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Zechariah 2 Commentary

I’ve been working through the book of Zechariah verse by verse. It has been a good exercise to read each verse and how it connects to the entire narrative of Scripture.  In this post, I will commentary on Zechariah 2.

Zechariah 2 starts with the third vision. This vision is similar to the one before it in that it builds upon the comfort of God’s promises. This is a messianic prophecy in that the restoration of Jerusalem is only a taste of what is to come. The language used in this vision goes well beyond the restoration of Jerusalem.

Zechariah 2:1 – And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand!

This calls to Ezekiel 40 where there is a surveyor with a measuring line. In the first vision that Zechariah had, God promised that someone with a measuring line would come. This being is definitely an angel. Many think it is directly the Angel of the Lord.

Zechariah 2:2 – Then I said, “Where are you going?” And he said to me, “To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length.”

This seems a little strange to me. God wants to make sure that Jerusalem is measured properly. This could be to make sure that it was big enough to handle the masses. But in the day of Zechariah, there would not be much of masses coming into he city. This makes me think it is also a messianic vision. This likens back to Isaiah 60:4. In that verse, the person is told to lift their eyes (just as Zechariah did) ad saw the masses coming to the city.

God has used measuring lines in several different ways in His Word. In Isaiah 34 we see a line of confusion. In Lamentations we see a line of destruction. This is a line that will divide His inheritance such as in Psalm 78.

Zechariah 2:3 – And behold, the angel who talked with me came forward, and another angel came forward to meet him

One interesting thing about this is that we start to see a hierarchy among the angels, especially when put together with the next verse. One angel is coming to meet another angel.

Zechariah 2:4 – and said to him, “Run, say to that young man, ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it.

As mentioned earlier, this shows a hierarchy among the angels. One angel comes to meet the other and tells him what to say to Zechariah.

The other amazing thing is that this shows that Jerusalem will grow beyond the walls. There is no timeframe listed for this, so this clearly alludes to the messianic kingdom. It is interesting to think that even today there are walls around Jerusalem.

One other thing we learn in this verse is that Zechariah is definitely young.

Zechariah 2:5 – And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst.’”

This verse is an absolute amazement! While there will be no walls around the city, God will be the wall of fire around it. This reminds us of the pillar of fire that God provided during the Exodus. This speaks to God’s protection for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

But even more than that, God will be present in the city!!! The Messiah will be in the city and His blessings will we readily seen done firsthand. Check out Revelation 21:23 if you have any question about this being a messianic text.

Zechariah 2:6 – Up! Up! Flee from the land of the north, declares the Lord. For I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heavens, declares the Lord.

God is calling His children home. God wants them inside the wall of fire and wants to be there with them.

Zechariah 2:7 – Up! Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon.

If we see this as both a text that was meant for the present time of Zechariah and a messianic text, then this verse has two different meanings. First, God’s people during the time of Zechariah were spread around the known world because of Babylon.

But then when you read Revelation 17:5 and 18:4, God calls His people out of the spiritual Babylon that is home to the perversions of the antichrist.

It is important to notice that it requires us to make a choice. God is not going to force anyone to Him. We need to make the choice to do it.

Zechariah 2:8 – For thus said the Lord of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye:

In Deuteronomy 32:10, Israel is seen as the apple of God’s eye. Those who hurt Israel, hurt God. This can also be translated to the church, seeing as this is both a then and soon text.

God will come up against those who come up against His people. God is our protection.

Zechariah 2:9 – “Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me.

Again, seeing this as a past and future text, there are two different meanings to this verse. In the present, we see that God is going to punish the Babylonian nation. Babylon will become servants to the Persians through Darius. This will show that God had sent Zechariah to prophecy.

In the future, the kings that gave their nations to the beast in Revelation 17 will split the spoil between them.  And then will know that Christ was sent by God the Father.

Zechariah 2:10 – Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord.

As we get into the last few verses of this chapter, we again see the messianic language appear. The entire church, Jew and Gentile, will come together in Revelation 18:20 and sing at the end of the antichrist.

This is a spiritual coming of Jesus to set up His kingdom in this world where He will live with His people. Jerusalem is repaired, Jesus is on the throne and perfect peace is throughout the world.

Zechariah 2:11 – And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.

Imagine the Spirit of Pentecost! I would have loved to have been present when the Spirit blew through the disciples and people from all nations came to Christ. But even today, we are now in a time when more people are coming to Christ than in any other time in history!

It will be cool to see all the nations that God is now calling His people. And He will be dwelling among them all, among His church. This is seen in Revelation 21:24 where the saved nations walk in the light.

God’s kingdom is made up of people from every area of the world.

Zechariah 2:12 – And the Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.”

While Judah will be the spiritual headquarters for the kingdom of God, this is still a worldwide phenomenon. Looking at Ezekiel 37:15-28, we see the two sticks which are physical Israel (the Jews) and spiritual Israel (the church). Jesus unifies both sticks.

Zechariah 2:13 – Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

Look at Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Jesus Christ came to earth and died for our sin. This is an eternal rescue mission. And this rescue mission is for the entire earth.

Zechariah 1 Commentary – Part 2

1 In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying,

The date of this verse puts it somewhere around November of 520 BC. This is just after Haggai started his ministry. The cool thing about Zechariah is that he basically adds to the information that Haggai has given us. Haggai focused on the building of the temple while Zechariah showed that God was interested in more than the temple. God is interested in the people. The date of this first chapter is very interesting in that it comes between the two visions that Haggai had, which were in the 7th and 9th months. Zechariah and Haggai both also used a Gentile king to show the date of their prophecies, which gives credence to what Luke said in Luke 21:24 that the age of the Gentiles had started.

There is very little that is known about Zechariah. As discussed last week, we know he was captive in Babylon and a priest as well as a prophet. There are over 27 different Zechariahs in the Bible. The only information we have about this Zechariah comes from Ezra 5-6.

Ezra 5:1-2 – Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

Zechariah’s name means “God remembers.” This is something that is important to realize as he writes about how God continues to care for them. Zechariah worked alongside several such as Haggai, Ezra, and others. The important thing to remember about Zechariah is that while God wants to accomplish His work, He wants to do so with His people.

Jesus even mentioned Zechariah in Matthew 23:35.

Matthew 23:35 – so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.

“The Lord was very angry with your fathers.

The first 6 verses of this book are basically an overview of what he is about to say in the rest of the book, which is a very strong call for repentance. It starts with telling God’s people that He is very angry with their fathers. He wants them to turn back to the Lord, something their forefathers had forgotten. The same sin that angered the Lord is the same sin that led them into captivity.

One thing to remember is that these people are probably the same and you and I. Most likely very nice people. Only 50,000 thousand returned from the hundreds of thousands that were taken into captivity.

The Hebrew use of “very angry” is actually translated as “sore displeased.” It actually means that, while controlled, it was a long, brewing anger.

