A CALL TO RETURN TO THE LORD
A Message for our day
Spurred on by events of our time, there is an ever-growing interest in what the future holds. Many in our churches and those circling about the periphery, are turning to the Bible and specifically Revelation, seeking answers. It is not my intension to give a detailed hermeneutics treatment of Revelation, Lord knows there are books aplenty out there, some good, most not so good, for the reader to investigate, but rather to acquaint our readers with some background that may help in their quest for understanding.
An understanding of the book of Zechariah is essential if one is to delve into the imagery of Revelation. It is a book of vision. Not only concerning the future, for Zechariah has more to say concerning the Day of Messiah than any other book in Scripture, but also a vision and guideline for “church” building and restoration – two processes in the midst of which we at Ohsweken find ourselves.
I am reminded of Proverbs 29:18 which states:
“Where there is no vision, the people perish:
but he that keeps the law, happy is he.”
Vision is essential for the survival of any Christian fellowship. What is our vision? I have asked this question before of the people of Ohsweken. Your pastor has a vision for this church, but is it yours? Let’s call “a spade a spade.” I am an outsider when it comes to Ohsweken and in terms of my ethnicity. The last thing I want to do is to impose my will on our fellowship here. However, I am one with you in the Spirit of the LORD, and when the LORD calls a person to pastor a flock He gives a vision to that pastor. Any vision or direction coming from me must be seen as coming from the LORD, and you as fellow believes must apply discernment to judge if this be so.
A pastor receives the vision for a congregation and its leaders and adherents then must make a decision. Is this vision for us and if so, how do we adjust to it?
When first I stepped behind the pulpit on that first Sunday, I had a clear word from the LORD. – “Prepare ye the way.” I have shared this word with the deacons and other of leadership of the church over the years, but now is the season for all to hear and discern.
There are two aspects to this mandate. The first is to teach the word of GOD, and only the word of GOD. To ground hearts and minds to the wonder and magnificence of the word. And the second, to repair and restore His building to receive a promised harvest of souls.
What does all this have to do with Zechariah? Well, let’s see.
The book begins with a call and a history lesson.
“In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD
unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet,, saying,”
Darius along with Cyrus before him, Persian rulers, allowed the Jews to return from their Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem to rebuild their worship center – temple.
Haggai was a contemporary of Zechariah and he stated in Haggai 1:3-8 the following. (NLT)
“On August 29th of the second year of King Darius’ reign, the LORD
gave a message through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,
governor of Judah, and to Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest.
This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: These people are saying,
‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.’
Then the LORD sent this message through the prophet Haggai”
Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins?
This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says;
Look at what’s happening to you!
You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied.
You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm.
Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!
This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you!
Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house.
Then I will take pleasure in it, and be honoured, says the LORD.”
We have been truly blessed to have so many within our fellowship who have been, and continue to be, so willing and so faithful in their giving to the LORD’s work. Still, the work goes on.
The Haggai section reminds us that the LORD has greatly blessed His people and that we then need to bless Him by erecting a building that will bring honour to His name. A building that is truly worthy to bear His name and to be His “meeting place” for the community at large.
Throughout Scripture “a place” preceded proclamation.
PLACE PRECEDES PROCLAMATION
Before the Hebrews could learn of GOD they needed a meeting place.
The LORD gave them intimate detail into the erecting of their meeting place – the tabernacle.
Every detail pointing to what He was about to accomplish.
Here, at their meeting place, they learned of GOD. Learned of His grace, His mercy, His abhorrence of sin, and here they heard the words of the LORD.
During the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry there was a place – a meeting place.
Jesus visited the temple every day to teach His followers and to reveal truth to those still in darkness.
Joshua 23 and Nehemiah 13 both describe the people gathering to hear the word of the LORD.
Paul also, built up “meeting places” for the new believer to grow in the word and in the Spirit – the house churches.
The point is that there needs be a place of worship, a meeting place, for the learning of His word, for the healing of wounds, for reconciliation to occur, for forgiveness to be given and received. For repentance to be voiced and for ears to hear and forgiveness to be accepted.
