Saturday, October 01, 2016

Trashed sanctuaries

Re-purposed church building (Photo: V. Nesdoly)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Lamentations 2:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "He has done violence to His tabernacle,
As if it were a garden;
He has destroyed His place of assembly:
The Lord has caused the appointed feasts and Sabbaths
to be forgotten in Zion.
In His burning indignation He has spurned the king and the priest.
The Lord has spurned His altar.
He has bandoned His sanctuary;
He has given up the walls of her palaces
Into the hands of the enemy.
They have made a noise in the house of the LORD
As on the day of a set feast." Lamentations 2:6,7

Seeing buildings that were once obviously houses of worship used for secular purposes always gives me a twinge. I wonder what happened? Did the congregation move to a different building? Are the people that formerly worshiped there still in existence as a body? Or did they fight, split, lose interest, die off, disburse?

Perhaps my feelings for church buildings are inappropriate. For in our focus verses today, it would seem that God Himself condoned not just the re-purposing but the very desecration of the temple, its celebrations, indeed all things to do with the outward show of worshiping God.

Why did He do this? One of the reasons was probably to drive home the fact that there is something even more important than outward forms of worship. That thing is obedience - 1 Samuel 15:22.

This brings me to the question, do I take comfort from the fact that I'm okay because I'm adhering to the expected forms and rituals of my time? Do I, for example, feel bad when I miss my daily devotions because of guilt over not having done a required thing? Or do I feel bad because I miss the closeness of being with Jesus?

The symbolism of a desecrated church is not lost on its members. But such an act can never harm the real church which is people, in-dwelt and living under the direction of the Holy Spirit in community with each other. In fact, each one of us is God's sanctuary -  1 Corinthians 6:19,20

And so any place can be sacred. Any room in your home, your garden, or your car can become a holy place because God meets you there.

PRAYER:
Dear God, please show me where I am trusting in religious forms as a way of pleasing and getting points with You. Help me to understand, at a heart level, the difference between ritual and obedience. Amen.

MORE: Your church and its building

Most churches have dedication services when they begin meeting in a new building or move into an existing venue. These dedication services may include prayers that bind all evil spirits or influences which formerly operated in the physical space and invite the Holy Spirit to have free reign there.

In one church I attended, when we moved out of our old building we held a decommissioning service to lift the blessing we had invoked when we moved in. Such services are often a time of thanksgiving, sharing memories, and a declaration to the church and the secular community that the physical site and building is no longer a place of worship.

 Is there a biblical precedent for decommissioning services (one doesn't come to my mind)? What are your thoughts and experiences?

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Friday, September 30, 2016

When God hurts us

"How deserted lies the city"
by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld
from "Bibel in Bildern"1851-1860

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Lamentations1:1-22

TO CHEW ON:
"Her adversaries have become the master, Her enemies prosper; For the Lord has afflicted her Because of the multitude of her transgressions. Her children have gone into captivity before the enemy." Lamentations 1:5


In the next several weeks we'll be reading through all of Lamentations. It is a sad book originally titled "Ekah," the first word of the book. Ekah means how or alas. Some also called it Qinot or "Lamentations" and that name has stayed with the book.

Many scholars attribute its authorship to Jeremiah. He wrote it against the backdrop of tragic events in Judah.

The kingdom was in moral decline. At a time when they were subjects to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, King Zedekiah rebelled and Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:20).

Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and many people starved. When Nebuchadnezzar finally broke down the wall, Nebuchadnezzar and his soldiers escaped. But the Babylonian army destroyed most of Jerusalem, burned the temple, and carried all but the poorest into exile (2 Kings 25:8-12).

As I read Jeremiah's poem of raw grief for his beloved land, I am touched by the images of Judah as a destitute woman. But I am also struck by the words "For the Lord has afflicted her."

Isn't life with God supposed to be good — better than life without Him? It seems that God has chosen to hurt His own people. Why?

