Christianity Today’s statistics that 79% of Americans identify as Christian, that’s 576.7 BILLION DOLLARS we Christians will spend this year during the Christmas season! Folks, we could divide that further among 40 million or so people in this country living in poverty and give EACH ONE $14,417.50. Or we could divide it among the 70.8 million refugees in the world and give EACH ONE $8145,48.
So, where does all this leave us? Perhaps we will begin to question why we spend unfathomable amounts on Santas, trees, gifts and decorations and celebrations-- and church plays and productions, all considered “normal”. Look up the word “normal”. It means “conforming to the standard”. Could it be that another god has slowly been insinuating himself into our “normal” Christian lives every single year, and now we just can’t live without him?
Most of us Christians rationalize that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus and that is important and makes everything okay. If it is so important to the Good Lord that we do so, why didn’t he appoint a holiday in His Word for the birth of Jesus? He appointed the holiday of Passover for the death of Jesus, Unleavened Bread for His burial, and Firstfruits for His resurrection, and Trumpets and Tabernacles for Jesus' 2nd coming.
On the first day of the 10th month, December 28 on our 2019 calendar, and continuing for 2 months, the leaders of Judah dug into the heart of the matter, and how far reaching their sin actually was. Bottom line was the Israelite men had gone outside of God’s Word, and not only entered adulterous personal relationships, but every area of their life had been tainted by it.
In the end, there was only one solution and it was an extremely hard one to face and required drastic action. They needed to confess their sin, repent and depart from it and everything that it had bred, including some of their own sons and daughters. One of the Israelite men put it like this: “...We have been unfaithful to God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. Despite this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children in accordance with the counsel of my Lord…” Ezra 10:2-3.
What God wants from His people will never change. He desires a Bride who is faithful to her Bridegroom. And whether we’ve committed adultery with the Spirit of Christmas or Santa himself, adultery is adultery.
But God has always been a God of mercy, love and grace. He has definitely shown that through His gift of His son, Jesus. So, while it’s true that we don’t know for sure when Christ was really born, it’s also true that it could have been December 25. But before that fact can even be considered in the eyes of the Almighty, there must be genuine distress and repentance in the heart of the believer in Jesus Christ.
Ezra’s closing words in Chapter 9 should be our words today. “Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”
YOU HAVE BEEN UNFAITHFUL...
Monday, December 02 2019
THIS IS WHAT THE LORD ALMIGHTY SAYS: "Administer true justice: show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other." Zechariah 7:9-10. Given God's definition of justice, when we Christians are measured on God's scales, will we be found lacking?
Perfectly appointed by the Almighty 2500 years ago on the 4th day of God’s 9th month, December 1 on our 2019 Gregorian calendar, God's Word transcends the partitions of time, wielding a double-edged sword with precision accuracy as the Almighty cuts deeply into the hearts of the very souls called by His Name.
"In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” Zechariah 7:1-3
For 70 years, Judah had memorialized the attack on their capital and their nation by adding a national day of fasting to God's appointed Holy Days. Without realizing it, their appointment had taken on a life of its own, binding them to a meaningless worship of their own making.
God's reply was succinct, and called out their religious, hypocritical motives. He pointed out that they really hadn't been worshiping Him in the first place. They had just been going through the motions to appease themselves. "Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’” Zechariah 7:5-7
“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ Zechariah 7:9-10
Living in today’s world fraught with injustice, one of the hardest battles we’ll ever fight is staying grounded and focused on the Word of God Almighty. Right this very moment, many of us are already preparing our "Godly" defense with a multitude of excuses and arguments, determined that we have the “right” as Americans and the duty as Christians to choose how to administer our brand of justice, and to personally execute right and wrong.
Does a Christian really want to claim that right? Jesus Himself said that if we want to become his disciple, we must turn away from ourselves, and our perceived rights. His command is repeated in Matthew, Mark and Luke. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?"
"Right" this very moment, God's Word is reminding every Christian in America that the humble stance that DISREGARDS perceived rights is exactly the mindset of Christ Himself. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!" Philippians 2:3-8.
Only when we submit our lives to the Word of God for review, will we be humbled, giving us the capacity to administer true justice in the world around us, just as Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:1-5: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
When we move forward in this world in the humble Spirit of Jesus, we understand that true justice cannot be legislated through national laws or handed down by a Supreme Court Justice. Indeed, the very Constitution of the United States CANNOT deliver it or guarantee it. True justice emanates from the heart of God Himself and is completed through the heart and life of every true Christian. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.
God's Word is mightier than any government or weapon forged on this earth. Any fears that we may be left vulnerable by following His direction are alleviated in a single Psalm, which announces that justice is GUARANTEED by our Father in Heaven. “Turn away from evil and do good; so shall you dwell forever. For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever.” Psalm 37:27-29.
In fact, the Christian administering true justice can change the entire world. “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” Proverbs 21:15. If we really want to terrorize the terrorists, we just found out how.
However, the one who truly knows the Lord does not bask in the victories of this world. Our one and only boast is that we know Him, and that He is working through us to change the world by His love, justice and righteousness. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’” Jeremiah 9:23-24.
The true Christian also understands that we simply can't come up with our own brand of justice, and label it "God's Will". That mindset just reveals who we are, and who we aren't. “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.” Proverbs 28:5.
Now we can see the importance of the scripture at the beginning of today's lesson. True justice can only come from the heart aligned with God’s Word through the gift of His Son, Jesus, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. The paramount importance of caring for the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner and the poor will unequivocally be acknowledged by the heart regenerated by the Holy Spirit. And in that same heart, the desire for retaliation and plotting evil against others, DOES NOT EXIST.
God's appointed Word for today is the sad lesson of another nation who claimed to call on the Name of the Lord, yet willfully refused to acknowledge His call for true justice. “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.” Zechariah 7:11-12.
As bad as things are, we can always make them a lot worse by not bowing to God's Word. Indeed, scripture teaches that our brand of justice is GUARANTEED to deliver HIS vengeance.
Do we really want to anger God Almighty? Are we really prepared for His indignant and fiery response? “‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’” Zechariah 7:13-14.
We close today's lesson by repeating the important question posed at the beginning and adding another that could make the difference between life and death. Given God's definition of justice, when we Christians are measured on God's scales of justice, will we be found lacking? Could it be that today, through the power of His appointed Word, God is extending a second chance for "Christian America" to be humbled and broken of their haughty and prideful spirit?
"This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice: show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’” Zechariah 7:9-10