The internet will never meet these high standards, only face-to-face do these things occur. GOD calls us to meet Him face-to-face, how can we expect the yet-to-believe to do it in isolation?
Throughout Scripture a metaphor concerning “barns” is used in connection with a gathering in of harvest. We are rarely called to go out and stand in the midst of a field and teach the word to scattered stalks of wheat. We are called to gather the wheat into His barns – into a place – and then the teaching can begin.
Out on the vast mission fields great crowds of seekers come to a place to hear and repent and gain salvation. There is, and always will be, the one-on-one evangelism occurring on street corners of our cities, but the evangelist returns day by day to the same corner – to his/her meeting place – where people come to hear.
Place precedes proclamation
I recall my time on a forty-two day mission trip into Guyana South America. The pastor team split up in order to reach more people and I was taken far up one of Guyana’s vast rivers. We travelled deep into the jungle on a motor launch, past the junction of three mighty rivers far past any signs of civilization. The rivers were rolling grey living creatures each with strong invisible currents wrestling past each other. Their energies were immense reaching out to me through the floor of the launch. And it was a sunny day! Whatever would this place be like should a storm appear? And yet, many called this home. We eventually passed through this violent confluence and arrived at calm waters. Further up still the launch veered towards a grassy clearing to our left. Our boat was tied and we scrambled up a make-shift set of wooden steps. There, in the midst of the clearing, in the midst of this vast jungle was a place. A concrete slab about twenty-five foot square, open sides and vertical 4×4’s at each corner supporting a tin roof. Folding chairs and a wooden podium had been placed, awaiting my arrival. Soon after, the people began coming – coming to their place. They appeared from amid the green foliage and the grey waters. Brightly coloured women with their head gear and flowery dresses, carrying babies in arm with other small children tugging at their hems. Men too, many young men all in Sunday best. My attention was drawn to the arrival of a long thin dugout canoe piloted by a boy of eight with five younger siblings aboard. I remembered thinking, If such a scene was observed in Canada, the parents would be arrested. But here, this was normal daily life. It was a Sunday, Father’s Day Sunday. I spoke of the Father’s love; dedicated three small babies and answered the young men’s questions. I remember the smiles, the handshakes, the colours and the humid heat. All names have since vanished from my remembrance but I vividly remember their place – it is still fresh in my memory as are the sounds and the fresh smells. Place precedes proclamation. They had their place, deep in the jungle, far up the river, where they could gather and bring their faith and their children to hear and see that GOD cares.
The people of Zechariah’s day too had a place. A place to return to after years of being away – a ruined city and a neglected place of worship. God had scattered His people for failing to honour His ways but, as always, the nations about had far over-stepped GOD’s intended discipline of them.
GOD was angry with the nations and at how they treated His people but He was also angry with His people as well. Zechariah reminds us that GOD was angry with “their fathers.” A generation had become slack in their worship of the One True GOD. Listen to Zechariah 1:2 (KJV)
“The LORD has been sore displeased with your fathers.”
And what was GOD’s reaction to this His displeasure? Zechariah continues in verses 3 and 4.
“Therefore, say unto them, Thus says the LORD of hosts;
Turn you unto me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you,
Says the LORD of hosts.
Be not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets cried saying,
Thus says the LORD of hosts; turn now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings:
But they did not hear, nor hearken unto me, says the LORD.”
He called for them to turn to Him again and to not demonstrate the rebellion of their fathers.
So, what were the “sins of the Fathers?”
It started with neglect!
This people found themselves expelled from the land to Babylon for 70 years.
As you may recall, the land was owed 70 years of rest. The fathers had refused to honour the word of the LORD to allow all of the land of Israel to lie dormant for one out of every seven years. And for 490 years this neglect continued unabated. So the land was owed 70 years of rest, so the LORD removed the fathers from the land so they could not till the soil.
Thus, the fathers neglected to honour the word of the LORD.
And what else angered the LORD concerning the fathers? They didn’t really repent. Except for Daniel! More on him in a moment.
