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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.

Can you tell me about Jesus?

John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

So today, after the snowstorm of the century in Maryland (actually, it was only the 7th worst storm in the last 30 years), I decided to go to the grocery store. Safeway was not busy at all, so I got a space pretty close to the front. Since there weren’t a lot of cars, I was able to pull through the parking space and into the next space.

When I came out of the store, I rolled the cart to my car and started to put the groceries in the trunk. The space behind me was still open, and there were several other spaces throughout the parking lot that were actually closer to the store than the one behind me.

I just put the last bag in the car as it dropped and the groceries went all over the back of the trunk. I started to clean them up when a car started to pull into the spot. The woman blew her horn and proceeded to yell at me through her windows. I couldn’t understand what she said because all her windows were up, but she clearly was not happy at me.

I held up my index finger to say, “give me a minute” and continued to clean up the groceries in the trunk.

She blew her horn again and, as I looked at her, she threw up her arms in frustration and stared at me until I was finished.

I rolled the cart to the cart return area as she parked right behind me. As I walked back to my car I noticed a couple of Christian decals on her car.

When she got out of the car, I decided to ask her if she could tell me about the gospel message.

She gave me a nasty look and turned and walked away from me and into the store.

My mentor shared a sermon once as the church handed out bumper stickers to everyone that he didn’t want people to put the stickers on their cars if they were going to not act like a Christian as they drove places. This woman was clearly the subject matter of his sermon.

Now when I asked this woman to share the gospel message with me I clearly had a ulterior motive (I needed a topic this week for my blog!)

But the point, to me, is clear as crystal.

The world is watching us.

What would have happened if it wasn’t me, but someone who really needed to hear the gospel?

What if someone was contemplating the sermon they just heard and whether they need Jesus in their life and then they have this experience.

Now let me say that I don’t know what this woman was going through. She may have had a serious problem happen in her life that I don’t know about that she is struggling with that set her off.

But the world doesn’t know that, unfortunately.

The world just sees a supposed Christian woman acting very un-Christian like.

When that happens, we lose our testimony.

I know a lot of people who would say that this woman is not a Christian because of the way she acted. And she may not be.

But what if she really is?

As I said, she might just be having a very bad day that set her off.

But Satan isn’t trying to “unsave” the Christians.

Satan is trying to destroy our testimonies.

Satan knows that he can’t take us out of God’s hands. So he wants to bring doubt, confusion, anger, bitterness, sarcasm, and other demons into our lives to make sure that Christians can’t share their testimony.

That might have been the case today. This woman might have been having such a bad day and she was trying to handle everything on her own instead of relying on God. What that does is causes us to handle our issues incorrectly.

We lash out.

We say those four-letter words.

We hurt those we love.

We get our testimonies destroyed by the one who comes to kill and destroy.

So what is the answer? How do we ensure that Satan doesn’t kill our testimonies?

Well, even though Jesus, in the beatitudes, commands us to “be perfect,” you are not perfect. You won’t get it right all the time.

But God…

God has enough grace and mercy to love you and give you your testimony back.

The way to do that is to follow what is written in the Bible,

James 4:7 – Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

While I only chose James 4:7, the entire beginning of James 4 is pertinent to this post. James asks us what causes quarrels among us? It is our passion. It is our desire to put ourselves on the altar and not God.

But you might say to me, “Fred, I asked God for help and he never answered me.”

What does James say about this?

James 4:1-12 – What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?  But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

James pretty much pegged what that woman this morning was going through. Even though I don’t know the specifics, the fruit of her actions is evident. She didn’t submit to God. Even if she asked God for help, she ask wrongly.

And that is our problem as Christians.

We tend to think that God will do so much more for us that He already did.

Jesus already died on the cross. He did that so you could have an eternity with Him. But sometimes I believe we expect Him to fix every problem that comes our way. To replace the rainy seasons with rainbows, to take away our bad attitudes and idolatry and replace it with smiles and peace.

God is not a genie in a bottle.

We have accountability in this life. If we choose to humble ourselves, God will exalt us. If we choose to exalt ourselves, God will humble us.

