Numbering Our Days

What happened on February 17?  For most, it’s just another day, nothing special.  For me, it is one of those most life impacting days.  February 17, 1984 is the day my mother died.  And February 17, 2002 is the day my father died. Yes, eighteen years to the day after my father was widowed, he joined the saints in heaven with her. Not that it means anything particularly, just an interesting reality. And yes, I’ve written about this before, but it’s one of those things that continues to impact my life.

Mom’s death impacted me most. Not because I loved her more than Dad, but because I was least prepared. I’d been through the loss of all four of my grandparents prior to that. I had been a pastor for almost eight years and done dozens of funerals, so I thought I faced death fairly well. Continue reading “Numbering Our Days”

Five Years Plus an Eternity of Grace

“5 years ago you fell off your bike and …busted your face,” so was the friendly text on Monday from my granddaughter, Delia. Indeed, she was right, at least partially.  She was commemorating five years since I fainted while riding my bike, probably due to dehydration, and ended up in the ER. Gratefully, “busted your face” wasn’t quite accurate, but it looked like it. I blogged about it the next day in a post called In Praise of the Helmet!

But the five years since my infamous bike wreck isn’t the main focus of this post.  That event was just three days after my wife, Linda, had a mastectomy on June 10, 2011. See In Sickness and in Health. She was recovering at home just three days after surgery when she received the call from law enforcement that her husband was in the hospital ER due to a bicycle accident. She couldn’t come to check on me and was left with no information for some time whether I was dead or alive. But I was fine, probably a mild concussion, but no lasting effect, and was released to go home. Continue reading “Five Years Plus an Eternity of Grace”

Death and Hope

Guest Post by Scott Hackett*

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

In the past month, we have experienced our share of death.  Not a cheery subject for the beginning of the year, I know, but keep reading.  First, a security guard at GIS died unexpectedly leaving a wife and children behind.  On the same day, a close Thai friend of ours lost her brother-in-law in the same way; he left a wife and seven children behind.  Within the same week our landlady stopped by and told us her husband had died.  A week later, Sarah’s grandmother passed away.  Finally, one of our pet rabbits died as well.

All death is tragic and no one wishes for it.  However, the Thai friend’s brother-in-law as well as Sarah’s grandmother were believers in Christ, and we rejoice that they now have comfort in heaven.  The rabbit, well, that’s a theological debate.  (There can be an argument that there will be animals in the new heaven and earth.)

The others are a different story.  The guard was Buddhist.  A Buddhist funeral is quite a heartbreaking experience.  After monks prayed over the coffin, the wife and children placed a banana on the coffin, cut it in half to symbolize their separation from the deceased, then ran to a motorbike that sped them away.  This quick departure was to assure that the spirit didn’t try to follow them.  Afterwards, the coffin was moved to the incinerator to be burned.  The fire began to go out, so people quickly doused the coffin with accelerant to keep the fire burning.  This was said to be a bad omen indicating the body was not ready for the next life and was trying to return; therefore, many were left in fear, including fellow guards who believed they saw his spirit.**   This demonstrates a small example of the confusion in this country.  The GIS community was able to reach out and share Christ’s love with the family, for which they were blessed and appreciative.

Our landlady is of a different faith.  We were able to cry with her and hug her as she told us her bad news.  We also delivered a small gift of candy and fruit with a note of encouragement wishing her comfort through Christ’s mercy and love.  She responded with appreciation, saying “God bless your family also.”

We rejoice with those who rejoice over the hope of new beginnings.  However, we mourn with those who mourn over uncertainties of the hereafter.  Living here includes daily reminders of this sorrow.  Please pray for this country, that the Thais will know the hope not merely in the new year, but in everlasting new beginnings in Christ.

***

*Scott and Sarah Hackett and three sons live in Chiang Mai, Thailand where they teach at GIS, Grace International School. Check out their pictorial blog, hackett5journey’s blog  Sarah is my niece.

**Buddhist funeral content taken from a coworkers’ blog post.

The Gospel of Zechariah

Of the twelve minor prophets, just two are mentioned by Jesus in the New Testament Gospels. Jesus refers to the sign of Jonah as a foreshadowing of the resurrection after three days in the tomb. And in his last confrontation with the religious leaders not long before Jesus was arrested, he holds them accountable for the murder of Zechariah the prophet.

