Sword Of God

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Zechariah is the longest book of the minor prophets. His ministry overlaps Haggai the prophet, Ezra the priest, Zerubbabel the governor, and Joshua the high priest. I point all of this out because we need to always keep in mind that the Bible isn’t a collection of stories. It’s a verifiable (or falsifiable) record of real people at real moments in history. Many of the stories in the Bible confirm and even amplify each other. 

Let me remind you of what we learned from our study of the minor prophet Haggai:

  1. Hear the Word 
  2. Consider the Word 
  3. Obey the Word 
  4. Stand assured, encouraged, and unmovable on God’s Word 

Aren’t you more assured of a message that has a confirmation? Like if one person gives you a compliment that you hadn’t considered before, and then later on someone else notices the same attribute. I think we are more ready to receive the word when it has a confirmation like that. 

Haggai delivered a word directed to Zerubbabel the governor, which we saw was a prophecy pointing to and ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. God called Zerubbabel “My signet ring—a mark of God’s supreme authority. 

That might have been a difficult thing for Zerubbabel to accept, so Zechariah is given a confirming word two months after Haggai’s prophecy (Zechariah 4:1-9). This prophecy affirms the message given through Haggai, and also points to its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. 

But then Zechariah is also given an amplifying word, as he speaks a word from God to Joshua, the other “olive tree” in his God-given vision (Zechariah 3:1-9; 6:9-13). 

Zechariah confirmed and amplified Haggai’s message. And then Jesus fulfilled both of their prophecies! We have the benefit of seeing the prophecy and fulfillment, which should build our faith in ALL of the promises in God’s Word. 

The Word of God then become the (s)word of God in our mouths and hearts!  

Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would wield the sword of God, and this is the same blessing we can claim today. Jesus defeated satan’s temptations with the sword of God, and so do the saints of God today (Isaiah 49:2; Psalm 149:6; Ephesians 6:13, 17; Luke 4:1-12; Revelation 12:11). 

Because of these specific prophecies that have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, we can now stand assured, encouraged, unmovable, and well-armed with the same sword of God. 

There isn’t a more effective sword or shield than God’s (s)word! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series discovering the major lessons in the minor prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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Listening To Obey

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Have you ever been confronted by someone claiming, “The Bible is full of contradictions”? 

How about this one: God says, “I tested you at the waters of Meribah” (Psalm 81:7) vs. at Meribah…[the Israelites] tested the LORD (Exodus 17:7)? 

Whenever we see a possible contradiction, remember this: Context is king. We have to look at these two accounts in their proper context. 

In the Exodus account, the Israelites have just been delivered out of slavery in Egypt and crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. The pursing Egyptian army tried to follow them, but the waters closed back over them and they drowned. Three days later we find the Israelites grumbling over a lack of drinkable water, which God miraculously supplies. A month after that they are complaining about their food supply, which God miraculously supplies. And right on the heels of that they are again complaining about not having water to drink, which God miraculously supplies (see Exodus 15-17). 

It is after this second miraculous supply of water that we read that phrase we are considering: the Israelites tested God. The Hebrew word for “tested” is nasa which equates to, “Oh yeah? Prove it!” or “I’ll believe it when I see it!” or as The Message paraphrase puts it, “Is God here with us, or not?” 

In Psalm 81, God Himself is speaking in vv. 6-16, so He is the One who claims, “I tested them at Meribah.” The Hebrew word for “tested” in this instance is bahan. This means to investigate closely, to spot and bring out the impurities in fine metals. God not only makes the claim, “I tested them,” but He is also the One who tells us to Selah—pause and calmly consider. 

Consider what? After the first instance of grumbling about water in Exodus 15, we read, “There the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there He tested them. He said, ‘If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians’” (Exodus 15:25-26). 

Notice the words decree, law, and commands. Asaph says something similar in Psalm 81:4, “This is a decree for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob. He established it as a statute for Joseph when He went out against Egypt.” 

God is talking about laws before the Ten Commandments are given. What is the law He desires to be obeyed above all else? In a word: Listen. 

  • If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes (Exodus 15:25). 
  • I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah. Hear, O My people, and I will warn you—if you would but listen to Me, O Israel! (Psalm 81:7-8) 

God brings us to these moments of tests to see how we will respond. He doesn’t need to know, but we need to know how we will respond. When we find ourselves wringing our hands, or grumbling, or saying, “Is God here with us, or not?”, what does that tell us about our own heart? He wants us to be wholly His, so He has to bring out the impurities. That same word bahan is used when God speaks this word: “I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on My name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’” (Zechariah 13:9). 

