There’s a great day coming
Zechariah 12: I’ll pour a spirit of grace and prayer over them.
The prophet with a name similar to Zechariah is best known for his “Judgment Day” sermons. Zephaniah’s three chapters focus on that topic. Now Zechariah turns his prophetic gaze to “that day” (which is paraphrased in the Message “the Big Day”). Jerusalem, that city of peace, is going to be ground zero for a battle to end all battles. When it appears there’s no hope, God will take over its defense. He’ll not only destroy the attackers, but he’ll move on the hearts of his people, pouring a “spirit of grace and prayer” over them. In a moment of clarity, they’ll realize their Messiah came centuries earlier. They’ll weep as they realize that they rejected him. They’ll mourn as they remember how his life was taken, a spear thrust to the side being the final act of violence done to his body. This national act of repentance will result in God’s “washing away their sins.” As history winds down Israel will be restored as God’s chosen people. We Christians, according to the New Testament, have a place in all this. Paul says we’re like a branch from a wild olive tree that is grafted into the cultured one that has been lovingly cared for by the husbandman. Because of that, I have a stake in this promise and like Zechariah and Zephaniah I anticipate “the Big Day” promised in this passage.
Take Away: There’s a Great Day coming, a Great Day coming by and bye.
Do it again, Lord
Habakkuk 3: Do among us what you did among them.
The prophet of God has the heart of a psalmist. As I started reading Habakkuk and saw his reverent complaint to God I was reminded of the Psalms of complaint in which the writer pours his heart out before the Lord. Now, as Habakkuk experiences God in a fresh way, his words remind me of the Psalms again. He pens a psalm of his own in which he recounts God’s past deliverance and looks to a day of restoration. His opening lines: “Do among us what you did among them. Work among us as you worked among them” is the prayer of many of God’s people through the ages. In this case, Habakkuk is specifically thinking of the deliverance of his ancestors from Egyptian bondage. However, through the centuries, many have looked back to great movements of God: revivals, healings, and other times of special blessing and prayed this prayer. In my life there have been times of extraordinary blessing, some so private and precious that I seldom speak of them. However, I mention them to the Lord, thanking him for what he did and marveling at his grace to me and, in the spirit of Habakkuk, ask the Lord to “do it again.” It’s unhealthy to spend our lives talking about the “good old days” but we should allow those times of special blessing to remind us of what God can do and to encourage us to seek his best for in our lives in this day and in these circumstances.
Take Away: There are times when we do well to revisit past blessings and allow those blessings to encourage us to expect renewed blessings of God in our lives.
Living in the day of the Spirit
Joel 2: I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people.
The Hebrew prophets were, in general, positive people. Sometimes they had negative messages to give and sometimes they spoke harshly but they always found a place to promise a better day. In the face of the natural disaster that has befallen his people, Joel calls for them to take stock of their lives and repent of their sin. Then he describes a coming better day. He sees a day when God will “make up for the years of the locust,” restoring what has been destroyed. He pictures tables full of food and people filled with words of praise and thanksgiving. Then Joel says, “If you think that stuff sounds good wait till you hear what else is coming!” He then describes a day of wonderful blessing in which God pours his Spirit out upon, not just one nation, but upon all the nations of the world. He says that in that day their sons and daughters will prophecy and people from all nations and stations of life will be blessed. This event, Joel says, will happen before the “Judgment Day of God.” Years later Peter will quote these words on the Day of Pentecost. Peter will tell people that they’re literally seeing this “Spirit pouring” promise being fulfilled before their very eyes. Even today, we live in that “in between” period of history. We’re between the outpouring of the Spirit and the Judgment Day of God. What a wonderful time in which to live! We’re in the “day of the Spirit.” This is the time when, according to Joel, “Whoever calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”
Take Away: What a wonderful thing it is to live in the “day of the Spirit.”
Sacrificing, stubborn love
Hosea 3: Love her the way I, God, love the Israelite people.