Here is my challenge to you, Christian.

Over the next week, take everything you do and place God before it completely. Are you about get in your car and go to work? Pray and ask God to guide you. Are you about to go eat lunch? Pray and thank God for the provision. Are you about to come into a rainy season? Pray and ask God to give you clarity about how to get through it.

It may seem awkward at first. But eventually you will feel more and more comfortable with talking to God and you will learn how to talk to Him and how to listen to Him.

The Church Has Left the Building – Part 2

Back in 2013 I wrote an article called “The Church has left the Building.” It was a year and half after I had started blogging and I hadn’t yet acquired an audience. Looking back at it, theologically there was nothing wrong with the article, but as I have aged, I have come to realize that the phrase, “The Church has left the Building” is more than I wrote about in 2013.

Back in 2013 I was concerned with the state of tithing in the church and that if the church doesn’t follow the God-given request to test Him in our tithes, then as the greater church we cannot do many of the ministries we need to do in order to be a thriving church.

FYI…for the 2019 year my buzzword is going to be “thrive.” That is going to be a post for a different day, but suffice to say you will read that word a lot over the next 12 months.

Now I realize it has taken me 5 and half years to write a follow up to the original post, but I want to share the wisdom that God has been teaching me over the past 5 years as to what the phrase “The Church has left the Building” means to me.

Too many people think the church is the building and the people that are in the building. I recently changed churches from Chesapeake Christian Fellowship to Friendship Community Baptist. One is non-denominational, single-elder led while the other is mainline Baptist and congregationally led. Very different polity.

But the same church.

Both churches are amazing in various different aspects of ministry. There are things that CCF is strong at that FCBC is not. There are areas that FCBC is strong that CCF is not.

How we “play church” on Sundays is different.

But the goal is the same.

Plunder hell and populate heaven.

The writer of Hebrews knows this well (I also wrote an article about who this writer could be back in 2012, but, again, that is for another day as I realize that many people will disagree with my view on that as well).

The writer of Hebrews says,

“For we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of the lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” – 13:14-16

We have no lasting city.

When I started attending CCF back in 2002 I had no clue what Christianity was truly about. It was by the grace of God and His mercy alone that I came to find that faith. As time went on, I became comfortable at CCF, thinking that was my lasting city. I even wanted to eventually pastor there.

But God.

God had other plans.

He realized that I needed to become uncomfortable in order to continue growing.

I needed to leave the camp, so to speak.

Again, the writer of Hebrews explains this,

“For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” – 13:11-12

The sacrificial offerings were burned up outside the camp. Jesus suffered and died outside the gate of the city.

In order for us to be used to our fullest for God, we need to go outside the gate of the city.

My city, for so long was CCF. And while I would occasionally go outside and talk to people (usually about how great my church was more than the power of the Holy Spirit), I maintained my comfort inside the building.

I couldn’t be burned up for the sacrifice when I grew comfortable.

God knew this. Honestly, I knew this. I just pushed against it for many years before truly acting upon it.

In order for me to grow, I needed to leave the walls of the city.

And my new church, Friendship Community Baptist, has been challenging yet good for my growth. I am learning how to work inside a different set of church polity. I am learning what it truly means to shepherd.

I am so thankful for my time at CCF. Without that time, I could not have grown from immaturity to maturity. But there comes a time in every believer’s life that he or she needs to step outside the walls of the city in order to be uncomfortable.  The entire eleventh chapter of Hebrews is an example of that,

“…Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain…Enoch was taken up…Noah constructed an ark…Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out…Moses was hidden for three month…Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter…(Moses) left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king…The people crossed the Red Sea…” – 11:4-30 (abridged)

He continues, saying,

“…through faith (others) conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” – 11:33-34

Every single one of those “by faith” comments in Hebrews 11 required going out.

The Church has Left the Building!!!

By no means am I telling people to leave their churches and go to a different church like I did. That was God’s vision for me and my family at this time in my life. That may not be the vision He has given you.

But you need to leave the comfort of the building and get out in your community. If you are not, by faith, stepping out and proclaiming the gospel to others and discipling others, you need to figure out what kind of faith you really have.