Therefore say to them, Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.

God wants His people to know that He really wants them back. God used the exile to teach the Israelites that they needed God and that they were to obey Him. God loves them, but He doesn’t want to force them to follow Him.

God uses the name “The Lord of hosts” many times and shows that He is the supreme commander of Israel, as is written in 2 Chronicles 26:11, that He is also the commander of the armies of other nations, as is written in Judges 4:2, and that He is the commander of the heavenly armies as was written in 1 Kings 22:19.

This verse, after explaining who is dictating this, is to call for repentance. It shows His people that they will not receive His blessing until they return to Him.

Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord.

In Jewish culture, your lineage was very important. In Ezra 9:7 we are told that the people know the sins of their fathers. God is showing His people that their fathers did not even listen to God’s prophets. The false prophets of the day were proclaiming prosperity when their sin was leading them to desperate times.

Because their fathers listened to the false prophets, God needed to prove to the people that His warnings would come true. With captivity still in their mind, God is hoping that they will listen to His warning this time around.

Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever?

Their forefathers were all dead. The prophets who warned them were all dead. The false prophets who deceived them were all dead. In 1 Peter 1:25 we are told that the Word of the Lord remains forever. The unfaithful died in captivity. They died in a foreign land. They died with a lack of respect and in tough conditions.

But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? So they repented and said, ‘As the Lord of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us.’”

God is telling His people that the Abrahamic covenant is still in place. God’s Word is eternal. It accomplishes everything it sets out to do. What we learn here is that the fathers who were in captivity told their children who were born in captivity what it was that got them into the situation.

These prophecies that the real prophets of God proclaimed actually came to pass.

On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying,

This is the beginning of the eight night visions. All these visions happened in a single night. The first vision lays the groundwork for the other seven. Like an Avengers movie, if you haven’t seen the others, you will be missing vital information.

These visions are to build the confidence of His people so that they build the temple. The first vision took place about 3 months after the original call to repent.

The day itself seems special to God because on that same day five months earlier the temple was started and that same day two months prior Haggai had been given his vision.

“I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses.

This vision starts with a man riding a red horse standing in the myrtle trees with other horses behind him. This red horse that the man is riding is important as red is typically the color of judgment or blood (see Isaiah 63:1-3 or Revelation 6:3).

It is thought that the “myrtle trees in the glen” means the valley of Hinnom, which is outside the temple precinct.

These visions follow a chiasm. The first and last relate to each other, the second and third and the sixth and seventh are pairs, and the fourth and fifth are the climax of the chiasm.

The horses show judgment and victory in their colors.

Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’

There are actually two different angels in this first chapter. The “angel who talked with me” and the “angel of the Lord.”

10 So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.’

This rider could be a recon mission to see how the temple is being rebuilt. It runs opposite to what we see in the book of Job (vv1:7, 2:2) where Satan is walking through the earth looking for evil, God has his own people patrolling the earth as well.

The myrtle is an interesting tree. It isn’t like the mighty cedars of Lebanon or the oak trees in other places in the Bible which have strength. Myrtles have blossoms that are fragrant when crushed. This shows the grace that is present in the affliction that Israel received.

11 And they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’

The world is at peace. But, as we will see in a few more verses, God is not happy with the nations during this peace. Israel is still struggling, but the rest of the nations are at peace and content. Darius defeated 9 rebellious leaders across 19 different battles, bringing the world to peace.

This angel of the Lord is a preincarnate appearance of Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:3 – For when they shall say , peace and safety; the sudden destruction comes upon them

12 Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’

The angel of the Lord, or Jesus, is asking the Father how long Israel must suffer. Looking forward, we see this verse rewritten in the book of Revelation.

Revelation 6:10 – And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, o Lord, holy and true, will you not judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth.

All the way through to the book of Revelation we will still be crying this and Jesus will still be interceding for us.

13 And the Lord answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.

The words that Zechariah talks about here are actually listed in the following verses of 14-17. This reinforces that God cares about His people and loves them. These verses run complimentary to Jeremiah 29:10-11.

14 So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion.

The first word of comfort is that God is jealous for His people. If you remember, God described Himself as jealous when He made the covenant with Israel in Exodus 20:5 and 34:14. What is seen as a good jealousy can also be seen as a punitive one as is seen in Deuteronomy 29:18-28 and Ezekiel 5:13.

The bottom line is that God loves His people. At the time of Zechariah that was those under the Abrahamic covenant. Today, that same jealousy is given to the church. Many times in Scripture we see that jealousy as God as the husband wanting to maintain His wife.

It is interesting to see dual names for Jerusalem. While this could simply flow with the poetry of the day, it could also come to mean that it is a Jerusalem of the past and a Jerusalem of the future.

15 And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster.

The nations of the world were God’s instruments of judgment on Israel. But those nations went beyond what God desired for the punishment of His people. This can be seen in Isaiah 54:7-8 because those nations did not understand that the punishment was for a limited time.

16 Therefore, thus says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the Lord of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.

The Lord is ready to bless His people. Not only would the temple be rebuilt, but they would grow in prosperity. The temple was completed about 515 BC and the wall around the city was completed around 444 BC (Nehemiah 7:4, 11:1).

Isaiah 40:9-10 discusses the prosperity that would follow.

The measuring line that Zechariah talks about describes the exactness that would be used in making sure this was done properly. It can also mean that Jerusalem would be the measure by which all others will be measured as well.

17 Cry out again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’”

The walls of the city would be completed about 75 years after the temple and God would choose Jerusalem as his earthly throne (Psalm 132:13). This will happen in the book of Revelation, the millennial kingdom in Revelation 20.

This one verse holds the key to several prophecies about the millennial kingdom. The presence of God in Ezekiel 48:35, the temple in Ezekiel 40-48, Jerusalem being rebuilt in Jeremiah 31:38-40, the punishment of the nations in Matthew 25:31-46, prosperity in Isaiah 60:4-9, and the blessings of God’s people in Zechariah 9:17.

Jerusalem becomes the capital of the world.

18 And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four horns!

Now we begin the second vision. In Daniel 2 there were 4 Gentile governments that were to come to power. The horns represent those governments. Most likely, we are looking at the four main powers of Rome, Greece, Babylon, and Persia. But there are a couple different views on this as I will explain in the next verse.

19 And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these?” And he said to me, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”

Daniel 2 goes into detail about these powers, or horns. Daniel 7 gives another vision of the powers.

When this vision occurred, Babylon had already passed. This means that both the Medes and the Persians were in power and both Rome and Greece were future powers.

Another way to look at it is an allusion to past powers given in the book of Daniel, which would be Babylon, Persia, Macedonia, and Rome.

Even another way to look at it is Assyria, Egypt, Babylon and Persia. Each of those powers had “scattered Israel.”