Asaph uses the Hebrew word for “listen” five times in Psalm 81. This word means listening with an attitude to obey. In order for us to hear God’s voice, we have to listen with an attitude toward obedience. This is not, “Oh yeah? I’ll believe it when I see it!” but “Oh yeah! I will obey it so I will see it!” 

As I pondered this, the Holy Spirit dropped these questions on my heart which I encourage you to ponder as well: 

  • God is always speaking to me. Am I making quiet time to listen to His voice?  
  • God sometimes has to discipline me. Am I open to His purifying? 
  • God has wise counsel for me. Am I obeying it?
  • God knows the best path for me. Am I walking in it?
  • God wants to subdue my enemies. Am I asking Him to do it?
  • God has abundant blessings for me. Am I listening to obey?

God will only speak a new word to me when I have obeyed His previous word to me.

When I am in distress, I need to train myself to Selah so that I can say, “God has brought me to this test, what do I need to learn? Am I listening to God’s voice with an attitude to obey?” 

May our heart’s posture always be, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening and ready to obey whatever You speak to me.” 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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Clinging To God’s Words

When it comes right down to it, faith and fear both hinge on our beliefs: Fear believes something bad; faith believes something good. Fear is an invitation for us to evaluate in who or in what we have placed our trust.  

According to the dictionary, fear is a distressing emotion we feel whether the threat is real or imagined. Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” Even more recently, an extensive study found that 85 percent of things people feared never happened!

According to the dictionary, faith is trust in something even without proof or evidence. That sounds tremendously close to the biblical definition of faith: Now faith is the assurance—the confirmation, the title deed—of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality—faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses. (Hebrews 11:1 AMP) 

Mary is the second person to whom an angel says “Do not be afraid” in the First Advent story. Consider her story alongside Zechariah’s story and especially notice when these words were spoken. The angel Gabriel first tells Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 

Mary’s initial response is being “greatly troubled.” This Greek word means an internal agitation that today psychologists would call “cognitive dissonance.” In other words, what Mary believed about herself didn’t line up with what God believed about her. Her next response is wondering how she could ever measure up to God’s high standard of her. 

It’s at this point that Gabriel says those key words, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have already found favor with God.” She didn’t have to make herself worthy of God’s favor because she already had it! Now Mary just had to believe it. 

Fear is overcome by clinging to God’s words instead of the world’s words. 

Mary did indeed choose this. Her song (in vv. 46-55) is loaded with Old Testament references, and she concludes by singing to God, “You have helped Your servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as You said to our fathers.” 

Here’s the truth—

  • Your Word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalm 119:89) 
  • God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19) 
  • And Jesus would tell us that clinging to God’s words puts us on the surest of foundations that no storm of life could ever shake (Luke 6:46-49)! 

Clinging to God’s words lets us realize God’s grace toward us. 

If you know Jesus as your Savior, you can insert your name in the same place where Gabriel said to Mary: “Do not be afraid, ____________, you have found favor with God!” 

If you have missed any of the messages in our Advent series Do Not Be Afraid, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Fear’s Invitation

Have you ever had a really good scare? Maybe in the dark or when you were young? Then in the light or as you got older you thought, “Why was I afraid of that?” Our relief came from the fact that we think we know more. But here’s the problem: there is a difference between a healthy fear and an unhealthy fear, so not every fear is something we should try to alleviate.

Sometimes we treat too lightly the things that are really quite powerful. Consider the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem. There are more angels sent by God surrounding this one event than anywhere else in all the Bible. Yet all four angelic appearances have the same message: “Do not be afraid.” 

Why would people fear what we now celebrate as such a joyous event? I think it’s because God Himself—the All-Holy Creator of the Universe—is coming near to sinful man (see John 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:15-16). 

God is holy, and His holiness is unapproachable by sin. At the exact same moment, God is love, and His love desires for us to approach Him. We cannot make this happen on our own, which leads to more fear. 

Thankfully for us, God Himself has provided the way for sinful man to approach His awesome, unapproachable holiness!  

In the Greek language of the New Testament phobeō is the main word for “fear.” This word can be defined as either fleeing from a terrible thing or clinging in obedience to an awesomely reverent thing. Jesus said the same things when He told us, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him” (Luke 12:4-5). 