Did you simply accept Jesus to try and become a better person and get a “Get Out of Hell Free” card?

Or did you fall in love with the person of Jesus Christ and desire to serve Him. Are you worried less about looking like a Christian and more about looking like Christ? Are you following Christ by faith because you have  desperation to know the person of Jesus Christ?

I want you to move beyond thinking you have a saving faith and move into knowing you have a saving faith.

That will lead the church to leave the building.

It will become a message that simply too big to contain inside the church building that you need to take it to communities, the streets, the cities, the shanty towns, the neighborhoods, and the workplaces.

Know your faith, Christian.

It is time to leave the building.

Innocence and Theology

Mark 10:14 – But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

The other day I was driving my daughter home from her work. She works for a local Christian camp. She was talking about how she was writing Bible studies for the half-day students because the current series was not directed toward the age group she was responsible for. She wanted to do an entire weeklong series on “Finding Jesus.” As she was explaining it to me, she was explaining the plot line of the Disney movie “Finding Dory.” It was pure innocence, using the story of a fish-finding story to explain how we come to know the risen Creator of the universe.

As she spoke to me I found all these ways to poke holes in her theology.

But I kept my mouth shut and listened.

She explained how easy it was to find Jesus. She pulled a few Bible verses here and there, used a lot of Disney references, and showed a lot of passion in her voice as she explained it to me.

If a seminary graduate who has studied hermeneutics, Greek and Hebrew would listen to her speak, he would stop her from teaching this to the younger minds than hers.

But I sat and thought about it for a minute.

First, I thought about what Jesus said about children.

Matthew 18:1-3 – At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Now, please understand me that Jesus is not talking about becoming like children in ways of wisdom, but in innocence.

As adults, we tend to overthink situations so much more than children. If a child is angry or happy or sad they show their emotion and then, unless there is a significant outside influence like abuse, divorce, and death, the child will remember the major points of why they feel the way they do, but the details will be foggy. According to one study, “early emotional experience literally become embedded in the architecture of their brains.” (“Children’s Emotional Development is Built into the Architecture of their Brains,” National Scientific Council on the Developing Child)

While children are imprinting their brains, they simply do not have enough history to distort their realities. Adults, on the other hand, color everything we experience with our past.

Colossians 2:8 – See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

I think of it this way, what is the main thing at church?

When we look at church today, we focus on a lot that is not Jesus.

We package it up as Jesus, but it isn’t Jesus.

Music is great, but music isn’t Jesus.

Small groups are awesome, but they aren’t Jesus.

Mission journeys are needed, but they aren’t Jesus.

But people tend to make them Jesus.

Just like holidays. I think of holidays that celebrate the military or freedom. During those days in church, when freedom or the flag or the military is announced, the applause gets louder, there is cheering, and the church gets a great feeling.

The amount of excitement around those topics outweigh the excitement for hearing about the Savior of mankind.

But let’s look at the Hebrew church for a moment.

By the time the book of Hebrews was written and delivered, there were up to 100,000 Christians inside of Jerusalem. The majority of those Christians were members of house churches, what we would consider either a small group or an underground church. Most of those house churches had approximately 20-30 adults at it. That means there would be about 4,000 churches in Jerusalem during the distribution of the book of Hebrews.

The book was written to Christians in Jerusalem.

Now, before this letter came to those churches, what did they use? They used other letters.

So when the messenger brought the Letter to the Hebrews to the first church in Jerusalem around 60 AD, there were still 3,999 other churches that had yet to hear this amazing book!

The churches would spend all night studying the Word. They would consume it!

Matthew 4:4 – But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

We don’t consume the Word.

We consume the music. We consume the fellowship. We consume the opportunity to serve those who don’t have as much first world stuff as we do.

But we don’t consume the Word.

The church in Jerusalem consumed the Word.

And they changed the world.

They were able to affect people across several generations.

And they were able to build a foundation for faith throughout further generations.

They consumed the Word with an innocence and excitement similar to how my daughter shared the Word as she understood it with those younger kids.