One more view is that the number 4 symbolizes “universal” and the horns symbolize “power.” This could mean that the world is universally against God’s people, seeking to scatter them. But that is very much spiritualizing something that could very well be simple.

I hold to the view that the horns are Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.

20 Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen.

Now things  get a little more weird. We now have 4 craftsmen that show up. These craftsmen are the ones who will overthrow the horns. As with Genesis 12:3, God has promised to curse those who have cursed Israel.

21 And I said, “What are these coming to do?” He said, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one raised his head. And these have come to terrify them, to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.”

Each of the kingdoms had come to defeat the one before it. So Persia destroyed Babylon. Greece destroyed Persia. Rome destroyed Greece and God’s kingdom will destroy Rome.

Another possible view looks less at the book of Daniel and more at the book of Ezekiel. The four craftsmen would be the four judgments: sword, famine, beasts, and plague.  While the Ezekiel prophecy is specifically about the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon, there are parallels in Revelation 6-19.

It is important to note that God knows who has hurt His people. He keeps a record of it and He will punish those who punish His people.

Commentary of the Book of Zechariah – part 1

Every morning I read a chapter of the Bible and then go to God in prayer. One of the benefits to this is that I get to read a lot of the Bible over the course of a year. That said, it also gives me a lot of things that I take notes on to come back and study more in depth.

The book of Zechariah is one of those books that required I take a lot of notes to study at a later date. Over the next few months I will be studying Zechariah and creating my own commentary on what I study and read.

Each post will be another chapter and I will go verse by verse. One of the hopes that I have for this commentary is that it will move beyond the word by word commentary and add into it the timeless truths that are filled throughout the Bible.

Overview of the book:

Zechariah was the grandson of the priest Iddo. He prophesied to the people of Judah at some point after they had returned from their exile in Babylon. In Ezra 5, we are told that both Haggai and Zechariah were the ones pushing for the people to rebuild the temple. In Jeremiah we are told that the dates of the exile would be 70 years and that God would usher in a time of His kingdom at the end of it. Unfortunately, the time is almost up and life is still very difficult.

It is Zechariah that explains why this is so.

Zechariah returned with his grandfather after the Babylonian exile around 538 BC with the first group of exiles to return. His family lineage meant that he was both a priest and a prophet. Even though he never served in an official temple, he would still have an idea of what it would be like.

While Zechariah was young, he came alongside Haggai, who was much older, to prophecy. While Haggai was focused on the sin and selfism of the Jews at the time, Zechariah’s message was one of encouragement and hope.

The book itself is not from a single time period in Zechariah’s life. His messages begin at around the time of Haggai’s with the first vision being documented in the fall of 520 BC. During this message he is calling on Judah to repent of their sin.

Early in 519 BC he received 8 visions and then late in 518 BC he received 4 more.

Beginning in chapter 9 of the book, there is no more dating of his visions, but his mention of Greece means that this part of his book happened much later in his life, most likely somewhere around 480 BC. He would have been a couple decades before both Ezra and Nehemiah.

Overall, Zechariah’s book spans a total of about 40 years!

But that isn’t the only thing interesting about this book.

Zechariah also contains the most messianic passages throughout all the minor prophets.  He is like a mini-Isaiah. We see both the first and second comings of Christ in this book.

Zechariah’s name means “The Lord remembers.” This is very fitting as he writes from the perspective of hope that God will remember the promises He has made to His people. While it is easy to read this book and think that things should happen one right after the other, the truth of the matter is that there are generations between many of his prophecies. All of his prophecies point to the rebuilding of the temple and eventual reign of a future Messiah.

So why would one from the 21st century want to read the book of Zechariah?

It is very easy to get discouraged when we listen to the daily news or read the Twitter feed of so-called Christian leaders. The book of Zechariah has its share of judgments on the people of Israel, but it focuses on a future hope. The people in Zechariah’s time had lost their perspective. They were hopeless.

Zechariah chose to speak the Word of God in hopes to correct that perspective.

God desires to give us a hope and a future. One that is focused on God’s kingdom and filled with a desire to see us serving Him joyfully and with a new perspective.

 

Take the first step

Proverbs 1:7 – Start with God – the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.

I’ve been silent for a very long time on here. I lost a lot of followers because of it. But it hasn’t been without reason or without merit.

I sometimes have a tendency of speaking first and using wisdom later. That isn’t always the best choice, especially for a ministry professional.

I’ve spent the past few months simply seeking God where He has me and not trying to place God in my own purposes.

Today, though, it was like God was telling me to write and giving me very clear word pictures in my dreams and mind.

Let me back up a little.

Since you last heard from me, a lot has continued to happen. My dad moved down to Maryland to be closer to us. My wife lost her job and has been searching for a new one. My ministries have been ebbing and flowing as ministry usually does. Our kids are growing up even quicker now than they were before (that is the byproduct of pushing 50).

Meanwhile, I had hoped to be David Platt’s “mini me” by now. I had hoped to have all these churches asking me to come and preach on Sunday. I had hoped to have the likes of Ed Stetzer, Louie Giglio, and others asking me to write the forward for their books.

Man, I was looking at the top of the staircase!

But last night I was asleep. I was actually awakened this morning by my dream.

By the way, God, when you go to wake someone up from their dreams, next time can you make it on a day that I have to be up early? Not a day that I am able to sleep in? Thanks.

My dream started with me standing in from of this large staircase.

Psalm 37:23 – The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way;

When you go into a building and see an impressive staircase, do you immediately look at the first step? No, you look to see where the steps lead and you focus on the top of the steps.

That’s what I was doing.

This staircase was ornate. It was gorgeous! But it was also weathered and aged. It was like I went into a preserved mansion from the 1800s or something.

When I saw the staircase in front of me, I took in the panoramic view, but my eyes fixated on trying to see the top.

But what I realized is that the last step never came into focus. I couldn’t see the final step that would get me to the top of the staircase. All I could see are the steps leading up to it and I wanted to fix my gaze as high up that staircase as I could.

But then the steps started to disappear. From the upper parts of the staircase down, the steps slows disappeared. It was like watching the Avengers movie after Thanos did his snap. The steps just faded away into dust and blew away.

I felt my anxiety rise as I watched all these beautiful steps disappear!

By the time all the dust had blown away, I was left with one lone step in front of me.

The first step.

God was removing the distraction of all the other steps to show me that the first step is the one that matters.

The beauty of ministry (or the job search for my wife, or the struggles that anyone is going through with marriages, drugs, alcohol, or anything) is not in walking across that final step.

The beauty of ministry et al comes in taking the first step and learning all you can while standing on it.

When I stepped onto the fist step in my dream, the walls around me came alive!

There were portraits on the walls. They were kind of like in Harry Potter when the portraits moved and they are vivid scenes. Mine were from both ministry and family life. While they showed me the bumps in the road, they were exceedingly beautiful!

Psalm 119:105 – Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.

