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The Angel Among the Myrtle Trees

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The Old Testament book of Zechariah contains perhaps the most Messianic prophecies among the Minor Prophets (minor in terms of amount written, not importance). The first eight chapters of Zechariah contain visions concerning such topics as the restoration of post-exile Israel, the restoration of the priesthood, and the coming of the Messiah, to name a few. I will attempt to study Zechariah’s vision found in Zechariah 1:8-17.

If we were to place a date on Zechariah’s ministry, he received his call during the reign of Darius (Zechariah 1:1), around November 520 B.C. The first of Zechariah’s eight visions came three months later (Zechariah 1:7).

“I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white.” (Zechariah 1:8, KJV).

The color red throughout the Bible represents blood, as in bloodshed, whether through war or Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The Book of Revelation portrays Christ on a white horse, symbolozing purity and victory. Thus, the man on the red horse is a preincarnate Christ, who will conquer sin and the nations, and ultimately bring peace to Israel, as our text later explains.

The myrtle trees are also significant, as the myrtle tree is an evergreen/bush, which gives off a fragrant aroma. The fact that the myrtle trees are in a bottom (valley or hollow), symbolizes beauty and restoration coming out of a low, valley experience (Israel’s seventy year exile to Babylon).

Zechariah then asked for clarification of his vision: “Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will show thee what these be. And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth.” (Zechariah 1:9-10, KJV).

This group of men are angels sent by God to patrol the earth. The angel of the Lord who stood among the myrtle trees was the commanding officer so to speak, and gave their report.

“And they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.” (Zechariah 1:11, KJV).

The world, or the world’s system is at rest, while Israel seeks to restore their nation to its previous state. The angel of the Lord intercedes for Israel: “Then the angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?”(Zechariah 1:12, KJV).

The term “Lord of hosts” is a military term and always refers to God. The threescore and ten years is 70 years (a score is 20 years), or the length of the Exile. If you look at how the other angels spoke with the angel who stood among the myrtle trees and how that same angel interceded for God’s people, we can state that the angel is the preincarnate Christ, who is praying to God the Father on behalf of His people. (See also Romans 8:34).

“And the LORD answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words.”(Zechariah 1:13, KJV).

Next, the preincarnate Christ gives Zechariah a prophetic message for the people:

“So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy. And I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction.” (Zechariah 1:14-15, KJV).

God used the nations to execute judgment on Israel’s unrepentant sin, but now God will punish the nations, who are at ease and peace in their sins. This I believe is comprable to the world system of today and how the world has grown at ease with sin and wickedness, yet the Lord’s judgment is coming.

God promises the restoration of Jerusalem, the temple, and prosperity: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the Lord of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem. Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; My cities though prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the Lord shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.” (Zechariah 1:16-17, KJV).

No matter the valleys or exiles we face in our own lives, we can take comfort in God’s Word. God will restore us when we repent of our sins. When we turn to the Lord, he will replace the stench of death and sin, with beauty and the fragrant aroma of our salvation.

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But God

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But. A three letter word that means, “Ignore everything I just said.”

“You’re a great guy and all, but I think of you more as a friend.”

“Your resume and qualifications are impressive, but we have decided to go in a different direction.”

“Dinner was great, but it could have used more seasoning.”

We don’t like to hear “but,” because we know rejection or a backhanded compliment is soon to follow. However, there are times when hearing but can be a good thing. The world will judge you by your past, appearance, mistakes, and anything else their crooked, pointy fingers can find, but when we place our faith in Christ, God accepts us as we are. “But God” is a beautiful phrase found in Scripture.

“But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah”

(Psalm 49:15, KJV).

“My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.”

(Psalm 73:26,KJV).

“But God raised him [Jesus] from the dead.” (Acts 13:30, KJV).

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, KJV).

“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart thatform of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17, KJV).

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is commonto man: but Godis faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, KJV).

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” (Ephesians 2:4-5, KJV).

As you go about your days, be blessed and may the Lord keep you.

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The Past has Passed Away

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By Michael W. Raley

The past has passed away

And the Lord blesses us with a new day.

The past, whether it’s been five minutes, months or years,

Is not coming back no matter the dwelling thoughts or shed tears.

While we have the gift of God’s grace,

Let us repent and run a new race.

The past is dead and gone

And life will go on,

With or without us.