Just What Theology Are You Listening To?

Ecclesiastes 1:1-5 – The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.

I grew up listening to rock music. From the time I was young, my favorite band was KISS. I distinctly remember a day when I was about 10 or 11, my grandma was visiting us and I had an old KISS album playing on the record player. The song Hotter Than Hell came on and I proceeded to serenade my grandma with that song.

Ephesians 5:19 – Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart

She laughed it off. I enjoyed myself. I thought everything was ok.

For anyone who ever listened to that song, there is A LOT in that song that a young child should never listen to. For one, it talks about taking a woman back home to where there is “so much to do.” I can only imagine that Paul Stanley is not talking about baking a cake or changing the oil in the car. Even more than that, he is trying to pick up a married woman as she shows him her wedding band.

35 years later, I wish I could go back and apologize to my grandma for that moment.

A few years later, I would find myself making the decision to follow Christ. In the single moment, I actually broke in half every KISS album I had and threw them in the trash and started listening to groups like Sweet Comfort Band and Petra. For those of you who don’t listen to Christian rock from the 70s and 80s, that would be like trading in KISS for Journey or Rush.

As time went on, I found a little Christian music station on the radio (FM90.3, WJTL) that had a “3 hour rock block” every Saturday night headed up by Fred McNaughton and a few others. The first song I heard on there was Daniel Amos’ Travelogue. To this day I have no clue what that has to do with Christianity but I loved the flanged guitar intro and creative use of drums throughout the song.

More and more I got into Christian music.

Why?

Because I could have the sound I loved and feel I was listening to something that praised the God I loved.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

The Christian band Jacob’s Trouble once said in concert that they use music to break down the defenses so that they can slip the message they want you to hear into your mind and soul. Now before you condemn them for being sneaky and underhanded, that is a very real thing for all musicians. How many times do you say during a song, “that song really moved me!” I’m sorry to say, that was not b accident. It was well planned out to make you have that reaction.

It is why church services have a formula for their worship music. Most churches do 3-4 songs. The opening song is really upbeat and gets the blood pumping. The second song is upbeat, but allows a little bit of introspection and reflection. The third song (if there are 4 per service) is very upbeat and meant to get you ready for the lights to raise and get you into the mood to shake peoples’ hands. You want to fellowship with people. You feel good about saying “hi” to the stranger next to you. The fourth song is usually a very slow song. This is a song of true reflection that usually contains something that touches upon the sermon topic. This is the song that gets your heart ready to hear the message. It slows you down, gets you reflecting, and, yes, sometimes I have cried during this song.

But what about all those songs? And what about that Christian station you listen to throughout the week?

More people quote Christian song lyrics than they do Scripture. And many times the people believe that the words are coming directly from Scripture.

A lot of times, that simply is not true.

Sadly, there is a LOT of bad theology in the CHRISTIAN music we listen to.

Ephesians 4:14 – As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming

Part of the problem lies in what we see as the purpose for Christian music. When we see music used in the Bible, the overarching theme of music is to PRAISE GOD. The music is never meant for the unbelievers. It is meant for believers.

Today, entire record labels are created to reach the lost. Just look at Lecrae, Tedashii and the 1:16 Clique. They go out with a focus of reaching the lost for Christ.

But Fred, aren’t we supposed to go out and reach the lost?

Hmmm….I don’t know if we are truly reading the same Bible if that is our only mission in the church. Jesus’ Great Commission to us is to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have taught you.”

We get stuck on that word “Go” but we rarely focus on the word “disciples.”

Much of our music is “Go” music.

Very little is “disciple” music.

When I heard Daniel Amos for the first time (and, by the way, I still love their music, but I have a different view of it) I thought these guys were amazing Christian scholars. Without even realizing it, their album praised the name of William Blake more than it praised the name of Jesus. As a matter of fact, the name of Jesus is not said once in that first album that I bought. And this band put out 14 albums under the name Daniel Amos (or DA in their post-punk years), 7 solo albums by the lead singer Terry Scott Taylor, 6 albums as their pop alter egos of The Swirling Eddies, and 11 albums as another alter ego (this time Americana and Country music) of the Lost Dogs.