A paragraph from the book's introduction in my Bible gives us something to think about in this regard:

"The Juhadites had been able to think of themselves only as God's chosen race. As such they felt that they would always experience good things. God had made covenants of blessing with them, but these were conditional. Blatant disobedience would mean that the pleasurable aspects of blessing would be replaced by punishment. The fulfillment of the promises of blessing could always skip a few generations of disobedient Israelites" - Paul B. Watney, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1036.


"Conditional (covenants of blessing), "blatant disobedience," "punishment." Could some of the troubles God allows us to experience be related to these things as well?

It is easy to promise would-be converts that life will be smooth sailing if they accept Jesus. But God, in His knowledge of everything about us, does allow trouble in our lives too. Could it be that sometimes God, in effect, hurts us because we have been disobedient and strayed from Him. We can be sure, though, that even such seemingly hurtful treatment is a sign of His love (Proverbs 3:11,12).


PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to have a realistic knowledge and view of my relationship with You. Help me to learn the lessons I need to from the difficulties you allow into my life. Amen.

MORE: Lamentations as poetry

Lamentations is a collection of five poems The first four, including poem 1 (our reading today), are acrostics. These are poems in which each stanza begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet (see also Psalms 25, 34, 37, 119).

Why the form? Writing acrostics may have been seen as a literary challenge in Jeremiah's day. Poems with predictable starting letters would be easier to memorize. We may also see such poems, in their going from Aleph to Tau (A to Z),  that the poet is  "...working through every grief, hurt, and fear, and opening up completely to both man and God" (from the introduction to Lamentations by Paul B. Watney, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1037).

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Why angels?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Daniel 12:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "At that time Michael shall stand up,
The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people." Daniel 12:1


Through this passage and a couple of others in Daniel we get a glimpse into the realm of angels.

Here Daniel, speaking as the prophetic mouthpiece of God describes the archangel Michael as the "great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people." Earlier a heavenly messenger sent to Daniel in answer to his prayer speaks of Michael as "one of the chief princes" and "Michael your prince" - Daniel 10:13,21.

Angel Power

It's evident that Michael is a powerful being. In a chapter on angels in his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem says of angelic power:

*Angels apparently have very great power. They are referred to as:
-
"You mighty ones" - Psalm 103:20.
"powers" - Ephesians 1:2q.
"dominions and authorities" - Colossians 1:16.  
*Angels are seemingly "greater in might and power" than rebellious human beings - 2 Peter 2:11; Matthew 28:2. 
For the time of their earthly existence humans are "lower than the angels" - Hebrews 2:7. 
The power of angels is used to battle against the evil demonic powers under the control of Satan - Daniel 10:13, Revelation 12:7,8; Revelation 20:1-3.
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp.400,401).

Why Angels?

Grudem delves into the place of these fascinating beings. He gives five reasons for angels (and proves each statement with many supporting scriptures, which I'm not listing):
1. Angels show the greatness of God's love and plan for us - Hebrews 2:7.
2. Angels remind us that the unseen world is real - 2 Kings 6:17.
3. Angels are examples for us - Matthew 6:10.
4. Angels carry out some of God's plans - Revelation 12:7,8.
5. Angels directly glorify God - Psalm 103:20'
- Grudem, Op. Cit, pp. 402-405.

Guardian Angels?

Do angels interact with us personally? Do we each have a guardian angel, as we've often been told?

The idea of a personal guardian angel is rooted in Jesus' words in Matthew 18:10:  "'Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.'"

Though the Bible doesn't explicitly say that an angel has been assigned to each one of us, the fact that one of angels' jobs is to protect people is reassuring:

"For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone."
Psalm 91:11,12.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for angels—these spirit beings that work in cooperation with You, though often unseen by us, to further Your purposes and glory. Amen.  
 

MORE: Feast of Saint Michael and all Angels
Today is the day the church celebrates the feast of Saint Michael and all Angels. The liturgy for the day begins with this prayer:

"Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

In the meantime, revival

Habakkuk by Donatello (1423-6)
Habakkuk by Donatello (1423-6)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Habakkuk 3:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "
O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid;
O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years!
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy." Habakkuk 3:2



God told Habakkuk earlier that waiting would be involved in the resolution of Judah's situation—that "the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak … Though it tarries, wait for it." In the meantime he needed to live by faith (Habakkuk 2:2-4).