Gomer has messed up big time. She’s left the man and children who love her. Her story will end with her in bondage physically, emotionally, and legally if not for Hosea. Under the Lord’s direction, he moves to rescue her from the stupid mess that binds her. Hosea acts under God’s command but he also acts out of love. In spite of Gomer’s rejection of him he can’t move past his love for her. She’s brought disgrace to Hosea, possibly making him a laughingstock in the community. She’s broken his heart and turned away from his love without even a word of apology. Still, Hosea can’t let go. This is no simple picture of romantic love. Here I see love that demands sacrifice. I see a stubborn love that persists even when the object of that love is unworthy. God says he loves his people like this. On one hand, he can’t ignore their sin and rebellion. On the other, he can’t just walk away. Because God is who he is, he loves. This is the hope of every human being. I’m fallen, unlovely, and condemned. My only hope is God’s love: his sacrificing, stubborn love. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
Take Away: Because the Lord is who he is, he loves.
The second time around
Hosea 3: God ordered me, “Start all over: Love your wife again.”
It isn’t hard to read between the lines here. Hosea married a prostitute, they had children, but she left him to return to her previous life. That sounds pretty cut and dried but I don’t think it was that way at all. What started off as Hosea’s obedience to a surprising command of God became a series of intense emotional experiences for the prophet. Without choosing to, Hosea fell in love and for a time it seemed things were going to work out. His wife, however, had a hard time settling down into a family routine. The day came when she turned her back on her husband and children to return to her previous life. Hosea’s heart was broken. Sadly, I know too many people who can identify with the story of broken promises and marriages. No one walks away unscarred by such a tragedy. Hosea, trying to cope, throws himself into his work. That helps him cover the pain. One day at a time, he begins to get over it. If the Lord’s first communication was surprising, his second must have left Hosea in shock. God tells him to love her again. That must have seemed like an impossible command. In the time since their divorce Hosea has carefully crafted a shell about himself, insulating him from the pain she’s caused even as he hears what she’s returned to. Now, God says Hosea is to emerge from that shell and open himself up to her again; not because she’s reformed, she hasn’t, but to reflect what God has done in his relationship with humanity. Hosea’s wife will get another chance, not because she deserves it, but because Hosea loves her too much to give up on her.
Take Away: The Lord loves us and reaches out to us even though we don’t deserve it.
The kind of stuff God does
Ezekiel 36: I, God, rebuild ruins and replant empty waste places.
In this “new heart” passage Ezekiel envisions God’s people repenting of their rebellion and mourning over the results of it. He sees them walking through a devastated Jerusalem and confessing it was their sins that brought it all to pass. In the face of such repentance, Ezekiel has an encouraging word: God specializes in taking messed up things and restoring them to “better than new” condition. Once the Lord’s given a chance, he’ll turn these weed patches into a “Garden of Eden.” No doubt, these are encouraging words to the people of Ezekiel’s day. They’re uplifting words for us too. In a more literal sense, we look forward to a “new heaven and a new earth” that has been promised by God. What sin has destroyed the Lord will redeem — and that redeemed world will be vastly superior to what we see now. In a spiritual sense, this passage describes what the Lord accomplishes in the human heart. Sin destroys lives, making a wreck out of what was once wonderfully promising. When I cooperate with God, opening my life up to him he goes to work. In my life he “rebuilds ruins and replants empty waste places.” He’s God, and he does stuff like that. As Ezekiel puts it, “I, God, said so, and I’ll do it.”
Take Away: The Lord specializes in taking messed up things and restoring them to “better than new” condition.
Looking up from the bottom
Lamentations 5: Give us a fresh start.
