Wednesday, July 31, 2013

God Among His People

But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!
II Chronicles 6:18

King Solomon asked this piercing question as He dedicated the great temple he had built for the Lord. I must admit that it is an apt question. As a whole, the human race is hopelessly corrupt, selfish, and debase. Would a holy God live among us? 

Solomon's question is answered in several places throughout Scripture, notably in Ezekiel 37 and Revelation 21. In Ezekiel 37 God reveals His desire to do nothing less than dwell among His people in the sanctuary of His temple.
...I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’” (Ezekiel 37:26-28)
In Revelation 21 the apostle John is given a glimpse of what this will look like in heaven as he hears a loud voice coming from the throne of God proclaiming...
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21:3)
It turns out that God's desire to dwell among His people and exist in close relationship with us is a central pillar of His great plan for us. It has been ever since Adam and Eve first rebelled against Him and broke the close relationship that they enjoyed with Him. Since that day God has been working to regain that relationship with His people. 

How can we ignore a God who desires closeness with us like this? How can we ignore a God who paid such a high price (the blood of Christ) to make this closeness possible? Yet, we do. We ignore the Word that He labored to put into our hands. We take it for granted and let it gather dust on our shelves. We refuse to enter His throne room in prayer, even though Jesus purchased that right for us with His precious blood. We refuse to give Him our whole hearts in worship, choosing instead to offer a sacrifice of half-hearted praise. For far too many of us dwelling with God with face-to-face nearness in heaven will feel like meeting a stranger for the first time.

Take some time today and "dwell" with God. Sit in His presence. Sing His praises. Read His Word and apply it to your life. Pray. Lift up your requests and listen to the leading of His Spirit. You will not regret time you spent with your Lord. 

For further reading, here are some passages you can "dwell" with God in today.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Take My Advice

Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.
Proverbs 19:20

The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.
Proverbs 12:15

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.
Proverbs 12:1

I don't know about you, but I don't always do too well at accepting advice. This is especially true of unsolicited advice. So the other day when a church member began to offer his insights on how I could improve my ministry, it was hard for me not to get angry. As he explained the benefits of restructuring my ministry after the pattern of his ministry, I felt myself grow defensive rather quickly.

I stood smiling and nodding politely but I was beginning to seethe on the inside when the Holy Spirit gently reminded me of the many biblical proverbs which state that fools hate correction and reject advice. In that moment God graciously placed this question on my heart, "Is this person trying to hurt me or help me?" Immediately I knew the answer. The person I was speaking with was a friend who cares about me. It was a man whom I respect and who was legitimately trying to help. I realized that I was being defensive because of my own insecurity not because he was attacking me. 

So I stopped nodding politely and determined to start actually listening to what my friend was saying. I wasn't sure that I agreed with much that he was saying, but I determined to hear him out anyway. I told myself that I could think through and pray over his suggestions later to determine whether any of them should actually be enacted in my ministry. For now, my goal was to simply hear him out so that I could see if there might be some gold nugget of wisdom in there somewhere.

To be honest, I left that conversation thinking I disagreed with my friend and that I probably wouldn't apply any of what he had said. But I also left the conversation wondering if I was wrong. "Maybe I have missed something," I thought. Now just a matter of weeks later, I am getting rather close to implementing one of my friend's suggestions. If I had allowed my defensiveness to cause me to stop my ears to my friend's advice, then I would have been the living embodiment of the stupid man in Proverbs 12:1 who hates correction. Instead, thanks to the Holy Spirit's gentle rebuke and a good friend in Christ, my ministry is about to be improved. He and I still don't exactly see eye to eye, but because I was willing to listen to his advice my eyes were opened to new possibilities I otherwise would not have considered.

Ask God to help you be more like the wise man or woman who is secure enough to accept advice, rebuke, correction, and instruction. You don't have to accept every piece of advice that comes your way, but at least be wise enough to listen to it. Only a fool thinks he is always right.  

For further reading...
  • Proverbs- How about a book of fatherly advice?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

These Cows Are Making Me Look Bad

So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.
1 Samuel 6:10-12

In I Samuel 4 & 5 we read of how the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant, bring it back to their land, and of how God strikes them with plagues of rats and tumors. After quite a bit of heartache, the Philistine priests and diviners suggest a solution. They decide to make a new cart and place the ark on it. Then they will take two nursing cows away from their calves and hitch them to this cart. These cows had never been in a yoke or pulled a cart before. They had never been to Israel before. By nature everything in these cows would compel them to return to their calves immediately. The Philistines reasoned that if the cows were to return the Ark of the Covenant to Israel then they could be certain that it was indeed God who had been plaguing them. If not, then perhaps it was just a coincidence.

As we read above, an amazing thing happened. Those two cows pulled that cart away from their calves and went straight up to Israel without turning to the right or the left lowing all the way. Now, I don't know a lot about cows so I asked someone who does whether cows low when they are happy or sad. He told me that cows low when they are sad. Without knowing why I was asking the question, he added that when you take their calves away to wean them, cows will low and bawl for days.