In the Advent story, the first appearance of “Do not be afraid” is when an angel appears to Zechariah. Why would Zechariah be so afraid at the approach of God? I think there may have been three reasons: 

  • Herod was king—making the society Zechariah lived in politicized and irreligious 
  • Zechariah was without a priestly heir to carry on his family name 
  • his wife Elizabeth may have sinned—at least that’s what people would have whispered about her barrenness 

All of this added up to Zechariah feeling like God was displeased with them and that He was only coming close to bring fiery judgment. 

The angel told Zechariah not to fear because “your prayer has been heard.” In other words, “I am inviting you to trust in what God HAS already done versus trusting in what you might or might not be able to do on your own.” Phobeō was an invitation to choose reverential obedience (holy fear) of the eternal over the terror of the temporal. 

Sadly, Zechariah initially clung to the negative phobeō. Yet after Elizabeth did conceive and John was born, this was transformed into holy, reverential fear, as heard in the Spirit-inspired song he sang. Notice in Luke 1:67-75 Zechariah’s emphasis on all that God has done: He has come, He has redeemed, He has raised, He said, He has kept His covenant, He has rescued, He has enabled.  

Have you put yourself in the category of “unworthy of God’s favor”? Has fear crippled you—like it had done with Zechariah—from continuing to pray, believe, and try? 

Fear is an invitation to evaluate in who or in what I have placed my trust.

I invite you to accept the invitation to take your eyes off the temporary and put them on the Eternal One. “…The time is coming quickly, and what I show you will come true. It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place, and it will not be delayed. (Habakkuk 2:3 GNT) 

Check out the other messages in this Do Not Be Afraid series by clicking here. 

Fasting Power

We are always engaged in an intense spiritual battle. Sometimes we feel the intensity of the battle, sometimes we don’t. But it’s always happening. 

This is why we need to make prayer an ongoing discipline. If we do, we will be much more likely to turn to prayer when we feel the intense moments, and our faith in those intense moments will be strengthened and ready to respond. 

Every day we are either preparing or repairing. Prayer is either helping us prepare for the challenges we will be facing, or it’s helping us recover from the battle we just fought. Believe me: it’s much better to be preparing than it is to be repairing!

One time the disciples of Jesus got stymied in a spiritual battle. A father brought his demon-possessed son to them, asking that they cast out the demon. But this distraught father then had to report to Jesus, “They couldn’t do it” (see Matthew 17:14-21). 

Why couldn’t they? These men had been taught how to pray by Jesus Himself, and they already had experienced ministry success (Matthew 6:9-13; Mark 6:13). So were they stumped now? 

Jesus told them, “It’s because you have so little faith.” He went on to tell them that these intense spiritual battles require an ongoing lifestyle of prayer. Jesus wasn’t suggesting that they should have said to that father, “Come back in a few days after we have prayed and fasted.” 

But what Jesus was really saying was that all of us need to stay connected to the Source of our spiritual power at every single moment (John 15:5, 7). Sometimes this requires taking our eyes off ourselves and our own appetites. 

In a word: we need to fast. 

The word fasting means “to cover the mouth” or “to close the mouth.” 

  • often fasting is in response to calamity or as a sign of mourning 
  • sometimes it’s alongside an intense prayer 
  • ideally it should be a regular discipline in our lives. In Matthew 6:16-18, notice the phrase “when you fast.” Not “if you fast,” but when. Jesus assumed that we would do this, and since this teaching appears right after Jesus teaches us how to pray, it makes sense that prayer and fasting go well together.  

Fasting is not…

Fasting intensifies our focus on God in the quiet times so that we can keep our eyes on Him in the crashing storms. 

Fasting helps us tune in to the unmistakable Voice of the Holy Spirit in the peaceful moments so that we can still recognize His Voice in the tumult of battle. 

Is there a comfort food you tend to run to? Is there a coping activity that you typically use to de-stress? Is there someone or something other than God that is your go-to in times of trouble? Perhaps we should start there and fast from those things for a short period of time. 

Fasting in the quiet times will strengthen us for the intense battle times. 

Let’s prepare daily for victory, instead of having to repair after a failure.

A Minor Introduction

The minor prophets in the Bible are pretty cool! But we have to be careful with man-made titles. For example, the “old” in Old Testament doesn’t mean outdated; nor does the “new” in New Testament mean something updated to modern times. 

In the same way, the minor prophets are only called “minor” because of the volume of their writing, not the quality of their message. In fact, their messages are actually quite major! 

The minor prophets cover a span of about 300 years, from 760 BC (Amos) to 450 BC (Malachi). You can check out this side-by-side chart to see where these prophets fit in the history of Judah and Israel. 