All we can do is place our trust

In the One who holds us in His hands,

The One who has numbered our hairs and the grains of sand.

My friend do not fritter away the gift of today

Wondering and speculating about the events of yesterday.

Walking the Ancient Path

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“The Road Not Taken” is perhaps the most famous poem written by the American poet Robert Frost. In the poem,a traveler in the woods comes across two paths- one path was well worn from frequent travel and the other looked much newer, less traveled. The traveler chose the road less traveled and it made all the difference in his life.

It’s human nature to do things our way- we want make our own path in life. The younger generations will always discount the wisdom of the older generations. However, if we were to take the time to listen to our elders, there is much wisdom to be gained. No matter what we have gone through in life,the older generations have gone through the same things we have and possibly harder times. So why would we spend a lifetime making our own mistakes when we can learn from the lessons and mistakes of others?

What if we were to take the road well travelled? I believe we would probably encounter less obstacles because of the witness of those who have gone before. I see the same issues occuring in the modern American church.

I set foot inside of a Baptist church this past Sunday, the first time I’ve set foot in one since college. This church was in a non-descript building, off of a major road. There was no fancy band- just the pastor on an acoustic guitar and another gentleman playing a stand-up bass. The lyrics to the songs were not on a large projection screen, but in the hymn book located on the wooden pews. The message was not part of a four part series with four points, but a fiery sermon preached out of the King James Bible. There were not hundreds or thousands of people in the services, but possibly 75 people. Just a simple country church with the pure Gospel and a warning of hell for those who didn’t believe. Of course not the most seeker-friendly message, but a powerful word the Church needs to preach in the U.S. and around the world.

I had to look up the exact verse, but Jeremiah came to mind- Jeremiah 6:16 from the King James says, “Thus saith the Lord, stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, we will not walk therein.”

If the church is to survive, we must get back to the old paths- we must preach the true Gospel,no matter how offensive it may be to modern oversensitive ears. Your church might have plenty of seats filled, but how many of them are getting saved?

Scripture gives us plenty of examples of what happened when the Israelites wandered off the path. I’m just going to list a few examples, but I encourage you to study this further. All verses are from the King James version.

Jeremiah 7:23-24: “But this thing commanded I them, saying, obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.”

Isaiah 59:7-8: “ Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are the thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.”

I believe God is warning our current generation about the evil,death, and destruction in our current day. It’s time for the church to quit being a self-help center and preach the word in this season!

Jesus has paved the way for us and He will guide us along the path, as God has promised in Scripture

Isaiah 42:16: “And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and make crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”

Just as the wisdom of the elders is avaliable to everyone who has an older parent, grandparent, or family member, so is God’s wisdom and direction to walk the ancient paths available to us. It’s in His word. All we have to do is ask and seek. As David put so wonderfully in the Psalms.

Psalm 25:4-5: Show me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me:for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.”

Psalm 23:3: “He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

We will see God’s guidance along our path as Proverbs states.

Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” Some other translations may say “make your paths straight.

Proverbs 4:10-11: Hear, O my son,and receivemy sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in the right paths.

In order for us to get back on the ancient paths, we have to start lifting and walking.I’m not talking about joining a gym, but strengthening our spirits,as the writer of Hebrews puts it:

Hebrews 12:12-13: “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; butlet it rather be healed.”

In these last days, we must work out our salvation, because the time is short. If you have wandered off the path, get back on it. Take the well worn path and you will find the Lord. If you don’t know the Lord, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, believe you’re a sinner,confess your sins to God and allow Christ in your life. You will be on the greatest path of all- the path to heaven.

Another Obstacle

By Michael W. Raley

Another obstacle lies in my path

And there’s no way around it.

There lies before me another battle

I must wage,

Yet, I don’t have the strength to fight.

For all of the fortitude and resolve I must muster,

I might as well be enduring the trials of Hercules.

I am battle hardened,

But my mental, spiritual, and physical reserves are depleted

And I don’t see reinforcements on the horizon.

I pray for a sign and await the arrival of the Deliverer.

Please, please, Savior, do not delay,

For my strength is almost gone.

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I Look Out into the World

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By Michael W. Raley

I look out into the world

And I see the rage,

The violence,

The hatred,

The deception,

The fiery rhetoric,

And my soul is overwhelmed.