The first step isn’t writing a forward to David Platt’s next book.

The first step involves the printers in children’s ministry breaking down because of the new WiFi system and having several new teachers and some of the veteran teachers calling out. The first step involves I Sunday service with a lot of moving pieces that had several technical glitches along the way. The first step is not seeing people in the service who normally attend because they don’t like the topic that was discussed on that Sunday. The first step involves seeing someone you, and others, have been working with intently making the decision to get baptized and having the baptismal set up because your senior pastor felt God was telling him to do it.

The first step is the minutia.

The first step is the stuff that ministry is really made of.

Mark 5:2 – And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.

When Jesus went to go and seek the lost, the first step involved Him taking several steps to get to them. But for the person on the other end of the conversation, the first step was simply accepting Christ.

I realize that the Bible says we need to have a vision because if we don’t then the people will perish.

I still have a dream of one day writing the forward for one of my favorite author’s books. I still have a dream of getting the call from Moody Bible Church, Saddleback, Camino de Vida or many others and having them ask me to come preach one Sunday morning.

I still dream.

But the dream is becoming more well-rounded now that the focus is off the dream and is on the people who are walking with, beside, and around me at this time.

The first step is seeing people take the first step of their own.

The first step is resting in that place that God has you.

The first step is contentment with what you have and who you are, knowing that being content is truly the dream come true.

1 Corinthians 14:40 – But all things should be done decently and in order.

Losing the Faith

If you run in the Christian circles like I do, you have most likely heard or read about several recent prominent Christian leaders who have “lost the faith” or “turned away from the faith.” While this is alarming, it is definitely not a new trend.

Back in the 80s and 90s there were quite a few very popular Christian bands that had some high profile artists. There were several of those who turned away from Christ. Many are now claiming atheism.

But let’s go farther back.

In the Bible we see many stories of people who either turned away from their faith or doubted it. In Exodus 12, for example, we learn that Miriam and Aaron both oppose Moses but end up being restored. The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert due to a lack of faith. It even led to a bloody conflict that led to half of Israel being killed by the other half of Israel because of faith.

Then you have Jeremiah who wished he had never been born.

King David, in Psalm 13, had doubts. Even in 1 Chronicles 21 we see that David counted his armies rather than trusting God.

Even Elijah, in 1 Kings 19, despaired.

Then you have the doubters. Moses, Thomas, and Gideon all doubted. Peter both doubted and denied. Judas turned away from the faith altogether, and he was in Jesus’ inner circle.

I know that over the years, I have viewed my faith as a moving target sometimes. As humans, we all wax and wane in our faith. There are times we feel so far away from God and others we feel that we are best friends.

One thing I have learned about doubt, or even the “failure of faith” is that we easily get confused when we see ourselves as the prime leader in the relationship. I’d like to focus on a few Biblical characters whose failures could have led to any of them turning away from God altogether. But they each ended up humbling themselves, realizing that they were not the Creator of the Universe (even their own), and came back from their failures.

I like to start with Paul. He is someone I like to think I associate with closest in the Bible. An evangelist at heart but with so much baggage in his past that he always wonders how God can use him. Paul was the epitome of sinner. Prior to his conversion, he was the dreaded Saul of Tarsus. Not only was Saul a killer of Christians, but he was the one who approved the execution of Stephen in Acts. Saul’s sole purpose was to destroy the Christian church. He would go door to door in Jerusalem and seek out Christians and then throw them in prison. Once there, he would track the letters they sent to fellow believers and gather them up as well.

After Saul’s conversion to Christ he changed his name to Paul and became one of the world’s greatest evangelists.

But he still hated who he was.

1 Timothy 1:15-16 – Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

So what can we learn from Paul? No matter when you give your life over to Christ, even after an entire life of horrible sins, the Gospel is too powerful to leave you the same person you were and that transformation becomes a powerful testimony to God’s grace.

Next, let’s look at David. David was the same guy who took a stone and killed the Philistine champion Goliath. He wrote many of the Psalms as worship to God. He was a man after God’s own heart.

However, David was not only mentioned in over half of the Bible’s books, but he broke over half of the 10 commandments!!! He coveted Bathsheba, committed adultery, stole her from Uriah, lied to him, and then had him killed!

But when he is confronted, David repents.

That repentance doesn’t undo everything he did in the past, but it does change the trajectory of his spiritual future.

2 Samuel 12:13 – David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

What we can learn from David is that if we truly do repent of our sin we are not saved from the consequences but we are still able to be used by God.

Third, I would like to look at John Mark. John Mark came from a very important family. Peter went to John Mark’s house when he was released from prison. Paul & Barnabas pick up John Mark on the way back from a mission journey. Unfortunately, we learn that John Mark left Paul & Barnabas in Perga and went back to Jerusalem.

While we don’t know the reasons behind why John Mark left them, we do know that it wasn’t for a good reason. Barnabas later suggests they go get him and Paul refuses to do it. This leads to the disagreement between Barnabas and Paul that causes the two of them to part ways. Barnabas chooses Mark and Paul chooses Silas and they go their separate ways for as long as we know in the Bible.

Later, when Paul is in prison, he writes to Colossae and tells them that John Mark is with him and has been a great comfort and that they are to welcome John Mark. This is the same person that disappointed Paul earlier in life so much that it caused division among the saints.

And now, Paul is calling him a “fellow worker.”

What can we learn from John Mark? While conversion is instantaneous, it takes a lifetime to grow into the faith you are accepted into. Maturity comes at a later date, even when we think we are mature enough to handle situations we cannot. As long as we persevere, we can outgrow those immature moments in life.

Next, let’s look at Peter. Peter was loud and shoots from the hip quite a bit. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends. He was the only one to attempt walking on water and he was the first to tell Jesus he believed He was the Son of God.

But we know what happens, Peter denies Jesus not just once but three times!

Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter though. Peter is the first person Jesus appears to. He restores Peter at the Sea of Galilee.

And then Peter went on to preach the first sermon in which 3,000 people got saved!!!

What is it that Peter can teach us? Failure doesn’t disqualify you from the Kingdom of God.

The last person I would like to look at is Elijah.

Elijah was someone who worked so many miracles it would be hard to think of him as human. He caused the rain to stop for 3 years, he was fed by ravens, he witnessed a young man resurrected, and he called down fire from heaven, thus destroying the prophets of Baal.

But then we see that Elijah burned out. After calling down fire, Elijah realized he couldn’t take anymore. He fled to the wilderness and felt totally alone and afraid.

God met him there. He fed him. He allowed him the time to rest. And after a while, he answered Elijah in the still, small voice.

What can we learn from Elijah? Burnout is only permanent if you allow it to be. Don’t listen to everything and everyone when you are exhausted. Take time to care for yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Then get back out there and win people to Christ.

