The Branch

It’s Saturday morning, December 10, 2011. I’m going to try to whiz through this before time to leave for setup this morning. I may save it and come back this afternoon, if I don’t feel like I’ve done it justice. It’s 33 degrees at the moment, a tad chillier than yesterday morning, but will get up to around 53 today. We have rain forecast to begin around Tuesday of next week.

Stephanie met with her teacher again yesterday, and then got all of her work completed yesterday afternoon. Things are looking up. After next week, she gets two weeks off. I hope we can get back on schedule quickly in January.

Today’s Bible readings:
Revelation 1; Zechariah 5-6; Isaiah 11:1-5

So today, I get to probably the most difficult book of the whole Bible. And, by the way, please note that it is “Revelation” (singular), NOT “Revelations.” The official, complete title of the book is either “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” or “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” depending on which version you are reading. Since it begins with the words, “The revelation of Jesus Christ,” I believe I’ll stick with that one. There is some disagreement on who the author is, but I think that most scholars agree that it was John, the disciple of Jesus. I read one commentary, a long time ago, that opined that it might have been John the Baptist. I’ve never seen anyone else suggest that. Here is how it begins:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
I’m wondering if I should be sitting here reading this out loud… Also, we must understand that the word “soon” is relative. The “last days” were begun when Christ was resurrected, and when we remember that time is irrelevant to God, the word “soon” kind of loses any sense of urgency.

John begins by sending blessings to the “seven churches that are in Asia.” (v. 4) John also begins with a doxology, which, as we have seen in most of the New Testament Epistles, is saved for the ending. Then John gives us these words: Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (v. 7) Yes, it is declared, Jesus will return, and all will see him! And it will not be a happy time for some people! “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (v. 8 )

After this, John describes the circumstances in which he received this revelation. He was exiled on an island called Patmos, “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (v. 9) Here you can see the location of Patmos.
John was told by a loud voice to “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” (v. 11) He described the voice as sounding like a trumpet. When he turned around to see the source of the voice, at first, he saw seven golden lampstands. And then here is what he saw. …in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (vv. 13-16) Understandably, John’s first reaction was to fall at his feet as though dead. John was seeing a vision of the Lord! It was Jesus he saw. But Jesus put a hand on him and said to him, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (vv. 18-20) Thus ends the first chapter of Revelation.

(It is now 3:30 pm, we have been to setup, the grocery store, and lunch at Hoffbrau. I’m back to pick up where I left off.)

At the beginning of Zechariah 5, the prophet sees a flying scroll. But what makes this flying scroll so special (besides the fact that it’s a flying scroll) is that it is twenty cubits by 10 cubits. That’s quite a large scroll. (If you remember, a cubit is approximately 18 inches, so 20 cubits would be approximately 30 feet…10 yards!) The Lord said that this scroll represented a curse going out over the land to clean out everyone who stole or swore falsely by his name. Then, Zechariah sees a basket with a lead cover. There is a woman in the basket, and it is stated that she is “Wickedness.” Then two other women, who must have been angels of some kind, picked up the basket and took it away. Zechariah was told that she was being taken to “Shinar.” This, apparently, is an ancient name for Babylon.
In chapter 6, Zechariah is told to go to Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and place upon his head a crown of gold. Then, it was stated, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”‘ You see, “Joshua” is also “Yeshua,” which can also be translated “Jesus.” It is Jesus who will become the High Priest. He will build the true Temple, and he will sit on the throne forever. He is “the Branch,” that is referred to in Zechariah.

This same idea is brought forth in Isaiah’s prophecy, in chapter 11:1-5. There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. Once again, this “Branch” is Jesus the Messiah.

I am thankful, Lord, that, as I come close to finishing my quest of reading through the Bible this year, you have kept me faithful in my reading, and that I have made it this far. As I start my foray into the book of Revelation, I pray that you would keep me focused on what is central in the book, as well as what is central in the entire Bible, and that is Jesus Christ. There is much to get bogged down with in reading Revelation, and that is a danger of it. But I want to focus on Christ as I read this book, and his ultimate victory. In fact, Father, as I finish this year, let me see Christ in every part of Scripture that I read from now until the close of the year, especially since we spend this part of the year celebrating his birth.