In total, 38 albums since the band went public in 1976. And they still tour today!

But with some very flawed theology over the years.

Titus 1:10-11 – For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain

And that was painful to write because I grew up emulating them. My Mohawk years were because of their song Home Permanent (“my hair points to the sky, the place I want to be”). My entire senior year of high school was spent dressing like them on their Vox Humana album. As a freshman in college I wrote a lot of poetry, some published in local mags, that people said sounded like a dark William Blake.

I idolized Daniel Amos.

And their bad theology.

It wasn’t until YEARS later that I started to realize that their music was Christian in name only.

And a lot of the Christian music scene of the 70s, 80s and 90s was the same.

One of the pioneer Christian punk bands was Undercover. For years they played raucous concerts that pogo’ed and moshed and slammed to songs like God Rulz, their re-write of Holy, Holy, Holy, and Three Nails.

Years later, their lead singer, Ojo Taylor, can be found teaching music at a college in the mid-Atlantic area. In an interview with him for Christianity Today, he came out saying that after spending all those years in the Christian music scene, he realized that he just could not believe in what he was singing about. He became at best agnostic and more likely, atheist.

The co-founder of the Newsboys in 1985 left the faith and calls himself an atheist.

Look at some others: Katy Perry, Roger Martinez from Vengeance Rising, Jennifer Knapp, Leslie Philips, Pete Stewart of Grammatrain, Scott Kerr and Andy Verdecchio of Five Iron Frenzy, Tim Lambesis of As I Lay Dying, Jason Barnes of Haste the Day, and David Bazan from Pedro the Lion. These are just a few!

The danger with music is that it DOES break down those defenses. It allows in whatever the singer is singing. And if that is not Bible-focused, then there is a danger of replacing the truth in your spirit with a lie.

Hebrews 13:9 – Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.

This is true even today in our churches.

The theology in the music can be damaging to the overall message you want your listener to receive.

Here is an example: In Christ Alone.

This is a beautiful song. But I want you to look at the theology of it. When you read the lyrics for it do you see the blatant Calvinist view? “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.”

I am not saying that I don’t hold a somewhat Calvinist view of the church and theology in a lot of what I do. But how divisive is a song like this to non-Calvinists?

What about another example? How about Shine, Jesus, Shine. This song was among Britain’s top hymns in 2005 and was written in 1987. The line goes “shine on me, shine on me…” that I want to bring to the fore here. When we call to God continually to “shine on me” we are playing with the idea that Jesus is primarily concerned with our personal prosperity and that individual relationship benefits us as believers. The New Testament is pretty clear that the lyric should have read “shine on us.” The New Testament is about the community of believers.

How about the song, “Let My Words Be Few.” This song was given the dubious title of the “Jesus is my boyfriend” song. The danger with placing so much of our faith in Jesus with our emotions is that emotions come and go. Our love for Christ goes beyond emotion. Our music needs to reflect that.

What about a song that causes confusion? Let’s say, Cornerstone (My Hope is Built on Nothing Less). Let me start by saying I LOVE THIS SONG! But one REALLY needs to know the Bible to understand where the imagery is coming from for this song! Much of this song is based around the Biblical passages to Jewish Christians who were tempted to return to Judaism. While this song is theologically accurate, does it truly have a place in a seeker-driven church? How many will sing that song and not truly understand the imagery in it? How can they praise God if they don’t even understand what they are saying?

Or what about the action songs? A good example is the song “Hungry.” The line goes, “I am falling on my knees offering all of me.” How many of us are standing there in the sanctuary with our arms at our sides muttering these words nonsensically. Many people fear alienation and making a spectacle of themselves that they sing the lines of the songs deadpan.

I haven’t even hit all the major theological issues with our music today. For example, I didn’t even touch upon the songs that say I will be happy when I have Christ. Or songs that speak too hypothetically, such as “I can only imagine” (ooooh! there is sacrilege! That song was the impetus for propelling Christian music into the mainstream permanently!).