The only way that failure will win in your life and cause you to leave the faith is if you allow it to do so. We serve a big God. This is the same God that created the universe! He can give us what we need, if we only allow Him to do so.

The Sinner’s Songbook

I love music. Not the music all you people like, but music that speaks to me. Sometimes that will be hymns. Sometimes that will be punk. Sometimes that will be rap. Sometimes that will be swing.

Tonight I was listening to a band that I used to listen to when I was growing up. The band is the Insyder’z. They consider themselves ska-core. Basically punk music with a lot of horns. Their newest album is The Sinner’s Songbook.

Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

As I was listening to the title track, I started to really relate with what they were singing. I got to remembering people I have come in contact with during my short life in ministry. I’d like to share some of those stories here. Please know the names have been changed to protect people.

First, there is Harvey. I met Harvey in 2013 when I led young adults at my former church. Harvey approached me one night afterward and said he was exploring his bisexual side. I didn’t know what to say. I simply asked him to explain to me what he was feeling and why he was feeling that way. We spoke for a very long time that night. Over time, I noticed that he started coming less and less. Eventually he stopped coming altogether.  When I saw him at work a few months later we started talking again. He said that he really loved our conversations but others in the church weren’t accepting him because of his lifestyle. I explained that he, as a person made in God’s image is always accepted, but his lifestyle is not. Even to this day, we talk when I see him at work and he thanks me for being approachable.

Next, there is Cassidy. Another young adult, she has had a troubled life. She has been abused by her “loved ones.” This led to her having a low self-worth and eventually ended up in her making poor life choices. She had an unhealthy addiction to sex and has had several abortions. Immediately I connected her with women in the church that could walk alongside her. She wouldn’t go to church that often because she felt as if the people in the pews were judging her, but she continued to come to young adult group and built great relationships with the women there. As those women moved on in their lives, she eventually dropped off. I haven’t seen her in a long while, even before I changed churches.

The next person is John. I met John as he was mid-divorce and dealing with an addiction to porn. As someone who has been through a divorce and had those same feelings that John had, I started meeting with him along with one other man. The three of us would hold each other accountable. Then John started pulling away and I didn’t chase after him to find out what was going on. Then it happened. I got a call from one of his family members that he isn’t answering his phone and one has seen him. I called the other guy that we were meeting with and he and I searched everywhere from his apartment to his hang outs to his work. That’s where we found John. He was hanging from a tree. Dead.

The last story is Fred. Fred led a great life. He had a wife, 2 kids, 5 acres with a large house and a 6-figure job. Fred spent his whole life focused on a great career so that his family would never have to worry. Unfortunately because of the focus on the career, the marriage ended. Having it all and then losing it brings with it a ton of baggage. Fred has turned his life around, but still struggles with the sins of the past. Sometimes that past creeps into his new marriage. Sometimes his past creeps into his job at the church. Sometimes it leads to Fred withdrawing from people, focusing on tasks rather than relationships. The fear of another broken relationship is sometimes overpowering. His relationship with Christ gives him the strength and ability to bring about change in his life. A lot of that had to do with the people God put in his way. He had people to talk to and to build him up.

Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord

If you haven’t guessed, that last story is me. The other 3 were people that I have come across in my time in ministry since 2013. There is one thing that is a common thread between all of these people. They all have a strong desire to change their lives. Something else that is common among all these people is that they all cried out to the church to help.

All four of the stories were affected by sin. Every single person was singing from the same Sinner’s Songbook. It didn’t matter if you were homosexual or have had several abortions or was suicidal or had an unhealthy focus on career. The tune might be different for each person, but the lyrics are the same.

“My life was affected by sin. I let the enemy win. I cried out in my distress. Depending on my difficulty, God’s people could do more but usually do less.”

Ok, so I am a terrible songwriter.

But the interesting part of the story is that there is a God who created all these people. All these sinful people. He created us all in His image. We all struggle. We are all afflicted. Any one of us, left alone in our sin, will be separated from God for eternity.

But God….

(any of you who read this blog regularly know that I love that phrase)

Romans 5:8 – But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us

But God….

God can change your trajectory.

I know that for sure because, as I said, I was that fourth story.

The same God has called to each of us in His still, small voice.

But I listened.

I didn’t fear the change that comes with listening to the One True God.

Because of listening, my life has changed course. I was headed to hell with a full tank of gas and I listened to God as He intervened in my life and made a complete U-turn.

My salvation is sure.

My future is bright.

I went from a 6-figure salary and a focus on myself to less than half that salary and filled with joy. Am I always happy? Of course not. But I am assured that the God of all creation has secured a place for me in His Kingdom.

I don’t have to fear when my life is up ended. It just means that I am either being attacked by an enemy who desires to steal my testimony or my God is trying to get my attention back on Him.

Either way, I win.

So I implore you, reader. If you are a Christian, then live like one. Live like you have the God of all creation in your corner. Live like He has nothing but your best interest and His glory at heart. Live like you belong to the family of God.

If you are not a Christian, then I will ask you to sincerely seek the God of all creation. If, at the end of your search you can still tell me you don’t believe, then we can still be friends but not family. If, however, you decide to make the decision to follow Christ, then welcome to the family and please tell me about it.

Your life will never be the same.

You are still a sinner singing from the Sinner’s Songbook, but you are a sinner that is redeemed by the blood of Christ and being sanctified each day.

Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast

 

Learning to be in dependence

John 15:5 – I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

It has been a very long time since I posted anything on here. People were worried. Women and children were crying. News outlets posted that something nefarious had happened to me.

Actually, none of that is true.

Apart from a couple of people who regularly read my posts, I didn’t hear anything from anyone.

And, yet, surprisingly my numbers didn’t fall either.

So why has it been almost 3 months since I posted anything here?

I’ve been learning about being in dependence.

Tomorrow is July 4th. This is the date in America that we celebrate our independence. We are free. We aren’t tied to any other country.

We celebrate independence so much in this country. When children reach certain milestones in their lives they accept more responsibility which leads them to being more and more independent.

When we move out of our parents’ house and on our own, we accept full independence in our lives.

Growing up becomes a journey toward complete independence.

Psalm 40:3-4 – He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!

Sometimes we become so independent that we need to be stepped back a little.

That’s where my life has been.

I have always been able to handle what comes in my life. I have had tough times, but usually my own determination and grit got me or my family through. Sometimes that didn’t go so well. I think back at my divorce, for example. I didn’t have enough determination or grit to make it right and I didn’t listen to God enough to accept his grace and mercy and help.

But now I am starting to learn to move away from independence and move toward being in dependence.

My wife and I have had a lot of turmoil in recent months. I took a new job in full-time ministry. Right around the same time, she was laid off from her job. Then my dad was in and out of the hospital and then decided to move closer to us.

There is a lot of good stuff in there!

But it is also a lot of stuff that is happening at once. And couple that with the fact that our bank account is dwindling daily, it is pretty daunting.