Lord, I am thankful for good friends. Especially good friends who are faithful to pray, even when we don’t ask them to. Lord, you have worked on my pride this year. And perhaps I didn’t realize until this morning, just exactly what you were doing. But I thank you for the work that you have done in my life. You led us to The Exchange for a reason. I’m not 100% sure yet what that reason is, but I’m beginning to have a good idea. I am grateful for it, Lord. We have a ministry already, even though it is mostly behind the scenes. And I’m thinking that is good for us, after spending so many years being “up front.” I praise you, Father. Not really for any specific thing, but just because I feel like praising you.

I pray for the rest of this day. We plan to venture out to look at Christmas lights this evening. I pray for a good time as we do this. It’s always been a special time for our family. I pray for good rest tonight, and, as we get up tomorrow, may we be alert and rested for the part we will play in tomorrow’s Worship Celebration. May the worship that is offered up to you tomorrow morning be pure and acceptable in your sight. May we be all about Jesus and nothing else!

I’ve discovered, today, how difficult it is to come back to a blog that was begun earlier in the day. The focus is disrupted, and I think it shows. My main thing today is simply Jesus. He is The Branch. He is the King. He is my Redeemer. All glory to him!

Grace and peace, friends.

Your Grace Is Enough

It’s Friday! I’m very happy about that. December 9, 2011. Only 16 more days until Christmas, and 22 days left in 2011. It’s 37 degrees outside this morning, with a projected high of 53. No precipitation predicted, but, to be safe, it says there is a 20% chance. There is, however, rain in the forecast for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of next week. Temperatures are supposed to remain above freezing.

Stephanie had a good visit with her teacher yesterday, in spite of feeling nauseated when I left for work. I think she got her work done again, and was feeling pretty good last night when we went to bed. She is supposed to meet again today at around 1pm. Then they have three days scheduled next week, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. There may be a Thursday or Friday meeting, but that is contingent on how she does with next week’s work. The actual school has early release on Thursday and Friday of next week, and Friday is the last day before Christmas break.

We had a nice lifehouse meeting last night; however, there were only four of us there, so we just chatted the whole time. It was good, though, as we are getting better about opening up. We had a lengthy discussion on the meaning of Christmas and how that meaning gets lost sometimes, especially if family members don’t get it.

Today’s Bible readings:
Jude; Zechariah 3-4; Isaiah 9:6-7

Jude is one of those one chapter epistles. It is assumed that he is another one of the half brothers of Jesus, evidenced by his statement that he is the brother of James. But it is only because that particular James is the only one known well enough to be referred to in this way that his assumption is made. In truth, we really aren’t sure who Jude is.
Based on verse 4, Jude is combating a false teaching known as antinomianism, or the belief that one does not have to follow the law at all. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Those who are promoting this type of belief have, apparently, come into the group to which Jude is writing, from the outside. Jude then proceeds to compare these people to the unbelievers who were destroyed as Israel was delivered from Egypt, angels who fell from heaven, and Sodom and Gomorrah. They blaspheme things that they do not understand, he says in verse 10. These are blemishes at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. (vv. 12-13) Finally, he calls them grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. (v. 16)
Jude begins the next paragraph with “But you…” This immediately indicates a comparison. “You’re different!” He encourages his readers to remember that it was predicted that people like this would come along. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. (vv. 18-19) This is a quote of 2 Peter 3:3. Then, he proposes the remedy for combating these false teachers. But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (vv. 20-21)
Jude closes with a most beautiful doxology. Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (vv. 24-25)
That doxology inspired Don Francisco to write this song:

