Jesus Is the Reason…

Frozen CherriesSo I keep hearing songs and statements around town and on the radio insisting “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Yeppers.

Sometimes it seems to me it’s almost insulting to the Lord to even make such a statement. Jesus is the reason for spring, summer, fall, and winter. Undeniably, without Jesus this world would have never begun to exist and without His continued grace it would disintegrate. How do I know this?

For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Colossians 1.16-18)

Christmas CoffeeIf we must remind someone to “keep Christ in Christmas,” the battle was lost long ago. I’m not saying all Christians must celebrate the birth of Christ during this season, for there are many who know the Scripture never commands such a celebration, and neither do we actually know on what day Jesus was born. Nevertheless, I worry about Christians who celebrate the holiday in such a way as to keep thoughts of the Lord at arm’s distance–as if being spiritually-minded or devotional on Christmas is wrong!

Whatever your stand on Christmas, whether you celebrate it as Christ’s birth or simply as a national holiday or whether you avoid any special celebration at all, I hope you still continue to celebrate Jesus Christ as you have all year in 2015 and will in 2016. Jesus is the reason for life!

May God’s richest blessings be with you who trust in Him. Peace be with you.

Jesus Is Exclusive!

InterFaith-256pxI shared with our church gathering last night an NPR story from December 13, 2015 which covered a “Tri-Faith Initiative” in Omaha, NE. Gathered in the room were a professing Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Rabbi. Among the inane statements I heard, one in particular from the “Christian,” a minister for a United Church of Christ, caught my ear:

Well, you’d think in light of today’s climate that the range of opinion – the opposition came from people who were afraid to associate with Muslims. But actually, most of the people who were opposed were simply opposed because we have a beautiful building, been there for 65 years, and people didn’t want to pick up stakes and moves. There’s really no good reason at all for Countryside to do this other than the beauty of the vision of the Tri-Faith Initiative, which really matched our values and our ethos as a church – that Christian love of Jesus – or of God rather – includes walking fully in the path of Jesus without denying the legitimacy of other paths that God may create for humanity.

Um…what?

This man leads a large congregation of profession Christians, and he’s not even a Christian himself! He does not even minutely know Christ or His teachings. I’m sure he holds a caricature of the Lord in his mind, but whatever or whoever he worships does not resemble the crucified Son of God of the Bible.

As anti-PC as this world may deem Him, Jesus gave no wiggle room to come to God apart from Him. Jesus said to Thomas on one occasion, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14.6). The apostles responded to their persecutors in Acts 4.12: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

exclusive_640Can a Muslim really know the Father, God? A Muslim claims Allah to be the One True God, and Jesus Christ, at best, to be a great prophet–certainly not the Son of God. They claim you must find God by following the teachings of the True Prophet Muhammad. Can a follower of the Hebrew religion know the Father, God? A follower of the Law of Moses rejects Christ as the Messiah and Savior of the world. Yet Jesus stated in Matt. 11.27, “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Who shall we believe? “Whoever is not with me is against me,” said Jesus in Matt. 12.30.

Those who profess to know and follow Christ and yet attempt to welcome the Muslim faith and Hebrew faith as “legitimate paths” God created for humanity throw out most of the Bible. They create their own religion and rewrite Scripture to suit themselves! They are idolaters bowing at the feet of some fabricated fiction of their own minds. May God judge those who corrupt scripture and spread such nonsense.

They believe their agenda is admirable because they are bringing everyone together, but true unity cannot be found on human terms. We will only find peace, harmony, and unity when we all bow before Jesus Christ, Lord of all. That’s not PC. But that’s Bible truth.

With love for our enemies, we simply preach the truth and let the word of God have its way among men. Hold fast to Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters!

Christians Only

White_sign_racial_hatredMy grandpa lived through the fall of Apartheid in South Africa. He tells powerful stories about the segregation of those days, how blacks, whites, and colourds were not to be in each others areas after sundown. Racial animosity saturated the country, and these forms of segregation are not dead in the world! Far from it, folks split, mark, name, keep distance, and even kill because of racial, religious, social, and economic differences.

Because of the sins of mankind, God divided men at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). He caused different families to speak in different tongues so that they could not communicate effectively and so that they would divide from one another! That’s right–God intended men to divide, and it was a punishment for sin. They were not obeying His mandate to spread out and fill the earth.