But that knowledge didn't dampen Habakkuk's hope for the meantime. Here he prayed that God would revive His people even during the time of waiting: "in the midst of the years!"

Isn't that the cry of our hearts too? Wherever we are on the continuum of time between Jesus' ascension and return to earth, we long for God to again make His presence felt, to send conviction of sin like only He can, to break down resistance to wanderers returning to Him, and to cause a new spiritual sensitivity and fruitfulness in our land. And so we join Habakkuk along with David, Asaph, the Sons of Korah, and Isaiah in praying for revival:

"Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You" - David in Psalm 51:13.

"Restore us, O God of hosts;
Cause Your face to shine,
And we shall be saved!" - Asaph in Psalm 80:7.

"Will You not revive us again,
That Your people may rejoice in You?" - Sons of Korah in Psalm 85:6.

"Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
And the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
And the fruitful field is counted as a forest" - Isaiah 32:15.
 

PRAYER: Dear God, stories of revivals from years ago seem like fanciful tales—impossible to repeat. Would you send revival again? Please? Amen.

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New King James Version (NKJV) Used with permission. The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Journey focus

Suitcase with travel stickers including family at the cross
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Habakkuk 2:5-20

TO CHEW ON: "But the Lord is in His holy temple,
Let all the earth keep silence before Him." Habakkuk 2:20


"The book of Habakkuk gives the account of a spiritual journey, telling of one man's pilgrimage from doubt to worship" - Sam Middlebrook, Introduction to Habakkuk, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1222.

Habakkuk sees his situation realistically. Not only have his countrymen fallen away from God, but the Babylonians are a constant threat. My Bible's commentary suggests that Habakkuk 2:6, 9, 12, 15, and 19 are a series of woes Habakkuk, pronounces on the Babylonian invaders.

Whether they were directed at foreign invaders or his countrymen, they show that the land of Judah had loads of problems:
  • People were taking what wasn't rightfully theirs and keeping the needy in subjection with high interest rates ("loads himself with many pledges" - Habakkuk 2:6).
  • People were running roughshod over others to enhance their own security - Habakkuk 2:9.
  • People were establishing towns through force and violence - Habakkuk 2:12.
  • People were influencing their neighbours to get drunk so they could take advantage of them - Habakkuk 2:15.
  • People were worshiping wood and stone images and looking to them for insight and direction (Habakkuk 2:19).

That's enough to make anyone glum. But Habakkuk doesn't give in to despair. Instead, he reminds himself of his hope in the God of power and action he worships:

"For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord …" (Habakkuk 2:14).

"But the Lord is in His holy temple
Let all the earth keep silence before Him"  (Habakkuk 2:20) (emphases added).

We too can easily become discouraged as we look at society around us and the seemingly hopeless tangle of world affairs. At such times of potential discouragement on our journey, let's follow Habakkuk's example and shift our focus from our problems to our God. And as we lift our eyes let's give voice to that shift by offering faith-filled praise. God is in His holy temple. Someday the earth will be filled with the knowledge of His glory!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your faithfulness in the past that gives me confidence that I can trust You for now and the future. On my journey through life, help me to keep my focus on You. Amen.

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New King James Version (NKJV) Used with permission. The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Bible Drive-Thru

Monday, September 26, 2016

A real vs. religious relationship with God


woman praying
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Habakkuk 1:1-2:4

TO CHEW ON: "O Lord how long shall I cry,
And you will not hear?
Even cry out to You, 'Violence!'
And You will not save." Habakkuk 1:1


The times felt God-forsaken to Habakkuk. Judah had backslidden from Josiah's reforms. Violence towards citizens and oppression of the poor were rampant. Babylonia was gaining strength and threatened to invade from the north while Egypt and Assyria eyed other borders. It was in this setting that the prophet Habakkuk—a Levite—cried out to God.