In Zechariah 3, the prophet has an interesting vision. It concerns the problem of an impure priesthood. The person in the vision is Joshua, the high priest, mentioned in Ezra 3. He is clothed in filthy garments and Satan is accusing him. But the Lord rebukes Satan and gives his remedy for cleansing the priesthood. Joshua’s clothes are changed from filthy to clean. Then these words are spoken: Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. (vv. 8-9) “The Branch,” is Jesus Christ. And the iniquity of the world was, indeed, removed in a single day, as this “Branch” gave his life on the cross for a sacrifice for the sins of mankind.
In chapter 4, Zechariah sees another vision in which it is stated that Zerubbabel will have the strength he needs to complete the building of the temple. Again, this refers to events that are occurring in the book of Ezra. In this chapter, those famous words are stated, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (v. 6) The Lord declares that Zerubbabel will finish the temple. At the end of the vision, Zechariah sees Zerubbabel and Joshua, the Lord’s “two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” (v. 14)
A great message for us here, is that, when we face a “mountain,” if we rely on the strength of the Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit, “it shall become a plain.” (v. 7)

Isaiah 9:6-7 is a beautiful passage speaking of the coming Messiah.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
You should know that I have to include this:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Philippians 4:11

After quoting this verse in today’s reading from Grace For the Moment, Max Lucado asks this question: “What if God’s only gift to you were his grace to save you?” I have to tell you, that really made me think. I’ve been praying day after day that my daughter would get it together and finish high school; that she would get over her anxiety and successfully meet with her homebound teacher. I have been praying for other things. What if those things never happen? What if God never gave me another thing I asked for?? Is his grace enough? He has saved me from hell. Dare I complain if he never gives me another thing? Paul has learned to be content in all things. Paul was told, when he asked for that “thorn” to be removed from his flesh, “My grace is sufficient.” I am certainly not better than Paul! I am not even Paul’s equal…far from it! When I pray for something, if God sees fit to grant it, then hallelujah! If he does not…HALLELUJAH!! His grace is enough. THAT is what I need to learn today! Max finished this reading: “If you have eyes to read these words, hands to hold this book, the means to own this volume, he has already given you grace upon grace.” Amen.

Father, as I read the words of Scripture this morning, and your Spirit speaks to me, I am grateful for the grace that you have given me. I confess that I have been disappointed in this past week, that things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. How selfish of me, Father! How dare I complain to you when you don’t do what I think you should! You are the creator of our universe; you hold my very life in your hands. You grant me every breath that I take; every beat of my heart. But most importantly, before the foundations of the earth you chose me to be one of your children! And you provided the grace to save me from eternal punishment, which I and everyone in the human race deserve! On this day, Lord, I fall on my face in humility and thank you with a passion that I have not had, recently. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for choosing me. Your grace is enough. That doesn’t mean that I won’t ask for anything else. I will continue to pray for struggles in my life, in the life of my family, in the life of our church. The difference is, I will stop being disappointed (or even angry, as I was earlier this week) when the answer is not what I want. Your grace is enough. Let me learn to be content.
Let me also learn the truth from Zechariah 4:6 that things are not accomplished by might or by power (at least not by mine), but by your Spirit. Let me have the confidence in your Holy Spirit to carry me through. Let me see those “mountains” as potential plains. Your grace is enough. That, apparently, is my theme for today.

I pray for this day, Father. I pray that Stephanie will have a good meeting with her homebound teacher today. I pray that Christi and I will have a good day at work. If not, however, your grace is enough. Let us live by this for the rest of our lives, Father.

I have no more words. Your grace is enough.

Grace and peace, friends.

Diotrephes or Demetrius?

It’s Thursday morning, December 8, 2011 (I’m still wanting to type November…strange). This week seems to be steam-rolling right on by. And it’s only 17 days until Christmas now, and of course, I have presents to buy. It’s 33 degrees out side and clear. Today’s high should be 53. A little less wintery, thank you.