In my past I have had 6 figure jobs and was never trying to find the next dollar to pay for anything. I was always able to do it on my own power. I can flippantly say that God gave me those jobs so I really was depending on Him, but truth of the matter was that I didn’t need God to do anything that I could do in my own power.

Now I am learning just how little of a man I am.

And in that weakness, God has done some very amazing things!

Each day I go to God and ask Him for the provision for the day. In my past I would have had enough provision for the year within 6 months of working. Now I am learning to lean on God more and more.

It has changed the way that I speak to Him.

Isaiah 30:15 – For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling

When I had everything I ever wanted, I found I wanted more. “God, please give me the ability to take the vacation so I can go cruise the southern Caribbean again.” Or, “God, let me be able to save enough so I can clear the trees from one acre of the property so I can build a party area.” Or here is my favorite, “God, give me more so I can start tithing. I just don’t have enough to give back to you yet.”

But now, my prayers are quiet. I don’t have any ambition left in me. There is nothing more that I want out of or from this world.

My car is no longer something that matters to me. It is a utilitarian need for the ministry.

My house is no longer that something that I care about. It is simply there to shelter us and keep us safe. As long as it does that, I don’t care if it is decorated or sterile. I don’t care if it is clean or filled with pet hair.

Food? That is still my issue. Anyone who knows me knows I love food. When I used to have a lot of money I would get my favorite, steamed blue crabs, as much as I could. Now, those are a far-off dream since they are so expensive. I was blessed to be able to have crabs once last year. Who knows, the summer is young, there still may be a chance this year. God willing.

But see, my prayers are no longer about the stuff that I have or the stuff that I want (except steamed crabs lol). My prayers are about how I can be used in my current role, in my current condition, in my current state, for God.

I pray for provision to make it through the day. I pray to not have anything pop up in our expenses that God won’t cover. And I pray for the time to get everything done that He is requiring of me.

Other than that, my 45 minutes or so in prayer each morning is in silence or reading the Bible. I am looking for God to speak to me rather than spending all my time speaking to Him.

And it is in that place, the place of utter dependence on God, that I find my contentment.

Yes, I still get frustrated. Just today as I was talking with my wife about finances I showed my frustrations. That is still my humanity. I can’t give up my humanity.

But it is in that place that I learn dependence.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So on this Independence Day in America may you seek to be in dependence of Jesus Christ, the One and true Creator, brother and friend. He is all that and yet is God alone.

Things I Wished I Learned in Seminary

2 Timothy 2:15 – Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

A few months ago I stepped into a full time ministry position. It is truly a dream job. I had been chasing that dream since the end of 2013, so, almost 6 years. It took so long for several reasons, but, suffice it to say, God was preparing me for the ministry.

The position I took is a Director of Ministries role at a solidly medium-sized church. We run about 200 each Sunday and have over 65 people each week engaged in growth groups, which is an amazing percentage!

As Director of Ministries, I find that my role encompasses a lot. We only have 2 full-time staff: the pastor and myself. This means we both wear a lot of hats.

In all churches the staff wears many hats, but that number of hats you wear goes up exponentially as you get smaller. But I have found that the number of hats follows a sine curve. When the church is very small, the pastor wears all the hats, but the number of things that pastor is responsible for from a production standpoint is minimized simply because one person cannot do it all.

Then, on the other side of the curve is the megachurch. These churches typically have someone for almost every position in the church and the only reason someone would have to wear another hat is when they are transitioning between leaders.

Then you get to the mid-size churches. These are the churches that are between 200-400 people. In those churches you don’t have the congregation size to pull for every ministry that the church wants to do yet these churches are really starting to expand their community relations, build their worship teams, and see guests coming each week to check out the church.

It is in these churches, which don’t have the income to support full staffs, that the team is tasked with wearing several hats all at once so that the ministries continue to grow and the Sunday worship experience is on par with churches of larger size.

So when I went to seminary, I was told that the most important thing to understand was the Bible.

I still don’t doubt that.

Knowledge of God is the most important piece of ministry. I spent thousands of dollars studying a single book, The Bible.

But after seminary I feel woefully unprepared for many of the day to day parts of ministry.

Seminary is preparing people to be Ed Stetzer, Steven Furtick, David Platt, Louis Giglio, and many others. They aren’t preparing people to be the day-in and day-out shepherds of a congregation that can be challenging, amazing, beautiful, maddening, heartbreaking, and powerful. It also doesn’t prepare you for the operational aspects of ministry.

Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men

So what I would like to do is give a list of classes that I wish I had a chance to take in seminary. Seminaries don’t offer most of these classes, just so you know. These are things that you would never see in an MDiv or MAR.

  • Rigging 101

The past couple of days I have been helping the pastor plan the 4 services we are going to have this Easter weekend. The first service is Good Friday at 7 PM. For this service, we are moving a huge, close to 200 pound, cross from its normal place on the stage to hanging it from the ceiling in the middle of the room. This is requiring chains, aircraft cable, and a lot of prayer. If this thing falls in the middle of the sanctuary, it won’t necessarily be a “good” Good Friday.

  • Graphic Design

One of my first tasks was to prepare a brochure for the church that was to be used in the business meeting. Our goal was to make it something that looked professional yet didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I had the brochure almost completely done when I found one of our congregants has graphic design experience. I showed it to her and was almost laughed out of the room. I handed it to her and, within a week, she had something that was absolutely hands-down amazing. I wish I had that skill!

  • Application of the Fruit of the Spirit

We all know the fruit of the Spirit. It is laid out in Galatians 5. Each one of those fruit will be tested by the congregation. They will be attacked by Satan. It would be amazing to hear from pastors who have stood the test of time to give a class on how to maintain the fruit of the Spirit while in ministry. The other day my pastor and I were talking about how I have a very corporate mindset and how I like to tell someone what to do and expect them to immediately do it. Unfortunately in ministry, it doesn’t work that way. It is much more relational. This is definitely a skill I need to learn more from him, and I am. But imagine if seminary had prepared me for this.

  • Sound & Lighting

I realize that for those who take a worship track in seminary get a lot of this, but during my time at seminary it wasn’t even an option for me to take. I guess they figured that I was going for church planting and therefore would not have need for a worship team? (please note the sarcasm in that question). I am thankful that I studied it when I went to college, but that was in the 80’s and 90’s, so things have changed…a lot.

  • Children

I have kids. I haven’t been the best father in the world. I will never win any dad awards. But when you have several other children and yours are grown, and children were never a strength of yours, it takes a lot more focus and energy for me to deal with children than it does for someone who is good with kids. I don’t know how to put together a lesson plan. I don’t know how to control a classroom (unless the people in it have already been through puberty). A basic class on classroom management for dummies would be awesome.