Here are some interesting tidbits about the minor prophets:

  • In the Hebrew Bible, these books are referred to simply as “The Twelve.” 
  • All of these prophets identify themselves in the first verse of their writing except Jonah, but he is identified in 2 Kings 14:23-25. 
  • The only others of the Twelve that are mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament are Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah (see Jeremiah 26:16-19; 2 Kings 25:18-21; Ezra 5:1). 
  • The prophets consistently give us some historical context in their writings to help us place when, where, and to whom their ministry took place. 

The Twelve also show up quite liberally in the New Testament. Every one of them has either direct quotations or has their writings implicitly referred to throughout the New Testament. Here’s just a small sampling… 

  • Micah 5:2 tells us where Jesus would be born (Matthew 2:6)
  • Hosea 11:1 says Jesus would spend time in Egypt (Matthew 2:15)
  • Malachi 4:5 says an “Elijah” would precede Jesus (Matthew 17:10-11)
  • Zechariah 9:9 foretells Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-10)
  • Jonah 1:17 was used by Jesus to predict His own resurrection (Matthew 12:39-42)
  • Joel 2:28-32 was quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21)
  • Amos 9:11-12 foretold all peoples coming to Jesus (Acts 15:16-17)
  • Hosea 13:14 was quoted by Paul to show how death was defeated (1 Corinthians 15:53-57)
  • Habakkuk 2:4 was also quoted by Paul to tell how righteous people live (Galatians 3:11)
  • Haggai 2:6 foretells the end times (Hebrews 12:26-29)

I look forward to diving deep into the major lessons in the minor prophets over the next several weeks, but in preparation for that let me give you 3 overarching lessons for all Bible studies:

  1. Christianity is rooted in history. The Bible is a historical record of real people, saying and doing real things in real places in the world. It’s not a collection of fables, myths, or legends. 
  2. We need to study the whole counsel of God’s Word. All of Scripture is interdependent on all the other parts of Scripture, and every part reinforces and amplifies every other part. Don’t limit your Bible reading to just one or two parts.
  3. Looking back in wonder and gratitude builds faith for today and hope for tomorrow. When we see what God has done in the past, and we realize that He is still the same God today, it builds our faith for today. And when our faith today is strengthened, it gives us a bright hope for tomorrow. 

I look forward to having you join me on this journey of discovery through the minor prophets! 

An Awesome Privilege And Responsibility

…Joshua the high priest… (Zechariah 3:1). 

The way that God talks about Joshua the high priest is quite informative for anyone in a position of godly leadership. 

From this passage [Zechariah 3:1-10] we learn that God’s leaders are…

  • … standing in God’s presence 
  • … opposed by satan
  • … protected by God
  • … anointed, empowered, and inflamed by God
  • … cleansed by God
  • … admonished by God to live up to the highest standards of righteousness
  • … given rewards for their righteousness
  • … used by God to accomplish His plan

Being a leader is an awesome privilege and responsibility! This is not a position anyone should seek for themselves (James 3:1; Jeremiah 45:5). 

A mark of a godly leader is one who feels the weight of God’s calling. 

This is part 31 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Thursdays With Oswald—Jeremiah 12

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Jeremiah 12

[These are notes from Oswald Chambers’ lecture on Jeremiah 12.]

     Few suffer more seriously in character than the men and women who for one reason or another are exempt from frank, honest criticism. …  

     Progressive realization does not mean that God reveals Himself by inches, but that we realize His revelation of Himself by inches as we obey. … 

     God would have been “a wall of fire round about and…the glory in the midst” [Zechariah 2:5] if they had been obedient. The difference between God as a consuming fire and natural fire is just this, that the further you get away from God the more fiercely you feel His burnings, but when you are close to Him, you will find it is a glorious protection. … 

     The truth about God is Jesus Christ—light, life and love. Whatever is dark to us will, by means of our obedience, become as clear as the truth which we have made ours by obedience. The bit we do know is the most glorious, unfathomable delight conceivable, and that is going to be true about everything to do with God and us. The process is continual obedience. 

From Notes On Jeremiah 

God wants to reveal Himself to us, even if He has to be a consuming fire in order to do so! 

God will burn up everything that keeps us from obeying Him—everything that takes our attention off of Him. He will burn up everything worthless so that we can know what is of incalculable worth; namely, Himself. 

If you want to have more of God revealed to you, scrupulously obey the parts that have already been revealed to you. 

5 Lessons From 2 Mothers

If you’ve been reading my series of posts on God’s favor, I hope you are becoming more aware of how strongly I want you to know this: God is for you! He’s not looking for opportunities to blast you, but to bless you. (If you want to read some of these previous posts, check out the link at the bottom of this post.) 