Stephanie had a rough day yesterday. She didn’t feel well when she got up and decided she couldn’t meet with the teacher. Somehow, we managed to talk her into it, but then the silly smoke alarms in our house decided to malfunction. This has happened before. The original alarms were all linked together, so when one went bad, they all started screaming. One, by one, they have gone rogue, and yesterday another one bit the dust. Christi wound up coming home to take care of it. There was something wrong with my email at work, so I didn’t even see anything about it until after Stephanie called me, but her mom was already on the way home. So she had her meeting with the homebound teacher, got some more work, finished it all before we got home from work, and already has next week’s meetings scheduled. It was quite a rebound!

Today’s Bible readings:
3 John; Zechariah 1-2; 2 Samuel 7:8-16

John is writing to someone named Gaius, probably a good friend. The first thing he said to him was this: Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. (v. 2) At different points in my life, I have heard people declare, “God wants you to be in good health and prosper, even as your soul prospers,” quoting 3 John 2. What they fail to realize is, this is not a promise, it is simply a greeting from John to Gaius. I think the more important statement in John’s greeting is verse 4. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

John then spends a few verses talking about how we should support “fellow workers for the truth.” (v. 8 ) You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. (vv. 6-7) These seem to be traveling missionaries that Gaius has hosted.

The next part is not so encouraging. Paul is struggling with the actions of one Diotrephes, “who likes to put himself first.” (v. 9) So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (v. 10) That’s really all he says about Diotrephes, but it’s probably enough. His next statement is that we should not imitate evil, but imitate good, because whoever does good is from God, and whoever does evil is not from God. He then names Demetrius as someone who has “received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself.” (v. 12) Evidently, Demetrius is the bearer of this letter, being sent with John’s hearty recommendation. It is a brief letter, because John hopes to see Gaius face to face soon.

Personally, I would rather have the reputation of Demetrius than Diotrephes. However, I fear that there have been times when that is not true.

Zechariah was written during the reign of Darius, king of Persia. He starts quickly, in chapter 1, with a declaration from the Lord in verse 3. 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. He tells them, “Don’t be like your fathers…they didn’t listen.” Then, through a vision of the angel of the Lord, Zechariah is told that the Lord has returned to Jerusalem with mercy. (vv. 7-17)
Chapter 2 contains a most encouraging word for Israel. “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. 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. And the LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.”
Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

Father, I sit here this morning, looking at this screen, wondering what to pray. Sometimes that happens. I am thankful for your teachings, Lord. I am grateful for the admonitions to support those who do the work of the gospel. And we do this. Thank you for giving us generous spirits, so that we are willing to support missionaries in this world. I pray that we would be willing to do more, if called upon. I thank you that we have ways to try to help children around the world, especially during this time of year. But let us not ever sit back and think we have done enough just because we support a missionary in Peru and we sponsor a child in Thailand. Let us not be content with that.

I confess that there have been many times in my life when I have been more like Diotrephes than Demetrius. These times shame me. However, I also observe that these times are in the past. Once I have admitted that I suffered from this attitude, there is nothing more to do than to move on and pray that you would make me more like Demetrius. Actually, I would rather that you make me more like Jesus! Give me a gracious spirit, Lord! Make me a dispenser of your grace in this world that seems to lack grace more and more each day. Make me a kinder, gentler soul, Father. (Yes, I stole that.) May I be one who imitates good, not evil. I want to be known as one who is “from God.”

I pray for this day, Lord. I pray that Christi will have a good day at work today (help her feel better today). I pray that my day at work will go smoothly. I need a day without issues distracting me, as I have some things that really need to get done today. I pray that Stephanie will have a good and productive meeting with her homebound teacher today. She seemed very proud that she got all her work done yesterday.

I pray that The Exchange will soon have a permanent place to meet each week. I also pray for our lifehouse group meeting tonight. I pray for Jeremy, who has been not feeling well this week. Restore his health, Lord. I also pray for Emily, who has not been with us during the last couple of months, as she has had a lot “on her plate.” I pray that her studies are going well, and that she will be able to join us again in January.

Diotrephes or Demetrius? Who would you rather be?

Grace and peace, friends.