  • Construction Techniques

Much of my job is working with people to keep the church from falling apart. The church is old. At least 40 years old for the main section. This means there are things that are breaking, falling apart, and not efficient. If I knew how to build, fix, and update all the things in the church for cheap it would be awesome!

  • Keeping your marriage strong during ministry

This is another one of those things that I think would be an amazing class to have ministry couples teach a class about the storms, the tests, and the trials you will face as a ministry couple. There are times that I can see strain between us for things at the church. I am thankful that I have a pastor that has been through that storm and is a great resource for me.

So these are a few of the classes I wish were available at seminary. And I know that some seminaries do a better job at some of these than others, but for the most part, many of these aren’t even on the radar of seminaries to prepare future pastors for the calling.

Pastors and ministry professionals have a high burn-out rate and a high turnover rate. Perhaps if we spent more time in seminary preparing people for both the knowledge of God and the intricacies of bathroom cleaning, then we might see that turnover number go lower.

Jeremiah 3:15 – “‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.

Depravity & Delight – A Study in Psalm 36

Did you ever do your morning devotions and wonder why you were crying?

That was me this morning. You see, each morning I take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. We walk about 2 miles each morning. It is during that time that I try to do my morning devotions and prayer time. My devotion is simply a chapter of the Bible. Lately I have been working through the Psalms.

This morning was Psalm 36.

Have you ever known anyone who was genuinely delighting in God alone?

That is what Psalm 36 is about.

David talks about delighting in the Lord in other places. Psalm 37:4 says:

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of desires in my heart! Keeping the desires of my heart provided could be God’s full-time job!

But Psalm 36 was today’s devotion.

And David begins this chapter in a way that he doesn’t use too often. David identifies himself as “the servant of the Lord.”

Psalm 36 – For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord.

The only other time David uses this explanation is in Psalm 18.

Why did David use that explanation in only those two Psalms? I’m not sure. But delighting in the Lord goes along with being submissive to the Lord.

But this isn’t the only strange thing David does in this Psalm. He starts this chapter by giving an analysis of sin’s effect in our lives.

Psalm 36:1-4 – Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated. The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good. He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.

I start to question what David really means here. Is David speaking about, as Calvin call them, the “abandoned despisers of God” or is it much more than that? I have a problem thinking that David is simply talking about a select group of people here. I think this is more a treatise on the condition of the human heart.

And this is where conviction came in this morning.

Have you ever had an argument with a friend or a loved one?

My wife and I had a pretty big argument the other night. When you think “big argument” your mind immediately goes to hard questions like addiction or worse.

But no.

We were arguing over something small and insignificant.

Yes, the argument was a little more than that, but at its core, we were arguing over something that means nothing in the grand eternity of life.

Now both of us have valid points in our arguments. And both of us have nothing but the good of the outcome in our minds.

But neither of us were unified with each other in the Spirit of God. We were both unifying around our own agendas and when we have divided passions we get a lot of spent energy rather than positive momentum.

But these four verses hit me hard. I had to text my wife from work this morning to own up to my shortcomings. I can’t speak for my wife, but my own transgression, whether that be pride or anger or even simply divided passion, spoke deep to my own heart as David says here. And, if you look at most Hebrew manuscripts, it actually says “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in my heart.”

My transgression was speaking to me deep in my own wicked heart.

During this argument with my wife I was not fearing God. I had an agenda and I was, literally, hellbent on enforcing it. My own pride and the thoughts that I had was flattering in my own eyes. I was so blinded by pride and arrogance that I couldn’t see my own iniquity.

Because of that, my words to my wife were trouble and not wisdom.

Later that night, I laid in bed and my mind was racing. Satan had a secure grip on my mind by that time and, just as David says in verse 4, I laid in bed and trouble was plotted in my mind. By the end of the night, I fell asleep so angry and I didn’t even reject the evil that was in my mind.

Those first four verses show us what the human heart, divorced from God’s grace, becomes. It is an unfolding of sin. It starts in the heart and it then continues to go into our words and then into our actions.

While there are interpretive differences in some manuscripts, there are some amazingly profound insights into sin and how flattery works in our lives to lead us into sin. This flattery leads us to think that we are justified by God for all of our actions, even those He calls sin.

Man, sin sucks. It is painful to come face to face with our own sin. The Puritan Ralph Venning said, “Consider that no sin against a great God can be strictly a little sin.”

So, in verse 1 our sin deceives us so that we don’t even know we are in sin. By verse 3 we see that our wickedness and deceit is happening toward God and others. Then by the end of verse 3 we see the downward spiral that our sin has placed in us. We abandon the wisdom we once had and we think about the next sin rather than denouncing sin altogether.

This is where I was in my argument with my wife. I was in the depths of depravity in my own pride.

But then, without any transition, David jumps right into the delightfulness of God.

David takes us from depravity to blessings in verses 5 through 9.

Psalm 36:5-9 – Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

The Hebrew word for “steadfast” is hesed. It is usually combined with the word for “faithfulness” to show a covenantal love. In the Septuagint, it is combined with “mercy.” The Hebrew work for “stork” comes from hesed as well because the Israelites noticed how tender and careful the stork was with her young. Combining this with Psalm 104:17, we see a better picture.

Psalm 104:17 – Where the birds build their nests, And the stork, whose home is the fir trees.

Baby birds are ugly. They spend all day crying for food and they aren’t able to support themselves. And yet, the stork shows this loyal love to her young. This is a picture of God’s loyal love to us.

How does David go from sheer depravity to overflowing joy?

Because he realizes that the permanence of the Lord is the beginning of delight.

We are permitted to take refuge in God’s house! How can you not be excited about that!

Not only are we given refuge but we are given our fill of meat and drink. In verse 8 David uses the word “abundance.” That is literally translated as “fatness.” This pictures the best meats that would have been offered to the temple for sacrifice. And then to drink from the river of God’s delights would literally mean to be drunk on God.

To truly appreciate the idea of the “river of your delights,” you need to look at who David is writing to. This is a desert people. A flowing river would mean life. It gives you something to bathe in or water your crops with. The word for “delight” is Eden, which could be a reference to the original Garden.

This is such a different view of the effects of sin before.

Is your concept of God this big? Do you see His faithfulness and love that large? Do you see his provision as abundant and delightful?

If you see God as this big then you can begin to move beyond the wickedness of sin and move into the life and light of Christ.

So David starts off by showing us how sin deceives the sinner by flattering him so that he plans and pursues it rather than hating it. Then David abruptly contrasts the immense delightfulness of God to make us want to seek Him as the source of every blessing.

Then, David ends his Psalm with verses 10-12.

Psalm 36:10-12 – Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart! Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away. There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise.

This prayer is for those who know God. Even though we know God and we experience His love and grace and mercy and all the blessings that flow from Him, we need a continuing flow of it from His river of delights.