I pray and I hope

For a better tomorrow,

Yet I wonder if the time for reasoning,

Accountability, and deep soul searching has past.

For the longest time,

When I looked out into the world, I felt a detachment,

Not realizing maybe I should be the one to change.

When I looked inside of me and my spirit,

I realized much work still needed to be done.

If I focused on changing myself,

The world would change as well.

I can’t change world events,

But I can change myself and my responses,

Thus, changing my perspective

When I look out into the world.

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Profiles in Biblical Leadership: King Asa

In a seemingly ever-growing politically fractured world, strong leadership is needed now more than ever. With the U.S Presidential election just months away, I thought it would be important to study the good kings of Judah as mentioned in the Old Testament. There are eight good kings of Judah mentioned- Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Azariah (aka Uzziah), Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah. However, all of the kings of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) did wicked in the sight of God. The first king of Judah we will examine will be Asa.

Background

-Asa reigned from 910-869 AD.

-Son of the king Abijam,who did evil in God’s sight.

-Asa’s story is found in 1 Kings 15:8-24 and 2 Chronicles 14-16.

What Asa did right

– Asa did right in the sight of God (1 Kings 15:11).

-Asa removed the temple prostitutes and removed the idols his father made (1 Kings 15:12).

-Asa removed his mother, Maacah, from her position as queen mother because of idols she constructed. (1 Kings 15:13 and 2 Chronicles 15:16).

-Asa removed some of the high places (places where idols were worshiped) and the incense altars (2 Chronicles 14:5).

-Asa fortified Judah, and the nation experienced peace and prosperity

(2 Chronicles 14:6-7).

-Asa sought the Lord and won a military victory against the Ethiopians

(2 Chronicles 14:8-15).

-Asa heeded the words of the prophet Azariah and made a covenant with all of Judah to seek God with all their hearts (2 Chronicles 15:1-15).

What Asa did wrong

-Asa did not remove all of the high places (1 Kings 15:14; 2 Chronicles 15:17).

-Asa made an alliance with Benhadad, the King of Aram, without seeking the Lord. ( 1 Kings 15:16-22; 2 Chronicles 16:1-6).

-Asa rejected the rebuke of Hanani the seer and threw him into prison.

(2 Chronicles 16:7-10).

-Later in his reign, Asa suffered from a foot disease and did not seek the Lord, but the physicians. (2 Chronicles 16:12).

*Bonus fact

-Asa is a descendant of Jesus and is mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy (Matthew 1:7).

Though there are no perfect human kings, queens, or presidents, I believe the stories preserved in God’s Word can provide us with strong leadership principles. Be blessed.

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Where is Reason?

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I’ve often wondered happened to reason, rationality, and common sense in American society?

As I write this post, the United States is experiencing a surge in new Covid-19 cases. (I have tested positive multiple times, yet remain asymptomatic). The U.S. response to the Covid-19 has been irrational and erratic at best. The politicized mainstream media (including conservative and liberal pundits) waffled between “We’re all going to die” and “This is a hoax to influence the election.” During the discussions of the pandemic, the middle ground has gone the way of the dinosaur.

People have protested state stay at home orders and people have viewed masks mandates as an attack on personal freedom. There are cities which are threatening to penalize non-mask wearers with fines and or jail time. Many major companies, including Walmart and Starbucks are now requiring customers to wear masks or they will not be allowed inside the store.

It’s human nature to defy authority. People still smoke despite the health warnings and proven links to cancer. There are people who still don’t wear seat belts; motorcycle riders refuse to wear helmets; drivers speed and underage college students will find ways to get alcohol. However, I believe the United States is going through a time of lawlessness, where the rights of the individual are being trampled on by the government and society.

There have been protests and societal upheaval coupled with a war on science, which has become politicized as well. Calm and rational voices are drowned out by mob rule. People are criticized equally for taking a side and not taking a side. The voice of the crowds on both sides aren’t listening to each other. Intellectual society has gone from John Stuart Mill’s “Marketplace of ideas” to “I only want to hear my opinion coming out of your mouth.”

What’s a rational person to do? I believe the important thing to do is to continue practicing reason,rationality, and common sense. Do not follow the crowd because you might get lost. Be a voice for those who don’t have a voice, but don’t act on emotion alone. I believe the reason for the vitriol in our political discourse is because people now argue from a place of emotion and see disagreement as a personal attack on them. During these times we must also practice emotional maturity. Try to find a solution to a problem without attacking someone else.