In writing his account of the birth of Jesus, Luke is captured with the idea of God’s favor. Luke uses the word favor more than any of the other gospel writers, and he uses the word quite frequently as he relates the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. During his narrative we meet two women—Elizabeth and Mary. Here are five lessons we can learn from these two mothers. 

(1) “Favor” is not the same thing as “favorite.” To say, “I am the one on whom God’s favor rests” is not the same as saying, “I am God’s favorite.” Elizabeth recognized God’s favor on both herself and on Mary (Luke 1:25 & 43), and Mary also recognized God’s favor on herself (Luke 1:28, 30, 48-49). But nowhere did these women think they were God’s favorites. God has no favorites, but instead He showers His abundant, never-ending favor on everyone! 

(2) “Favor” probably didn’t look like what they would have planned for themselves. Elizabeth didn’t get pregnant until the age when she should have been a grandmother, and Mary got pregnant before she was even married. I’m sure neither of them thought their lives would go this way! But God knew what He was doing all along (see Isaiah 45:7-9; Psalm 139:16). 

(3) They needed humility, obedience, and perseverance to remain in the place where they could recognize God’s favor. No one can stop God’s favor, but the devil would love to keep you from recognizing God’s favor. One way satan does this is by trying to get us to appeal to our pride (“I think I can do this better”) because then obedience to God and perseverance through the trying times is very difficult to maintain. 

(4) God’s favor is for God’s glory (not necessarily for our comfort). God is accomplishing HIS plan through us. His favor toward us places us where He needs us, when He needs us there, and with the talents we need to respond correctly when we get to that moment. Mary spoke the words that I’m sure were also in Elizabeth’s heart: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me just as you have said.” 

(5) God’s favor doesn’t necessarily answer all our questions. Even though God’s favor places us in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills, we will still undoubtedly have questions about why God is doing what He’s doing. If you feel that way, you’re not alone—Hebrews 11 is full of people who felt the same way. But hang in there and keep trusting God: He knows what He’s doing! In the meantime remember this: God is able to make ALL grace abound toward you, that you, ALWAYS having ALL sufficiency in ALL things, may have an abundance for EVERY good work (2 Corinthians 9:8). 

Check out this video of the full message I shared on these lessons from the life of Elizabeth and Mary. 

Join me this Sunday as we continue looking at God’s favor. You can join me either in person or on Facebook Live. 

If you’ve missed any of my previous posts on God’s favor, check out: 

This Is My Doing

This is My doing“My child, I have a message for you today. Let me whisper it in your ear so any storm clouds that may arise will shine with glory, and the rough places you may have to walk will be made smooth. It is only four words, but let them sink into your inner being, and use them as a pillow to rest your weary head: this is My doing [1 Kings 12:24].

Have you ever realized that whatever concerns you concerns Me too? For whoever touches you touches the apple of My eye [Zechariah 2:8]. You are precious and honored in My sight [Isaiah 43:4]. Therefore it is My special delight to teach you. I want you to learn when temptations attack you, and the enemy comes in like a pent-up flood [Isaiah 59:15], that this is My doing and that your weakness needs My strength, and your safety lies in letting Me fight for you.

Are you in difficult circumstances, surrounded by people who do not understand you, never ask your opinion, and always push you aside? This is my doing. I am the God of circumstances. You did not come to this place by accident—you are exactly where I meant for you to be. Have you not asked Me to make you humble? Then see that I have placed you in the perfect school where this lesson is taught. Your circumstances and the people around you are only being used to accomplish My will.

Are you having problems with money, finding it hard to make ends meet? This is My doing, for I am the one who keeps your finances, and I want you to learn to depend upon Me. My supply is limitless and I will meet all your needs [Philippians 4:19]. I want you to prove My promises so that no one may say you did not trust the Lord your God [Deuteronomy 1:32].

Are you experiencing a time of sorrow? This is my doing. I am a Man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering [Isaiah 53:3]. I have allowed your earthly comforters to fail you, so that by turning to Me you may receive eternal encouragement and good hope [2 Thessalonians 2:16].

Have you longed to do some great work for Me but instead have been set aside on a bed of sickness and pain? This is my doing. You were so busy I could not get your attention, and I wanted to teach you some of My deepest truths. They also serve who only stand and wait. In fact, some of My greatest workers are those physically unable to serve, but who have learned to wield the powerful weapon of prayer.” —Your loving Heavenly Father (as recorded by Laura A. Barter Snow)

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