Didn’t see that one coming

Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

surprisedHave you ever heard a really long joke with a lame punchline? Oh I have!  The storyline goes on and on and on… and on.  Then comes the final sentence, the one that wraps it all up.  “That’s it?”  You can almost hear the air deflate out of the tires and the the trombone playing, “wah, wah, wah, waaaaah.”  Doesn’t that just drive you crazy?  You get all sucked in for an anti-climactic moment.

I wonder what Zechariah 9:9 did to the people who heard it.  Rejoice! Shout! Here come your king!!!!  He is righteous!  He will come with salvation! (Oh, here it comes – he is going to come riding in on a white horse, dressed in shining armor and a sword in his hand.  I just know it.)  Yes he will come with salvation but will be gentle and compassionate.  And he will come riding on…  a donkey.  Wah, wah, wah, waaaaaah.   Oh boy.  Didn’t see that one coming.  A donkey?

Jesus didn’t come the way they expected Him to, did He?  They were looking for a king wiser than Solomon and a warrior stronger than Samson.  They were looking for a man of God with faith stronger than Abraham and courage greater than Joshua.  But you know what?  He was all those things; it’s just that He didn’t need to flex all those muscles.  He came on a lowly donkey because He would save the world by lowering Himself and serving it.  He would give new life by laying down His own.  And they didn’t see it coming.

It’s true isn’t it, that God often comes to us in ways we don’t expect.  But just because it’s not what we expected doesn’t mean He didn’t come.  We need to rest in the fact that His ways are perfect – even when we didn’t see it coming.

*Are you missing what God is doing in your life because it doesn’t look like what you thought it would?

Old and Young

Zechariah 8:4-5  This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age.  The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”

Old-and-Young-ComputerI’ve attended church all my life.  One thing is apparent: people generally want to learn and grow.  They want to go out and change the world, making a real difference.  However, there seems to be this attitude that there are a couple generations in the way.  Who are they?  The old people and the young people.

The old people are tolerated, hugged, and sometimes even taken care of.  But there generally aren’t included.  They aren’t invested in.  They aren’t challenged to go out and be world changers.  Why is that?  Are they no longer usable by God?  Has their time for kingdom advancing expired?  It seems that sometimes they are treated in this way.

What about the kids?  We think: “I could learn if I wasn’t trying to take care of them.”  “I could do more ministry things if it weren’t for the kids.  They are a burden.”  These are all attitudes that we can take toward our young people.  I pastor a church that has a lot of kids.  And by that, I mean that about a third of our regular attendance is kids.  This requires a large percentage of our adults to assist in our kids program.  It’s not a childcare program, however.  It’s an investment into the generation that God is calling up to serve Him.  But for many, it can seem like a chore.  It can seem like something getting in the way of their growing.

In Zechariah, God is describing what He wants to do to restore Jerusalem.  One of His desires is this – in the streets of the city of God there will be both old people and young people.  In other words, every generation.  There is no one excluded!  He wants to use those who are old to invest in those who are young.  He wants to use those who are young to bless those who are old.  So the next time you are at church and see that elderly woman or that 1st grader, make an investment.  See them as God sees them: valuable to Him and useful for His kingdom.  Let’s not hide our old and young.  Instead, release them to the streets!

*Is there an old person or young person that God wants you to reach out to?

Can you do something without doing something?

Zechariah 7:5 Ask all the people of the land and the priests, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?”

fastingCan you do something without doing something?  That’s the question I am pondering today.  Can you walk across the street without walking across the street?  No.  Can you go skydiving without jumping out of a plane and using a parachute?  I hope not.  Can you cook dinner without actually cooking dinner?  Maybe if it’s a Costco lasagna.  Can you go to work but not actually go to work?  Now we’re getting warmer.  I guess you could show up physically but not be there mentally.  Can you do Christian things without really living like a Christian?  Yes.

In Zechariah 7:5, God wants to know – “when you fasted, were you really fasting?”  Let’s just assume that God actually knew the answer to this question.  And with that, I can assume that the answer was no.  So what did He mean by that?  Here’s what I think: Just because they didn’t eat, doesn’t mean that they had the attitude of fasting.  The attitude of fasting is to deprive your fleshly desires in order to draw you close to God.  It is about creating a setting in which you become hungry for Him and are drawn closer in your relationship.  That’s fasting.  Skipping a meal doesn’t count.

You see, it is the heart of the matter God was getting at.  He asked Israel to fast in order that they would be drawn back to Him.  But all they did was not eat.  I think we do some of the same things today.  We read our Bible because we are supposed to, but miss what it is saying to us.  We tithe because we were told we have to, but aren’t actually putting God first in our lives (which is the point.)  We pray our list like we are praying to Santa rather than truly connecting to our Father.  We go to church because that’s what Christians do, but don’t strive to be the Body of Christ.

It’s the heart that counts.  That’s what the Lord was saying through Zechariah.  He asks us to do these things because they are what transform us.  Following Jesus is not a list of rules; it is a life set free to pursue our Savior!

*You really can do something without doing something.  Do you have anything in your life that fits that description?

Not fair

Zechariah 6:15 “Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the LORD, and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. This will happen if you diligently obey the LORD your God.”

thats-not-fairBut God, I thought you said ________.  Didn’t you promise ________?  It seems like sometimes God shares with us, His plans for our life.  He gives us a word, a promise, something to stand on.  We are filled with hope and overwhelmed that the God of the universe would reach down and speak to us.  We leave His presence full of life and excited about what He is going to do.  But then we often wait.  We wait for His timing.  We wait for something to happen.  He said He would do this, so why isn’t it happening?  There may be many reasons why, including His perfect timing.  But let me throw out another suggestion that we find in Zechariah 6:15.