His part of the conversation in Habakkuk 1 is refreshingly honest.
- He pours out his frustrations with God who seems deaf and disinterested -  Habakkuk 1:1.

- He confronts God with what appear to be contradictions—if God is holy why doesn't He deal with evil - Habakkuk 1:13?

- He appeals to the order of creation, showing God how man, in his anarchy, is no better than the creatures - Habakkuk 1:14-17.

God's reply (Habakkuk 1:5-11) is delivered with the same feistiness as Habakkuk's questions:
"Look among the nations and watch—
Be utterly astounded!
For I will work a work in your days
Which you would not believe though it were told you" (Habakkuk 1:5).

Habakkuk is a good example of a man who has a genuine relationship with God. In her Truth-In-Action Through Habakkuk commentary, Leslyn Musch says:
"Habakkuk's transparent interchange with God models for us a real relationship rather than a religious one."

Musch makes these points about how to make ours similar:
  • Ask God the honest questions of your heart.
  • Understand that He can handle them.
  • Draw close to Him through prayer.
  • Ask to gain God's perspective on injustice.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the deep things of God - 1 Corinthians 2:10-11.

Of God's reply she says:
  • Expect the Lord to answer you.
  • Approach God with an open heart.
  • Lay down any preconceived ideas of how He will respond.
  • Be ready to hear anything He desires to tell you.
- Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action-Through Habakkuk, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1229.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being big enough for any question. Help me to trust You when I don't understand and Your silence and inaction look like a contradiction of who You are. I want to be open to Your answers, however You send them. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Reversal

Image: Pixabay
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 16:19-31

TO CHEW ON: " 'But Abraham said, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented." ' " Luke 16:25

The story Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus speaks to a range of topics, like treatment of the poor, the after-life state, and human skepticism. It also illustrates another Bible theme: Reversal.

My Thompson Chain Bible has a list of verses that show reversal—defined as "Changes in position because of God's intervention."

  • From as far back as Old Testament prayers and psalms, Bible writers express the belief that God has the ability to generally turn things around: "He puts down one, / And exalts another" - Psalm 75:7.
  • God can reverse the fortunes of rulers. This is illustrated in the story of Nebuchadnezzar where, shortly after Nebuchadnezzar congratulates himself on his position and power, he is afflicted (by God's hand) with mental illness - Daniel 4:28-33 (see also Psalm 107:41; Isaiah 40:23; Ezekiel 21:26).
  • God can also reverse the fortunes of cities - Isaiah 26:5.
  • Jesus spoke often of the reversal characteristic of the Kingdom of God:  " 'But many who are first will be last, and the last first' " Matthew 19:30.  (See also Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30).
  • Referring to kingdom in specifics, Jesus skewed our idea of fairness in the story of the workmen, where the one-hour-workers got paid as much as the all-day-workers - Matthew 20:16.
  • Another kingdom reversal comes in the area of stewardship, where Jesus said: " 'For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away' " Matthew 25:29.
  • And in our passage we see the after-life reversal of the one who was poor, sick and despised during his life on earth - Luke 16:25.

Does this mean we should impoverish ourselves and make our lives difficult in order to have a better heavenly destiny? Hardly. The writer of my Bible's notes offers these thoughts:
"Wealth does not automatically condemn one to hell, nor does poverty in this life guarantee eternal joy. One's destiny depends upon one's relationship to God, which is often reflected in the attitude toward material possessions" - J. Lyle Story, Study notes on Luke, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1422.

  • Practically, this story and our look at reversal remind us to distrust what we see
  • We are challenged to understand there is more to the circumstances and conditions of people than what we see (and refrain from judging)
  • And we can ask ourselves are there ideas, beliefs, and convictions within us that will someday cause us to awaken to a surprising reversal? 

PRAYER: Dear Father, I know You see past my surface into my soul and spirit. Help me to see myself as You see me. And when I pray for the world, help me to keep in mind how capable You are of reversing things. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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