Along with practicing reason and emotional maturity, recognize the value of every person- even if they disagree with you. It doesn’t matter if someone is a Christian or an atheist, straight or gay, white or black, or any other way society tries to divide us- we can find common ground and respect each other. It’s still possible to agree to disagree. Don’t let petty political bickering destroy relationships with family and friends. Also, if you spew venom and hostility at someone, how do you ever expect them to see your side of the issue?

I believe the time has come to throw off the shackles of division and seek peace and healing. As the Bible states:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:12-18, NIV).

On a personal note,I have started a podcast, called Life in Progress. You can find it at https://anchor.fm/michael-raley. You can also find it on Google Podcast, Breaker, Pocket Casts, Radio Public and Spotify.

Be blessed.

Hold The Line

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By Michael W. Raley

The armies of darkness and despair have waged war in my life

For what seems an eternity.

I have paid a heavy price and suffered tremendous loss.

Yet, I remain steadfast in the midst of this battle.

“Hold the line!”

By the grace of God, I have come too far to waive the white flag.

Now is the time to regroup and to strengthen what remains,

For victory is imminent, so judgment will be executed on the darkness and despair.

As long as I have breath, I have hope.

“Hold the line!”

My spirit and my resolve are battle-hardened,

My strategy is coming together,

As I plan to launch an offensive

That will scatter the enemy and break their spirits.

“Hold the line!”

 

 

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

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Thousands of thoughts course through our minds each and every day. Some thoughts can be routine, such as What am I going to eat for lunch? or I need to get the car in for an oil change. However, thoughts can be a destructive force when dwell upon the negative, the resentful, and the angry.

I’ll never be successful.

How can anybody love me?

I’m a failure.

How could she do that to me?

I’ll never forgive myself/him/her.

The list goes on and on.

Have you ever found yourself in a thought cycle of negativity? How did you respond? If you suffer from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, does negativity thinking make it worse? The truth be told, you didn’t gain anything from the negative thoughts other than the loss of an opportunity to enjoy life.

The more you look around the more you notice how society gears us toward the negative. The continuous negativity of the news cycle, the gritty and violent nature of popular entertainment, and even religion, which tells us we are all fundamentally flawed, in combination with our own life circumstances overwhelms us into thinking we will never crawl out of this mental and spiritual abyss.

As a Christian and as someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic illnesses, I find my thoughts swirling down the drain so to speak. I have dealt with thoughts of resentment and anger over circumstances while I fumed at myself for putting myself into that situation. I believe Christ has forgiven me of my sins, but I have a hard time letting go of my mistakes.  My inability to forgive myself is my thought struggle. What’s yours? So, what are some practical ways that we can overcome these constant negative thoughts?

Eliminate the “Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas”

As the cliche goes, “Hindsight is twenty twenty.” Ah,the past. “If I know then what I know now, I would have done this.” “I should’ve seen this coming.” “I could have done it differently. We must understand the past is gone. We can’t do anything about it. Doc Brown and his DeLorean aren’t showing up, neither is Doctor Who and the Tardis. We have to cut ourselves some slack here. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time. If we had different information, yes, we probably would have chosen differently, but that’s not the case. We can only go forward from here.

Focus on what you can control

We can’t pick our circumstances. We can’t manipulate people into doing the right thing according to us. We had no control over the country or family into which we were born. The only thing we can choose is how we respond to the events around us. Our responses can help determine how we overcome the obstacles we face. The best way to dealing with events is to look at what is directly in our control and don’t worry about what is not in our control.

Temper your expectations

There are things in life we just expect or assume to be true. For example, we may believe that life should always treat us fairly. We may believe that people should always do the right thing. We may think that if we dedicate our lives to God, then our lives should be free from pain and suffering. If you have lived for any significant amount of time, we know that we cannot live by these assumptions. Life is not fair. People can’t be counted on to do the right thing because some people’s ideas of right and wrong are different from yours. Finally, following God does not guarantee a bed of roses. Jesus said to take up your cross, not exactly an east feat. Tempering your expectations does not mean to walk around hopeless and cynical, but be realistic in how you view the world and people. If we understand that the best laid plans can go awry, then we are better prepared to handle problems as they arise.

This is not a complete list by far, but I hope this helps you throughout your day. God bless.