Much later in history, God drew men of all races back together in His Son, and He began this process by overcoming the language barrier on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Jesus broke down the greatest dividing wall in existence, a religious wall, the Law of Moses, which separated the Jews from the Gentiles (Ephesians 2). Now He calls all men to repent by submitting to His Son Jesus Christ. There is no place for segregation in Jesus Christ!

In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no male or female, because all souls belong to God in the same way. All souls have the same value to God. There is nothing within you or me to make us greater or less than our neighbors or our spouses or the folks across the ocean.

When Jesus arrived on earth and began His ministry, He came into a split and divided Jewish community. Even within Israel itself existed a myriad of factions: Pharisee, Sadducee, Essene, Zealot, Herodian, etc. And Jesus pulled men from all of these factions to be part of His most trusted team of twelve, the apostles! Matthew, the tax collector, lived in truce and allegiance to the authorities who were currently oppressing the Jews. Simon, the Zealot, hated those traitors with a passion. Paul, on the fact-track to becoming a great leader of the Pharisees, would never have accepted half of the other twelve because of various traditions and Scripture interpretations.

But Jesus Himself did not accept any of the factions. Graciously, He ministered to all of the factions, but He continued to challenge every one of them. No Jewish sect was correct. Only God is correct; only Jesus walked the pure walk; and His challenge to us is to walk as He walked!

Denominations in USA

Can we walk outside the gross religious sectarianism of our day? Can we lovingly minister to men and women of every denomination without accepting the corruptions existing among those denominations? I believe God’s challenge to us is exactly this: to walk with Him without allowing any earthly, man-created system to dictate our path. King Hezekiah, King Josiah, Nehemiah and Ezra, and the reformation leaders in the late 1400s and 1500s had this same heart: return to Scripture Alone! Those men sought to escape the power and systems of men in order to walk simply with God.

I’m afraid those same fighters and martyrs would view our current fractured landscape of so-called “Christianity” with heavy hearts. I know I do. First, I seek to align myself first with the Lord through the word of His Holy Spirit. Second, I seek to align myself with brothers and sisters who have a heart for that same word of God: Scripture Alone! Though this is the only way to unity in Christ, because of our messy human situations and imperfect understandings and sin, we’ll never achieve perfect unity on earth. But can we strive for the ideal? Can we give ourselves to tearing down the walls separating the sects, as Jesus gave His life-blood to tear down the wall separating Jew and Gentile?

We surely cannot do this by creating another sect! We must be Christians only.

Jeremy and Judy: A Parable

Kitchen RemodelJeremy has a strong desire to please Judy, his young wife. From time to time Judy lets Jeremy know there is something he can do for her which would make her happy. Or, more often than not, she let’s him know what is making her unhappy, and he then feels an obligation to fix it for her. Jeremy believes his job as husband is to make his wife happy, and when she’s upset he feels failure.

When Judy complained about her kitchen (“it looks drab…this refrigerator is such a beast…don’t you wish we had more updated cabinets?”), Jeremy drew up a plan to fix it for her. He went out on a financial limb to purchase a sweet new refrigerator on a new Lowe’s credit card. He bought the materials to reface the cabinets with sanding, painting, and new hardware. For over a month now he’s been working nights and weekends to make her kitchen something she can be proud of.

This evening Judy comes home, a downcast expression on her face.

“What’s wrong?” Jeremy inquires. Clearly his wife is not happy; what can he do for her?

sadwoman-164299_640“I don’t know,” she replies. “I was just over at our neighbor’s house, and you should have seen her kitchen! Why can we never afford anything like that? They have this refrigerator that looks like it came out of a science fiction movie, stone countertops, dutch oven, shiny chrome everywhere. Everything is so…big and perfect. I just wish sometimes we could have something that nice.”

Jeremy stands before her, his hands still raw from hours of sanding cabinets. Something inside him deflates; a light dims in his eyes; a fire smolders. In silence he thinks of the toil, sweat, blood, and money he has been pouring into this kitchen. For Judy. Perhaps he has been naive, thinking his hard work could make her happy. Five minutes ago he was anticipating Judy’s delight and praise at the progress he’s been making. Now he doesn’t feel like even looking at his handiwork, let alone continuing his labor. He feels failure because he doesn’t make enough money to give Judy what she wants.