“This will happen if you diligently obey the LORD your God.”  What!?  I have to do my part?  We get all excited about the promise, don’t we?  For Zechariah, it was the promise that people from far away will come and build the temple.  That’s really cool.  I like that idea.  But it will happen IF you diligently obey the Lord.  It’s like there’s a condition on the promise.  Now before you say, “that’s not fair” let me tell you about “not fair.”  Not fair is that I sinned, but Jesus died.  Not fair is that God loves me unconditionally but I am fickle.  Not fair is that God makes a promise but I don’t do my part. 

If we are going to live according to His promise, we would do good to obey His commands.  This is a relationship, not a vending machine.  We can’t just put our prayers in the slot and expect a spiritual candy bar to come out.  God desires to have real relationship with us.  Friends, if we are going to live in that relationship, we need to do our part.  And our part is often obedience.  It’s unreasonable to ask God to hold up His side of the relationship and not hold up ours.  We need to obey; we need to surrender.  Maybe the problem isn’t that God is unfair.  Maybe, just maybe… the problem is on our end.

*Is your life marked by obedience to God?  In what areas do you need to do a better job of obeying?

That jerk cut me off!

Zechariah 5:1-2 I looked again—and there before me was a flying scroll! He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll, thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide.’”

road-rageSome things are a little more complex than they seem at first glance.  It’s like holding up a picture and asking someone what they see: “I see a picture.”  Okay there smartypants, what do you see… IN the picture?  This happened to Zechariah and I wonder if he felt a little silly.  He sees a scroll and when asked, he says: “I see a scroll.”  Ya, duh.  I imagine the angel thinking – alright buddy, stick with me here.  There’s more to what you see.

Isn’t that how life goes?  We see things with our eyes and make assumptions or remedial judgements about the situation.  But do we ever consider that there is more to it than what we see?  You know that jerk that cut you off in traffic?  I wonder what is going on in his life.  I wonder what causes him to be rude.  Or maybe he isn’t rude.  Maybe he is lost and didn’t know that he was supposed to take that exit.  Maybe he is taking a phone call from his good friend who is going through a life tragedy, which caused him to not pay attention.  And maybe still, he is just a hot rod in a hurry who could care less about the other cars on the road.   My point is: we often default our thinking to that last sentence.  The truth is, we don’t really know. 

It would do us good to consider what is beneath the surface of the things we see.  We see a teen girl dressing like she shouldn’t be.  I wonder if her dad abandoned her and she is looking for male attention.  We see a grumpy old man, but I wonder if he is coping with losing his wife.  When will we realize that the actions of humans are the result of what is inside?  Zechariah saw a scroll, that’s all – a scroll.  And it took the angel to help him understand the deeper meaning behind it.  He needed help to know what was really going on, to understand the things of God that his eyes didn’t catch.  Like Zechariah, we need help, too.  We need the Holy Spirit to show us the hearts of people so that we can truly love them like Jesus does.

*Are you stuck on what you see on the surface?  Ask God for a deeper look.

You’re no strongman

Zechariah 4:6 So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

strongmanHave you ever watched a strongman competition?  Those guys are amazing!  They lift huge logs, pull cars down the road, bend stuff, break stuff, and much more.  I’m talking some serious muscles.  And they aren’t just weightlifters who have big muscles to show off.  They are the real deal; they genuinely have some serious strength.  But all those muscles don’t help them with many of life’s challenges.  Like everyone else, they have to navigate relationships, trials, disappointment, and loss.  There’s no amount of muscle that can help with those things.

We all would like to think that we are strong enough to handle life’s biggest challenges.  We toughen up when things get hard and power through them.  We flex our emotional muscles at hardship and hope it’s enough to overcome.  The reality is: it isn’t.  I hate to break it to you, but you are no strongman.

In Zechariah 4, the Lord says these words: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.”  You see, if you are going to overcome, you need more than might; you need more than power.  You need the Spirit of the Lord alive in you.  And it is by His Spirit that I overcome temptation and sin.  It is by His spirit that I can go on after disappointment or loss.  It is by His Spirit that I can live this life to the fullest.  So if you think you are strong enough today… you aren’t.  Only He is and only He can give you the true strength to carry on.

*Are you relying on your strength or His Spirit to navigate life?

Can I get a dressing room?

Zechariah 3:3-4  Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”

dressing roomRemember when you were a kid at the department store with your mom?  She found some new clothes that she wanted to try on you.  You were sure you liked them but she wanted to make sure that they fit.  And right there in the middle of JC Penney’s, she starts taking your clothes off.  Mom!!!  Can’t we find a dressing room?  This is embarrassing.  “Just hush. Nobody’s looking.”  Yes, being stripped down in public isn’t the most dignifying of things.

So here in Zechariah 3, he sees a vision of the priest Joshua (Yeshua) being stripped down.  Let me back up a bit.  The scene starts with Satan standing beside Joshua accusing him before God.  Josh is standing there in filthy garments, representing his sin.  And even though the Lord can look right at him and see the filth, he chooses not to condemn.  Rather he chooses to restore.  Right there, in the presence of God, the angel of the Lord strips old Josh down.  No dressing room, no modesty screen, nothing.  There he is, laid bare before the Lord, awaiting the clean garments he is about to receive.  It’s a beautiful picture of God’s grace and redemptive work.

As I read this today, I am struck with the process of God’s restorative work.  We would like to think that God holds a wand that magically swaps our clothes out.  It’s like we stand before Him and “poof” – filthy clothes gone and clean ones on.  It doesn’t work that way, does it?  Removing the filth in our life requires that we take it off.  It’s a choice we must make.  It’s a choice that leads us to standing naked before God.  But if we will make that choice, we will find clean clothes waiting for us.

*Do you have some dirty clothes you need to remove?  Hand them over to God and get dressed in something new.