We as church leaders need to be cognizant of what we believe God’s call for our church is and target our music to those moments. We need to make sure that our own theologies are not compromised by using a song that counters it.

And we need to simply get better music. Honestly, most of the music is too repetitive and monotone to be truly good. If the lyrics had to do with someone’s girlfriend, the song would get laughed off the radio and iTunes. But when we tack God onto it, it seems like even the most suckish song turns platinum.

But that is a topic for another day.

2 Peter 3:17 – You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness

How Far is too Far? How Little is too Little?

Galatians 5:24 – And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

There is no doubt that if you are a Christian, or if you know a Christian, that you have heard many of the theologies of Christianity…partly.

I am sure you THINK you know everything about what Christians believe about hell, salvation, justice, grace, mercy, and our stances on homosexuality, abortion, and even gun rights. But I am here to tell you that everything you know is most likely wrong.

That’s right. I said it. You are wrong.

So, Fred, are you proclaiming that you are right?

Well, yes.

I hate to sound so crass, but I truly do believe that I have studied my Bible pretty intensely and know that correct Christian theology when it comes to each and every one of those items above as well as many others.

Right now you are probably sitting there thinking that I am really full of myself for claiming that.

Maybe in your eyes I am. In my eyes, I simply view it as confidence.

The Bible did say that the things of God would confound those who do not know Him.

1 Corinthians 2:14 – The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

You see, Christianity is really very simple. Humanity is very hard. We humans beings like to think, overthink, and then think again about something until we create a philosophy about it that fits how we feel at the time.

The difference between Christian theology and philosophy is that Christian theology is based on the timeless truths of Christ while philosophy is based on the inner feelings of a single human. When the philosophy of that single human go viral, then we turn that philosopher into something that either he never intended to be or should have ever been.

We turn the philosopher into a god.

But, Fred, what does this have to do with your topic?

Let me explain with an example.

And I am going to take a very hot button issue: homosexuality.

When the world sees the typical conservative church and many of our talking heads on TV, they see a church that is anti-gay. I truly believe that there are way too many churches out there that are anti-gay. Jesus was never one to discriminate against people for their beliefs. He simply loved on them until they realized their beliefs were wrong.

But we as humanity try to take the Bible, or any other document, too far. We like to spew a Bible verse out of context to demonize people and make them into something that, more than likely, they are not.

If you have ready my blog in since the beginning, you know that my brother was gay. He was also buried with medals from the Catholic Church for his missions that he did with his medical background. At his funeral, my mom, dad, and I were all amazed that he held knighthood in the Military & Hospital Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, and others.

I believe that if we simply cast out those who are different from us in the evangelical church, then we will be accused of being the exact same as the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time.

Matthew 21:31b-32 – Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

But then let’s look at the other extreme. And let’s stick with our hot button of homosexuality.

There are those in the world that would say that homosexuality is something you are born with and it is not their choice to be gay. To that I say, “you are wrong.”

And don’t even TRY to use the analogy that you are gay from birth just like the black man is black from birth. That is an apples and oranges analogy. This what is known as a category error. It attributes the property of one thing to something else that does not have that property. Sex, whether homo or hetero, is an action. It is not a genetic condition. Homosexuality is a behavior that people choose to do. On the other hand, being born to a race is not a choice or a behavior.

So how should the church handle homosexuality? Or for that matter, any other sin?

The church is made up of individuals who are on a path to finding Christ. Discipleship is a lifelong journey. If we deny ANYONE the opportunity for the journey then we are clearly not doing what Jesus commanded in going out into all the world and making disciples. Disciples do not start off the journey knowing, or even accepting, all of the tenets of the Christian faith.

Colossians 3:5 – Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

But, on the other side of that, the Christian church should NEVER change our beliefs that were given to us by the inspired Word of God, because of some people who do not completely understand our faith disagree with it.

That means that when they expect us to perform a holy ceremony on something that blatantly goes against what we believe, then we need to say no. That means that we need to stick to our beliefs in the books of Timothy and Titus and say no to taking into leadership anyone who is VOLITIONALLY SINNING.