As I think about Jeremy and Judy, I wonder how God hears our complaining. We sometimes sulk, “Lord, Bob has such a great life, a new car every couple of years, a gorgeous house. How come You haven’t blessed me like him?” We even compare our husbands, wives, kids, and parents to other families!

ComplainingWhat does complaining do? It destroys! It crushes spirits. It spreads discontent and reveals a complete lack of appreciation for what God has given. Never does complaining accomplish anything positive. This is, I expect, why God inspired Paul to write the following:

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2.14-15)

Israel complained about their lack of water, their lack of food, their lack of nice food as they followed God’s leading in the wilderness. God eventually killed many of them because of their complaining (1 Cor. 10.6-11). In essence, they were telling God, “We don’t like the way you provide for us. We don’t appreciate Your leadership.”

There is power in complaining–power to destroy. What has God given you? Is it not enough? Do you deserve any of it, anyway? Why should we expect God to give us exactly the same things as another has? “It’s not fair!” we challenge. Does that not call God’s integrity into question? In fact, He has been more than fair with every one of us. Relish what you have, and don’t sweat what you don’t. If you don’t have it, you don’t need it. What you need is Jesus Christ beside you–and that is all.

Kings of Judah Lived in Reference to the Temple – Part 1

Israelite PrayingJudah was blessed to enjoy God’s presence in their midst. In Jerusalem, any Jew could look to the highest hill and see the monumental structure of Solomon’s temple standing tall against the sky, and he could know his God had promised to dwell there among His people. If a priest walked into the temple, he would find it dazzlingly beautiful–but empty of any form of presence. No physical image lived in this temple because God is spirit. A Jew knew God lived there only through faith.

After Solomon’s son Rehoboam assumed the throne, he did not walk in the righteousness of David nor in the wisdom of Solomon. During Rehoboam’s reign “Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem and took away the treasuries of the house of the LORD…” (2 Chr. 12.9), including the gold shields Solomon had made. Instead of crying out to God for help, Rehoboam accepted the loss and replaced the gold shields with bronze replicas, settling for less than the best. Indeed, without God we must settle for less than the best.

Instead of trusting in God for help, Rehoboam’s grandson Asa took “silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the LORD and of the king’s house and sent to Ben-Hadad king of Syria” in order to make a treaty with Syria against Israel. Can you imagine taking what is God’s and giving it to a pagan king in order to protect yourself? Asa did that.

Praying at Wailing WallAfter Asa came Jehoshaphat. While Scripture does not record his jumping habits, it does record his abiding righteousness and faith. When the nations of Moab, Amon, and Edom simultaneously threatened Judah, Jehoshaphat prayed to Yahweh God from the Temple. His prayer contains a wealth of riches:

Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, and said: “O LORD God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’ And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir—whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them—here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit. O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” (2 Chr. 20.5-12)

Though all these kings lived with reference to the temple, some defiled the house of the Lord and some adored and honored God’s house. Faith made the difference. Many of the kings of Judah were not men of faith and righteousness; they were not interested in following God’s commandments or keeping the covenant. But a few loved God, loved His presence, loved living close to His house.

Where would you like to live? How would you like to live in God’s house? Jesus said in John 14.2, “In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” In His presence we shall live!

Solomon Builds the Temple (2 Chronicles 1-9)

Solomon's TempleIn a letter addressed to Hiram, king of the nearby region of Tyre, Solomon wrote:

And the temple which I build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods. But who is able to build Him a temple, since heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him? Who am I then, that I should build Him a temple, except to burn sacrifice before Him? (2 Chronicles 2.5-6)

With the copious provisions his father had collected along with further materials he prepared from surrounding regions, “Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. And he began to build on the second day of the second month in the fourth year of his reign” (2 Chr. 3.1-2; cf. 1 Chr. 21.28-22.4). Hiram, king of Tyre, sent his master craftsman, Huram, to aid Solomon in the fine metal work, cloth work, and engraving which decorated the Holy House (2.13-14).

Solomon’s structure surely outshone every other earthly temple, as the details in chapters 3-4 suggest. Many have constructed replicas and models of this temple based on the details found here, and I encourage you to check out some online pictures and videos (for example, this one and this one) to get a feel for it’s grandeur.