And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  Matthew 23:35

Zechariah, whose name means “The LORD remembers,” was both prophet and priest, common to the major prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai, plus both prophets are mentioned in Ezra 5 as contemporary with Zerubbabel, leader of the exiles who returned from Babylon, and Joshua the high priest.  The main focus for all these leaders was encouraging the rebuilding of the temple.

Similar to Haggai, the first part of Zechariah is precisely dated. His ministry began in 520 BC in the fall of the year. The eight prophetic visions came on February 15, 519 BC.  Almost two years later, December 7, 518 BC, Zechariah gave another message, calling the people to repentance and giving them hope of future restoration. The rest of the book is not specifically dated, but probably extended for some years, some suggesting that Zechariah was very young when his ministry began and perhaps some forty years older at the end.*

The book is mainly focused on the future, beginning with a series of eight visions, during the night I had a vision. These vision seems to be in uninterrupted flow, a continuous sequence. While the theme of judgment is present, the overall purpose seems to be encouragement, not only to build the temple in the immediate future, but the promise of a glorious future for the people of God.

What about the Gospel in Zechariah? Continue reading “The Gospel of Zechariah”

The Gospel of Haggai

August 29, 520 BC
September 21, 520 BC
October 17, 520 BC
December 18, 520 BC

A unique feature of the prophecy of Haggai, the second shortest book in the Old Testament  is that it is precisely dated, not just generally as “during the reign” of a certain king, or even just the year, but five prophecies are declared on four very specific dates. These prophecies when the word of the LORD came to Haggai are all given in less than four months.

Haggai was a contemporary of the prophet Zechariah, the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest, Joshua. It was when the exiles to Babylon from 70 years earlier were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. The book of Ezra provides the history of this time.

After completing the foundation of the temple, celebrated in the record of Ezra 3:8-11, the work began to stall out due to multiple factors. Initial enthusiasm was dampened by the response of the older people who compared it with Solomon’s temple, seeing that even the foundation was going to mean a far less glorious building.  Additionally, there was outside opposition from those who accused the Jews of planning a rebellion (Ezra 4). Thus, the work was suspended and nothing done for fourteen years. Even after political opposition was formally resolved, the project did not proceed.

Haggai’s emphasis is that the main problem was not outside opposition, but mixed up priorities, elevating personal interests for their own homes above the spiritual priority of building the LORD’s house.  Continue reading “The Gospel of Haggai”

The Gospel of Zephaniah

If any of the writing prophets is more obscure than Nahum, it is probably Zephaniah.  And I’m just as weak in my knowledge of this prophet as anyone.  So this post is virtually all fresh research.

The opening lines actually give more information about Zephaniah than almost any other prophet, His lineage is traced back four generations, including a Hezekiah. No absolute proof that this is the good king Hezekiah of Isaiah’s day, but why would his great great grandfather be mentioned at all unless he was someone well known from Israel’s history? If so, and I believe likely, then he was from an upper crust family and more familiar with current political realities that most.

Zephaniah prophesied in the days of the King Josiah, the last good king of Judah, If he is a descendant of King Hezekiah, then he was a cousin of Josiah and may have had access to the king’s ear, perhaps influential in the reforms and revival under Josiah as described in 2 Kings 22 and 23. Revival is no doubt an overstatement as it probably didn’t widely affect the nation as a whole, but was restricted to palace and temple, and faded quickly after Josiah’s death.

A contemporary of Jeremiah and Nahum, Zephaniah’s primary theme was the unpopular but vital message of the coming day of the LORD. Continue reading “The Gospel of Zephaniah”

The Gospel of Habakkuk

Will a man argue with God?  How about a prophet of God?  Will he object to God’s plans?  Habakkuk did.

This little known prophet is not mentioned outside of the book that bears his name. There is no hint of his hometown or family of origin.  He was probably a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, serving in or near Jerusalem in the late 7th, early 6th century BC when Babylon was coming to prominence and the main threat to Judah and Jerusalem.  He experienced the devastation of the good king, Josiah, being killed.  He saw the decline under King Jehoiakim.  He knew of the Babylonian occupation and the first taking of exiles to Babylon, the group that included Daniel and his three friends.

But Habakkuk’s complaint was against God. Why? Continue reading “The Gospel of Habakkuk”