To the church, homosexuality is a sin. And there are many other things out there that are sins. So when I say this, I do NOT just mean homosexuality is the only litmus for this. But for the purpose of our example, we are going to use this.

If someone knows that Christianity believes that homosexuality is a sin, then they cannot be upset when they are told they cannot become a leader in a church when the Bible clearly tells us that ordaining a leader that is living in a volitional sin is not acceptable.

This would be the same if someone is choosing to live with someone they are not married to heterosexually as well.

So let me try to bring this to a close.

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.

How far is too far? When the church clearly attacks people for their sin, whether that be our example of homosexuality or something else, then the church has gone too far in enforcing a human version of holiness. Clearly not of God.

How little is too little? When the church bends to the whims of those who are being discipled and yet do not completely understand or accept the views of the God-given church, then we are not enforcing God’s standards enough.

The church has a job to perform. That job is to be the voice of Jesus to a lost and fallen world. That job is to train up disciples of the true and living Christ. That job is to not fall into the trap of being like the Pharisees or Sadducees of Jesus’ time.

That job is to be a light to the world.

Let’s shine that light.

Matthew 5:16 – Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven

Surprises

Genesis 45:26 – And told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob’s heart fainted, for he believed them not.

This is not really a theological post. This is more personal. And that is fine. You know where I stand theologically. Sometimes it is nice just to share a personal story and give you a little bit of insight into the person who is writing this blog.

Too often we read a person’s blog and think to ourselves, “Wow! That dude has it all together!” But that isn’t the case…ever. No one is so perfect that they spew the Word of God from their mouths every minute of every day.

No. I fall short, my friends. Quite a bit.

Last week I wrote about how I am not perfect. This week, I want you to know that one of my (many) imperfections are that I am really bad at surprises. I blame this on my mom. Don’t get me wrong, my mom is amazing. She is one of the most loving people I will ever know in this world. She is gentle and caring and simply wants everyone to enjoy the moment they are in at the time.

But she is horrible with surprises.

I usually know what I am getting for Christmas by about March. My mom loves people so much that she just wants them to enjoy their presents, even when they don’t have them yet.

And I inherited this quality.

1 Kings 10:7 – But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.

Mimi has known almost every surprise that I have ever tried to spring on her. Sometimes it is simply because it was planned poorly. But other times, I let something slip.

A good example of this is that I plan on asking Mimi to marry me in the very near future. I tried to ruin it a couple times by saying something either on social media or in a conversation with her. If she hasn’t figured it out by now, then she needs to stalk me a little closer.

This made me wonder if, biblically, God ever surprised us.

Look at Genesis 45:26. Look at 1 King 10:7. Look at 1 Corinthians 2:9.

God loves to do something so suddenly that no one is quite prepared for it. In the story of Genesis 45:26, Jacob passed out when he found out Joseph was alive!

So surprises are not something I am good at, but God is amazing at. I keep waiting for the next big surprise from God, the second coming of Christ. But in the meantime, God has a plan for each of us. When we stay in His will and desire, those plans always go beyond anything we could ever imagine. God really does want to give us the desires of our hearts.

And not only that, but He wants to surpass them.

1 Corinthians 2:9 – However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him–

Theology, Koko the Talking Gorilla, and Rock n’ Roll

So my latest seminary class, Systematic Theology II, is teaching me about the differences in opinion between theologians on various topics.  The topic that we are discussing in class right now is the idea of the Trinity.  So I read St. Gregory of Nazianus’ writings on the subject and Gordon Fee’s book on the topic.  As I was reading both of their books, one thing came very clear, both of the views are human explanations of God.

My favorite band of all time, Daniel Amos, has a song called Darn Floor, Big Bite.  In it, they talk about Koko the talking gorilla.  Know the story?  Allow me to elaborate.  Koko was a female gorilla born in 1971.  She is able to sign over 1,000 words and can understand over 2,000 words of spoken English!  Everyone calls her ability to understand language as controversial.  One story goes, as Daniel Amos sings, that when someone asked her to explain an earthquake, she signed “Darn floor, big bite.”