When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he first performed a ceremony to dedicate the Ark of the Covenant, which David had brought into Jerusalem many years previous. The priests placed the Ark in the Most Holy Place under the wings of two giant cherubim.

For the cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark, and the cherubim overshadowed the ark and its poles. The poles extended so that the ends of the poles of the ark could be seen from the holy place, in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside… Nothing was in the ark except the two tablets which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they had come out of Egypt. (2 Chr. 5.7-10)

Solomon's TempleAs the priests sang and played music with cymbals, stringed instruments, harps, and trumpets, “the house of the LORD was filled with a cloud so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God” (2 Chr. 5.13-14). What an awesome sight!

But God wasn’t finished displaying His glory. Solomon continued with a dedication ceremony for the entire Temple, during which he prayed an amazing prayer asking God to remain in the Temple and always hear His people when they prayed towards the Temple in repentant, trusting faith. In His prayer, Solomon recognized that God alone knows the hearts of the sons of men (6.30) and that there is no one who does not sin (6.36). Again and again he petitioned, “When they return to you with all their heart…may You hear…and when You hear, forgive.”

When Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD had filled the LORD’s house. (7.1-2)

They responded with praise:

“For He is good,
For His mercy endures forever.” (7.3)

Amen!

“So the house of the LORD was completed” (8.16).

David Prepares for the Temple (1 Chronicles)

Hewn StoneYou may recall that David deeply desired to establish a majestic house for Yahweh God. Once the thought entered his heart, it became his life’s passion. However, God forbade David from actually building it, because he was a man of great bloodshed. Instead, his son Solomon, a man of peace, would build it.

Undeterred, David enthusiastically prepared for construction, devoting the last few years of his life to gathering materials, drawing the plans, and commissioning his son with the high honor.

Next time you read 1 Chronicles, look for the bold thread of TEMPLE PREPARATION. Here are some breadcrumbs:

  • David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (15.1-28)
  • David chose the Temple site: the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (21.28-22.1)
  • David prepared hewed stones and iron nails and gate fittings, collected bronze and cedar trees in abundance, making “abundant preparations before his death” (22.2-5)
  • David officially charged Solomon with the Temple’s construction (22.11)
  • David appointed directors for the music of the house of the Lord (25.6)
  • David appointed gatekeepers (26.12)
  • David appointed treasurers (26.22)
  • David dedicated the treasury in preparation to build the house of the Lord (29.1-20)

LumberIMPORTANT: All David did in preparation and the plans he delivered to Solomon were not of his own design and imagination. “David gave his son Solomon the plans…the plans for all that he had by the Spirit” (28.11-12), and he claimed, “All this the LORD made me understand in writing, by His hand upon me, all the works of these plans” (28.19). David was Spirit-filled; the plans for the Temple were God-breathed.

In a final prayer, David poured out his heart:

“O LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep this forever in the intent of the thoughts of the heart of Your people, and fix their heart toward You. And give my son Solomon a loyal heart to keep Your commandments and Your testimonies and Your statutes, to do all these things, and to build the temple for which I have made provision.” (29.18-19)

Looking back from beyond Babylonian captivity, the second-temple Jews remembered the first temple as they read these Chronicles. David’s passion for God’s glory must have inspired them, and the descriptions of God’s blessing and the beauty of the first house must have filled them with pride. Of course, their second temple couldn’t hold a candle to Solomon’s temple, but at least their heritage continued and they were able to worship Yahweh God in His prescribed manner.

The Temple of Chronicles

Solomon's TempleOld Testament books contain spectacular messages, enticing us to diligently search for them. As our church has lately studied through First and Second Chronicles, we have noticed the strong Temple Theme exposed in those books. The author of Chronicles wrote after Israel had returned from Babylonian captivity, and in this history he focused his efforts on the nation and kings of Judah, paying little attention to the norther kingdom of Israel, which God had scattered among the nations by this time. He also focused on the Levitical line, the tribe of priests. Jesus, of course, was both King and Priest, so Chronicles points strongly and definitely towards the coming Son of David and High Priest who fulfills all.