To go back to the argument with my wife, it is when I stop seeking God that I fall into wickedness. We will never be fully sanctified until we are with Jesus face to face. Until that point we need to constantly be seeking God’s righteousness. We don’t just want to see God for an outward behavior but for an inner heart change.

That is the struggle of the modern day Christian. We sin so we seek God’s righteousness. When we do well enough to act good enough we stop seeking God and therefore we fall back into sin as it flatters us again.

If we stay on that cycle, we find our lives, our relationships, and our thoughts become tainted by the world because we can rely on our own righteousness for only so long. We need to rely solely on Christ to change our hearts and minds.

When you find yourself struggling with something, look inwardly first to determine if you are stuck in sin before you allow sin to flatter you and deceive you.

Declaring War, Accepting Healing

In America, we have a very specific method for declaring war. While the lines have been blurred many times, there is still a written plan of declaring war in America.

Spiritual warfare is very different.

And, as Christians, I believe we do spiritual warfare wrong.

Too often, Christians in America go through their comfortable lives and, when something bad comes up, they claim spiritual warfare and start praying for God to remove the warfare from their lives.

Ephesians 6:12 – For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

I am fairly certain that I have lived this way for much of my life. But spiritual warfare is a daily event, not a single circumstance.

I’ve played the victim.

The Bible is clear, spiritual warfare is not singular event that becomes a speed bump in the road toward sanctification. Spiritual warfare is an every day mindset.

When life throws everything it can at you, it is very easy to stand up claim spiritual warfare and pray hard for about a week and then fall back into your life of Christian mediocrity.

So I believe we get spiritual warfare very wrong.

Those life events? Yea, they aren’t necessarily spiritual warfare. They are opportunities in this life to continue toward sanctification and grow in Christ.

They are an opportunity to heal.

But we have to accept it.

When we feel ourselves slipping into the victim mentality and half-heartedly claiming spiritual warfare, it is important to go to the book of John and go to chapter 5. Right there in the beginning is an account about Jesus at the Well of Bethesda, a place where healing would happen to a select few people.

John 5:1-9 – After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.

You see, this pool was supernatural. Our modern day minds can’t wrap around this, but an angel would come down and stir the waters of this well. The first person to go into the well would be healed.

There was a man at this well who had been diseased for over 38 years. Each time he tried to get in the pool when the water was stirred, someone would beat him to it and obtain the healing before him.

When Jesus sees this man, he asks a strange question, “Do you want to be healed?”

In many of the cases of healing in the Bible that involve Jesus, we see that people seek Jesus out for healing.

This man was just sitting there in his illness and Jesus goes up to him and asks him if he wants to be healed.

Jesus realizes that this man had not been sick for a short amount of time. This disease had a hold of this man for a long period of his life. So much that it could have become his identity. What afflicts us, or comes against us, can easily become a part of our identity.

At first, Jesus’ initial comment to the man can look uncaring and cold. Jesus doesn’t ask for the man’s history. He doesn’t seem to care about why this man is in this position.

He simply asks him if he wants to be healed.

It is as if Jesus is saying to the man, “Do you really want to be healed or are you happy playing the victim?”

This is where we begin to see the reality of victimization.

The man doesn’t immediately answer Jesus by saying “yes.” As a matter of fact, in this account, the man never tells Jesus that he wants healing!

To anyone reading this, we would think that if we had Jesus standing in front of us asking if we want healing from a disease that has crippled us for 38 years that we would immediately break down and cry out “YES!”

And yet, this man doesn’t say “yes.”

This man answers as a victim.

“Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the waters are stirred, but while I am coming, another steps in before me.”

Jesus didn’t care about the man’s reasons. Jesus didn’t want the back story.

Jesus asked a yes or no question.

Very simple question.

Do you want to be healed, yes or no?

Being a victim rarely allows us to answer the easy questions easily.

It causes us to get caught up in our circumstances rather than the solutions. This man had the Creator of the universe standing in front of him and asking him if he wanted healing and yet all he could do is give Jesus an excuse!

If this man really wanted healing, he could have figured out a way to be healed. It might have involved bribing someone to throw him in the pool or making promises to someone to hold people back. Instead, this man was so caught up in his story that he couldn’t see the healing in front of him.

Lately, my wife and I have had a lot happen in our lives. And, while I say “lately,” it feels as if every step of the way since we were married that we have had something come up that knocks us off balance. The past couple months has involved several surgeries for my dad, all 3 of the vehicles in our family breaking down at the same time, loss of jobs, loss of insurance, loss of incomes from both her employment and mine. If you want, I can share the story of the past 3.5 years that kept us off balance.

Every time I have claimed “spiritual warfare” and blamed Satan.

Meanwhile, I wonder if God is simply standing before us saying, “Do you really want to be healed or do you like your story more than my power?”

That was painful to write.

It was painful to hear in my head over and over.

If we aren’t careful, we can hold a story within us that is not the story that God wants known. Our story can be filled with unhealed pain, distorted beliefs, and personal limitations. We can carry that story into every chapter of our lives and even write it into future chapters before they are even written.

This man at the pool had a chance to stop his story where it was and change it to the story that Jesus wanted to give him. The story Jesus wants to convey is becoming whole and healing.

Back in 2013 I started my ministry call. Over the years, I have asked people the same question Jesus asked this man at the pool.

Do you want healing?

Are you willing to give up the unemployment check if you can find a job. Are you willing to give up the disability check if you have a chance to be healed?

Many times I received silence at that question. They didn’t immediately tell me yes, and, in some cases, never gave me a yes or no at all, they just gave me their story again.

With healing comes a new way of thinking about life. With healing comes a new lifestyle. With healing comes a new perspective.

Many times people want to be healed, but they don’t want to change their lives to accept it.

That is a victim mentality.

Jesus does heal the man. Some texts say that Jesus made him whole.

God is more concerned with us becoming whole and being healed.

But the story doesn’t end with verse 9!

John 5:14 – Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”

In verse 14 we are told that Jesus sees this man later in the temple and tells the man that he needs to sin no more so that nothing worse comes his way. Basically, Jesus is telling this man that if he isn’t careful, he can very easily slip back into his victim mentality and that would cause him to be sicker than before.

Ouch.

For most of Christendom, we find it hard to believe that our disease can be caused by sin. We try to preach grace only and try to sanitize the gospel message to be a happy go lucky, rub Jesus’ belly and all will be well story. We try to remove the guilt and condemnation from the gospel message.

But we can’t avoid the fact that Jesus warned this man that if he wasn’t careful he would lose what he gained.

This man played the victim all his life. For at least 38 years. He had no room for love or hope or faith. If we continue to live as a victim, we carry with us unbelief. That unbelief means that our situation cannot truly change until we get rid of the unbelief.

We lose hope and believe the lies that we are only what we see.

Jesus called us to live as victors, not victims. Living as a victim is a sin and needs to be repented of.

We can’t simply say “the devil made me do it” when we live a life of unbelief.

 

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