Regardless of whether you believe that she was able to adequately explain an earthquake through her sign of “darn floor, big bite,” or whether you believe that she was way off base with her view of just what an earthquake is, one thing a painfully clear….Koko has a definition (right or wrong) of what an earthquake is in her mind.  She may not be able to explain it in scientific terms or even in words that don’t even seem to go together, but she knows what it is in her mind.

When it comes to the theology that is precisely what we are doing when trying to explain God.  We may not get it right, but we try.  Take the example of St. Gregory and Gordon Fee.  They have two very different views of the way that the idea of the Trinity came about, but at the end of the day they know that the Trinity is true.

St. Gregory bases his view on the Old Testament and the book of John.  He uses a lot of controversial views, though.  For example, he claims that the Bible isn’t always factual.  I personally find that statement of St. Gregory’s as wrong.  The Bible is factual.  You can laugh at me all you want, but I do believe in the creation account in the Bible.  I believe Noah’s ark was real.  I believe the entire Bible in its entirety.  If the Bible isn’t true, then it is false.  Therefore, the Bible is true.

Gordon Fee, on the other hand, looks at the views of Paul to make the claim that the Trinity exists.  Now, Paul was a missionary.  He was a church planter who was way too busy living out Matthew 28:19 to worry about analyzing every single word that the Hebrew Bible said.  He accepted the accounts of Christ, he accepted his conversion experience on the Damascus road, and he understood the Hebrew Bible.

At the end of the day, our minds are just way too small to understand the intricacies of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  I will never be able to explain them completely to anyone who asks me.  It is a mystery.  We are simply too small to understand the enormity of God.

But there is one thing I do know.  God has touched my life in so many ways and at so many times that I know it is more than coincidence.  I know God exists because of the work He has done in my life.  Some of what I am about to share, I could never explain.  The scientists in the reading group would pass off much of it as coincidence, but it isn’t.  So here are a few of my stories:

1)      My conversion.  When I was a kid, I did not know I was allergic to hay.  My youth group went to a concert and got bales of hay and threw them down.  I dove in head first and woke up a few days later in a hospital.  I had a serious asthma attack and almost died.  By the time I was released from the hospital, my pastor asked me if I was ready to commit my life to Christ.  I did.  And from that point forward, I see God in every little thing that happens to me.

2)      About 12 years ago I was fired from a very good job.  The strange part is that a few weeks before getting fired, I was getting contacted by another company and within a few weeks after getting fired, I had another job lined up.  Coincidence? No.  God knew what was going to happen.  He started laying the groundwork for me to keep a steady stream of income.

3)      A few months ago I wanted to go to Peru on a mission trip.  I had no clue how I would afford the trip.  I kept putting off payment until I could no longer put if off.  I had been praying and praying.  Then my stock options paid off.  The stocks I had all went up and I cashed out.  The amount was equal to the trip to Peru, my vacation with my kids, plus a couple hundred dollars more.  God came in right on time.

Those are simply a few of my own stories.  God came to my rescue.  God came alongside me.  God carried me when I couldn’t do it myself.

The one thing that is the most inexplicable to me?  Just how true Romans 8:37-39 is.  “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  God loves me!  He loves me even when I don’t love myself!  He loves me even when I do stupid things!  He is there to comfort me.  He is there to pick me back up.  He is there to show me the right way to behave.  BUT HE LOVES ME!  Thank God I am loved!

Is theology important?  I don’t know.  I know that it has helped me understand just why I believe what I do, but it is not a necessary piece for being a Christian.  You simply need to know that God loves you, Christ died for and rose again, and the Spirit empowered you to share your story with others.

In closing, I want to share some of the lyrics to Darn Floor, Big Bite by Daniel Amos along with the link to the youtube of the song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MkputBpaq0

Illuminate my muddled heart
Sweep the shadows from my mind
So I might imagine what you are like
And understand the great design

Darn floor – big bite
You are earth, water and light
Darn floor – big bite
Can I ever hope to get it right, can’t get it right

For more of Daniel Amos, check out the following website:

www.danielamos.com

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