Listen to Zechariah 1:6
“But my words and my statutes which I commanded my prophets, did they not
take hold of your fathers? and they returned and said, Like the LORD of hosts
thought to do to us, according to our ways, and according to our doings,
so has He dealt with us.”
It sounds like the fathers repented but look closely at what was said. They are saying, Well, we got what we deserved for our ways and actions. Nothing we can do about it.
What kind of repentance is this!
GOD doesn’t want a “repentance” where we throw up our hand and resign ourselves to defeat.
GOD desires a repentance that leads to a changed heart and a change direction – a 180 degree about-face.
We’re in this mess, can’t do anything about it, GOD will do what He said He would.
Where were the prayer warriors?
Where were those to sway GOD’s heart?
Where were those to stand in the gap with true repentance?
But praise GOD there is always one. I have included portions of Daniel’s prayer, as my Pastoral Prayer. But let me comment on a few of his statements.
Daniel studied the word of GOD! He was a studier and a prayer warrior.
He was reading in Jeremiah that the 70 years of the desolation of Jerusalem was reaching its end. So what did he do? What should any of us do when we find ourselves on the cusp of prophecy about to be fulfilled?
He prayed! And further more he repented on behalf of his fathers!
And this is what any generation should do when they see fulfilled prophecy coming down the pipe towards them.
And we at Ohsweken need to do the same – repent for our own neglect; repent for our father’s neglect – and pray that GOD will accomplish all He has promised for Ohsweken.
I pick out verse 17 of Daniel 9.
“Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications,
and cause thy face to shine upon thine sanctuary that is desolate, for the LORD’s sake.”
Zechariah begins by urging us to “Turn you unto me and I will turn unto you.”
There is a call to return to the LORD – to return whole-heartedly.
To repent of any neglect we have exhibited. To pray repentance for our father’s neglect.
As we delve into Zechariah over the next several weeks, I would ask you to think about our own meeting place.
Like many of you I have always been reticent in putting money into buildings rather than into lost souls.
However, the people must gather first, at a place, to hear “Thus says the LORD,” And that place must be worthy of Him, must be inviting, and must appear relevant. Let us strive to do what we can as GOD supplies all our need in Christ Jesus to accomplish these things.
Zechariah and Haggai begin with a call to turn to GOD; a call to prayer for the neglect of their fathers, and a call to pray for the restoration of their meeting place. Let us answer a similar call.
Let us hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
We knell on the cusp of fulfilled prophecy. I do not want to be standing on the sidelines. And I know none of you want to either. Let us put our hands to the plough and prepare to bring in a mighty harvest for His honour and glory.
“And I saw by night, and behold a man riding . . .” to be continued.
PASTORAL PRAYER (Daniel 9:2-19) NLT
“During the first year of Darius’ reign, I, Daniel, learned from reading the word of the LORD, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for 70 years.
So I turned to the LORD God and pleaded with Him in prayer and fasting.
I also wore ruff burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes.
I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: O LORD you are a great and awesome GOD!
You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands.
But we have sinned and done wrong.
We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations.
We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.
LORD you are in the right; but as you see, our faces are covered with shame. This is true of all of us, including the people of Judah and Jerusalem and all Israel scattered near and far, wherever you have driven us because of our disloyalty to you.
Oh LORD, we our kings, and princes and ancestors are covered with shame because we have sinned against you.
But the LORD our GOD is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.
We have not obeyed the LORD our GOD, for we have not followed the instructions he gave us through his servant the prophets.
O our GOD, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, LORD, smile again on your desolate sanctuary .
Oh LORD, hear. Oh LORD, forgive. Oh LORD, listen and act!
For your own sake, do not delay. O my GOD, for your people and your city bear your name.”
As you ponder the words of Daniel’s prayer may you receive the light of discernment.
It was upon Zechariah’s return to the former place of worship that the visions were released. We need to return in number to our meeting place, to the fellowship of each other, to the place where GOD erected a structure for us.
The future is coming quickly. A season of neglect is ending. Our membership is putting their hands to the plough; the work is beginning in earnest.
Place precedes proclamation. Let us prepare the way; let the harvest be collected. Zechariah gives us light to face a bright future. Amen.