The first nine chapters of Chronicles often bore us to death with copious genealogies, lists of names we mostly don’t recognize and cannot now place. But notice the heavy emphasis even in the genealogies to the bloodlines of Judah (2-3; 9.3-9) and Levi (6; 9.10-34). In these introductory genealogical chapters, we discover the first mentions of the temple, the “house of the LORD” in 6.31-32:

“Now these are the men whom David appointed over the service of song in the house of the LORD, after the ark came to rest. They were ministering with music before the dwelling place of the tabernacle of meeting, until Solomon had built the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they served in their office according to their order.”

David did the preparing and Solomon did the building. Chronicles fleshes out this history.

  1. David Prepares for the Temple (1 Chronicles)
  2. Solomon Builds the Temple (2 Chronicles 1-9)
  3. Kings of Judah Live with Reference to the Temple (2 Chronicles 10.1-36.14
  4. Nebuchadnezzar Destroys the Temple (2 Chronicles 36.15-21)
  5. God Promises the Temple’s Rebuilding (2 Chronicles 36.22-23)

Outside JerusalemI plan to flesh this out more over the next few posts. But what is the point? To the Jewish readers in the 5th-4th Century BC, this history must have inspired great hope but also served as a sobering warning. Although they were God’s special and chosen people among all the nations of the earth and although they had been allowed to build God’s house in their capital city, their idolatry still provoked God to anger and caused Him to withdraw His favor.

When I read this today, I stand in awe of the LORD’s brilliant plan as He worked through human history to prepare the way for Jesus! Jesus did not enter the world unannounced, but the world had centuries of advance teaching. And if God cast Israel away from His sight because they defiled His house, how much more will He cast us from His presence if we defile the temple of His Son?

Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? (Hebrews 2.1-4)

Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10.28-31)

Do You Choose to Be Blessed or Happy?

Happy KidsDo you live in a first-world country? If so, you probably have been spoon-fed a definition of success and happiness that not only is anti-biblical but is outright destructive to your real happiness!

What is the American dream? Don’t we all just want the freedom to do what we want when we want, to indulge in our favorite entertainment, to land the perfect high-paying job, to drink our coffee on the back porch in peace, to enjoy the hobbies closest to our hearts, to marry whom we wish, to retire at a young enough age that we can spend the last half of our lives relaxing and playing? Does that sound about right?

How self-centered, sad, and short-sighted!

Exactly who sells this dream? Doesn’t the government, promising to give whatever we desire, guaranteeing our health, granting security in our old age, making sure food is on our table, etc.? Why do we buy in to this dream? Obviously we have fallen to the notion that government can actually accomplish what God has promised to do–fulfill our every need.

Poor FeetBut they can’t take care of every need. In fact, the government really comprises a frenzied mob of sinful, fallible, power-hungry individuals who are just as in the dark as their constituents. Yes, God ordained government for a purpose (Romans 13.1ff), but providing all our needs is not its purpose! Government is not God.

Government’s definition of “blessed” is not God’s definition, either. For the world, “blessed” means having lots of stuff or at least enough stuff to make you happy. The world equates being blessed with being happy.

God, on the other hand, divorces the concepts of blessed and happy, rather telling us to consider ourselves blessed even when we are not happy! Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake. True, Jesus told His disciples to “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy” when they were hated, excluded, reviled, and had their name cast out (Luke 6.22-23), but this kind of rejoicing can only come when the disciple completely trusts God’s promises of future blessing. We don’t feel like rejoicing when we are persecuted, when family turns against us, when neighbors mock us, when friends laugh at our convictions, when we are thrown in prison for Jesus’ name’s sake.

We don’t feel happy, but we know we are blessed–because Jesus said so, and we trust Him.

Imperfect BeautyDo you want to be blessed with your hope set on awesome promises of future glory? Or do you want to just be happy now? If you choose immediate happiness, you walk among a large crowd, because the majority seek immediate gratification. But Jesus clearly pronounced “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6.25). In fact, even if you pursue immediate happiness, you will not attain it. It’s a pipe dream, a carrot the devil dangles before the face of every stupid ox of a man, and we follow as if going to the slaughter, lowing as we go.

God designed us to be happy, but not by following the devil’s carrot. Everlasting happiness is a proper goal, and we can have it if we agree with God as to how to attain it–by faithfully walking with Him through this messed-up life.

Forsake worldly happiness, for it will only bring ruin. Choose rather to be blessed, and eternal happiness will come!