The prayer I find near the conclusion of this book of laments is one that has been prayed many times through the centuries. Jeremiah describes for us the devastating loss his people have suffered remarking, “Our dances have turned into dirges.” In their miserable state they exclaim, “Would that we’d never sinned!” That’s another statement that has been said many times. As some unknown preacher said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go.” How many people have found themselves at the bottom, crushed by the consequences of their own sin? For some reason we always think we’ll be the ones to get away with it, that we’ll beat the odds. It never happens and sooner or later we add our voice to the chorus lamenting, “Would that we’d never sinned!” It’s in that place, when everything seems hopeless that we can lift our faces to the God we’ve failed and pray, “Give us a fresh start.” Our God is the God of Second Chances. Even when I’ve messed my life up to the point that all is lost he can give me a fresh start. That isn’t to say that he’ll press the rewind button on my life. What’s done is done. However, he’ll do something just as meaningful: he’ll make me into a new person. When I’m weary of my sin and crushed by my failure, I can look to the God of Second Chances and ask him to give me a fresh start. The Lord delights in answering that prayer.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Jeremiah 23: This is the name they’ll give him: “God-Who-Puts-Everything-Right.”
The religious leaders are a disappointment to God. They could have done a better job; treated people the way good and dedicated shepherds treat the sheep under their care. They haven’t done that and the Lord’s not only angry with them but he has another approach in mind. This plan will provide quality leadership to his people. David is considered the prototype king for Israel and the coming Leader will be cut from the same cloth as was David. He’ll be a descendant of David. He’ll also be strong, wise, and dedicated to God. That kind of man will take care of God’s people. In Jeremiah’s future and in my past that Leader makes his appearance. He does everything Jeremiah says he will. He’s a righteous man of justice and he goes to work fixing all that sin has broken. He’s worthy of the name Jeremiah gives him: “God-Who-Puts-Everything-Right.” The process started by this Leader isn’t yet complete, but we already see that everything he touches is changed for the better. Well, better put, “everyone he touches.” In fact, I can say that I not only believe in this Leader’s ability to transform lives — my own life is an example of his work. I’m not all I’m going to be, but by his grace, I’m not what I would have been.
Take Away: In Christ we find restoration and transformation.
Heading for the hills
Jeremiah 9: At times I wish I had a…backwoods cabin.
One thing that draws me to Jeremiah is his transparency. He tells us, not only what God’s saying, but also how Jeremiah feels about things. Those feelings range from compassion to anger and from hope to despair. At one point he says he’s “heartsick” over the sins of his people and wonders if there’s a “balm in Gilead” that can be used to heal their brokenness. He wishes he had the physical ability to weep the rivers of tears because of his sadness over their sin and the coming judgment. Then, he switches to anger. They’re worthless people, not worth his effort. He wishes he could just get away from them and let happen what’s going to happen. As I say, Jeremiah is a study in transparency and his feelings run the full range of human emotion. I’m not wired the same as Jeremiah. I don’t dip so low and I don’t soar as high. Still, I can identify with him to some extent. The truth is that, like Jeremiah, I can be filled with loving compassion for someone and be frustrated to death with them at the same time. His desire to step away from these people for a while and head for the hills isn’t off the mark at all. Even the best of people can only carry burdens for so long before a break is needed; a chance to reevaluate and get a fresh grip on things. That “backwoods cabin” experience might actually be the “balm in Gilead” that will not only help Jeremiah bring healing to these broken people, but will also bring healing to his spirit as well.
Take Away: We must guard against getting so people-focused that we fail to be God-focused.
Everyone a missionary
Isaiah 66: I’ll send them out as missionaries to preach my glory among the nations.
The final section of Isaiah’s prophecy has to do with restoration. The Lord’s going to gather his people from the exile and restore them to their beloved homeland. Then, he’ll send them out again. This time, though, it won’t be as slaves being relocated by a conquering king. Instead, it’ll be as missionaries spreading throughout the world proclaiming God’s goodness. Isaiah pictures them returning with those who’ve responded to the message, presenting these newly found followers of the Lord to the Lord as an offering gladly received by God. In this I see the heart of God. His desire is that all his Creation be gathered in love; that we experience unity with one another and with him. Jesus says the same thing when he talks about us being “one.” As a believer I’m called to participate in that missionary task; to understand the culture of my society and to go out and engage it for the cause of Christ. The day will come when, as it is in Isaiah’s prophecy, I’ll stand before God. I don’t want to do so empty handed.
Take Away: The Lord uses his people to reach out to all peoples; engaging them, inviting them, and then bringing them to himself.