You and I can learn a lot about how we should serve God from these two cows. Though it meant leaving their calves behind (possibly to die without their mother's milk), and though it meant that they themselves would be sacrificed to the Lord (I Samuel 6:14), these cows obeyed the Lord's leading and went straight up toward Israel. Oh that we would serve God with such faithfulness! Though they mourn over the sacrifice God is asking them to make, they go straight after God's will without wavering or turning to the right or to the left.

Now, one could argue that God was using these cows against their will. Perhaps cows don't have free will. Perhaps God forced them to go against their will. That is a possibility. I can't say for sure that the cows had any say in the matter. But I do know this: when I stand before God and am judged for how obedient I was to Him and His word, I don't want to be showed up by any cows! So regardless of whether or not cows have free will before God, the simple truth is they followed God's bidding. And if a cow can do it, then I can too.

Certainly, there will be times when you mourn over what God has asked you to sacrifice on the altar for His glory. Yet, even in your mourning you should go straight after His will. Even if it means laying down your very life, do not stray to the right or to the left.

For further reading...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Born into Servitude

[Hannah] said... For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him. So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.
I Samuel 1:26-28
Hannah was a childless woman in a culture that measured a woman's worth by the number of her children. Worse than that, her husband had two wives. Though he favored Hannah more, his other wife had many children, and taunted Hannah with that fact. In despair, Hannah turned to the Lord for help vowing that if He would give her a son, she would give him to God's service all the days of his life. In today's verses Hannah takes her son, Samuel, who has now been weaned off her breast, to the temple and gives him over to the Lord's service. Samuel must have been a very young boy, maybe only two or three years old. From that time on he lived in the temple and served the Lord there.
Normally a child being born into servitude would be a reason for us to weep, but this particular servant gives us an example to follow. Samuel must have seen himself as belonging to God. He was God's servant in a literal sense of the phrase. "As long as he lived, he was dedicated to the Lord."
How would your life be different if you viewed yourself the same way? Now, I doubt that your parents made a vow to God when they were trying to get pregnant, but in a very real sense you belong to God as well. You may choose to rebel against Him, but He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and He owns you and me as well. What if you accepted that fact and lived your life accordingly? What if you were dedicated to the Lord as long as you lived? What if you decided that you wouldn't live your life to make yourself happy, or be financially secure, or even change the world, but that you would live as God's servant doing always and only what He called you to do? Would your life look very different?
For further reading...
  • Samuel's life points us to another man who did live like this. Normally we don't think of Samuel as pointing forward to Jesus in significant ways, but the writer of the gospel of Luke must see a parallel because he seems to allude to I Samuel 2:26 ("And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people") in Luke 2:52 as he summarizes Jesus' childhood ("And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man"). Indeed, as we look closer we see that Samuel reminds us of Jesus in several ways. Both entered this world through a miraculous birth. Both came after corrupt religious leaders and led the people of Israel back to true religion. Both were "faithful priests who did what was in God's heart and mind" (I Samuel 2:35). And both were servants of God from birth.
  • Luke 17:7-10- Consider this high expectation Jesus places on His followers as servants.
  • I Samuel 2:18-20 endearingly records that Hannah made Samuel a new robe each year and brought it to him when they made the yearly sacrifice. Though Samuel did not live with his mother, it is clear she loved him dearly.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It Starts Small

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32
It occurred to me tonight as my wife and I read to our daughter out of her story Bible that God has a habit of starting large undertakings in small ways. When His people were enslaved in Egypt, even before they cried out for His help in Exodus 2:23-25, God began His rescue plan by saving one little baby boy from Pharaoh's plan to kill him (Exodus 1-2). Think about it. When God's people needed a Savior, He didn't send an army or even a lone warrior. God sent a baby! Then He worked in Moses' life for 80 years - first giving him a heart for God's people (Acts 7:23-29) then teaching him to be a shepherd (Exodus 3:1-3) - before finally calling him at the burning bush to lead the exodus.
Much, much later when the Savior to whom Moses' life pointed came to rescue God's people from their sins, He came not as a conquering warrior to trample Satan under His feet, but He also came as a seemingly helpless baby boy. A baby who, like Moses, was rescued from the hands of a murderous king. A baby who was dependent on a teenage girl for nourishment and care. This boy grew to be a man as He waited thirty years to begin His ministry. It was through Him that God redeemed a people for His name from every tribe, people, nation and tongue (Revelation 5:9). It was He who crushed the power of Satan by allowing Himself to be crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5).
There is a profound wisdom in God's plan that is beyond my understanding. But tonight as I consider it, it occurs to me that perhaps this is why God opposes the proud and so often chooses to exalt the humble by using them to do great things (James 4:6-7). It is how He has gone about doing things for a long time. It maximizes His glory. If this is right, then one major tactic the enemy might use to make us unfruitful in the service of our Lord is to encourage creeping pride in our lives. Examine your heart. Do you find pride? If so, ask the Lord to root it out. Perhaps this small prayer will be the beginning of another great work of God in your life.
For further reading...
  • Exodus 1-3- Consider how the Lord worked in Moses' early life.
  • Matthew 1-3- Compare Jesus' early life to that of Moses.