Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Why Settle for Second Best?

"See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown on the mountain" Ex. 25:40.

As if leading a large contingent of former slaves to freedom wasn't a big enough challenge, God handed Moses a set of blueprints (so to speak) and said, "Build this." No small feat when the labor pool's resumes read: "Can make bricks from mud and straw."

The tabernacle required skilled craftsmanship in: woodworking, textile design and manufacture, gemology, and working with precious metals. Everything was to be built to exact specifications all while in the middle of nowhere, and on the move. Did someone forget to tell God that the potential builders were totally unqualified? No wonder Moses on several occasions was ready to quit.

Despite impossible odds, the job was successfully accomplished. Throughout their wilderness wanderings, and on into entering and settling the Promised Land, this mobile sanctuary served its purpose. Then things changed.

After a Philistine invasion and the capture of the ark, it is unclear whether or not the tabernacle survived. The Philistines, initially thrilled with the ark's capture soon regretted their accomplishment, and sent it back.

Fast forward to David's reign. Transported to Jerusalem, the ark was housed in an open air tent, visible to all, and surrounded by worshipers 24/7. This lasted for years. With a genuine love for his God, David desired to build Him a real house. Israel had a king like all the other countries around them. Why should their God, Who is the only true God, not have a grand temple like the pagan deities? Circumstance within his control prevented David from achieving his dream. The task fell to his son Solomon, who did an outstanding job-of sorts.

The Bible never states that either of the two temples built were according to God's specifications as the tabernacle had been. It appears that God's houses were built without His input or opinion. How odd.

In the wilderness, the tabernacle was centrally located in the midst of all the tribes. Everyone had easy access, but if you really wanted to interact with God you went to the Tent of Meeting just outside of the camp. When the temple was permanently located in Jerusalem all this changed.

Several times a year mandatory attendance at the temple was required. For those in the greater Jerusalem area this wasn't a problem. One could sleep late, roll out of bed and down the street just in time for the service to begin. For the rest of the Israelites, these trips were a major undertaking. People today find traveling in climate controlled vehicles for an hour or less too taxing when it comes to church attendance (including Christmas and Easter). How many today would spend days on foot or donkey in order to get to church? Can't really blame the Israelites for skipping service when we do the same thing.

David's problem is the same today. We love God - a lot. We want to DO something spectacular for Him and wind up erecting structures He neither requested nor designed. The original Tabernacle was portable. As the tribes fanned out and settled the land, it could have been, if God directed, moved. No one tribe would have had an unfair advantage travel wise. Nor could any tribe adopt an attitude of spiritual superiority. Jerusalem became the defacto center of all things religious, but not because God said so. David, a godly king, came up with the idea. Unfortunately, kingship was never God's idea either. Settling for second best always has a price.

How about you? What over-the-top dreams do you harbor as a means to show your love and dedication to God? Is there even a whiff of an attempt to build up your own name and credibility lurking in the background? How would you react if God said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

God's plan for the Tabernacle was grand and He isn't opposed to big dreams. The problem comes when we try to improve upon His design. Are you willing to let Him construct your life as a Tabernacle that He'd enjoy residing in?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Watch Where You Step

"But Jael, Heber's wife picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground and he died." Judges 4:21.

Wow...no Three Strike Rule or special consideration for a first offense. Jael knew how to get her point across when it came to a violation of her boundaries. Watch where you step buddy!

This incident can leave you scratching your head; what's up with this crazy lady? Showing up at her home could be fatal. So much for Bedouin hospitality, you'd be better off going to your enemy's camp.

The story is all about boundaries, and even if violating someone's could save your life, your decision to do so just might be lethal. Ask Sisera.

The crux of the story is found in Judges 4:17. Sisera was defeated in battle and forced to run for his life. He sought protection at the home of Heber, a friend of King Jabin who was Sisera's boss. For some unusual reason Sisera sought refuge in the tent of Jael, Heber's wife. In that culture, a big NO-NO.

At that time only a woman's husband or father could enter her tent, no other males were allowed. Sisera may have been counting on the fact that no one searching for him would dream of violating the sanctity of Jael's tent to look for him.

The Bible does imply that he entered with Jael's permission. Why she did this isn't clear; to do so was to sign her own death warrant. Why did Sisera single her out and not go to the main tent of Heber? Better yet, where was the camp sentry whose job was to watch for visitors and direct them to the proper place? Perhaps caught off guard, Jael had reason to fear for her life and the lives of her family if she resisted. After all, Sisera was the highest ranking official in the king's army. We just don't know.

What's clear is that Jael didn't take this breach of etiquette lightly. Her reaction was extreme and the lesson to learn is an important one. Dire circumstances do not warrant disrespecting others, violating their boundaries and putting them in danger. Sisera would have known the predicament he'd placed Jael in, but he didn't care. He considered his life more important than her's. She disagreed.

How about you? Have you been tempted to overstep and encroach on someone's boundaries in order to save yourself? What negative repercussions followed your actions? What safeguards can you put in place in your own life to see that you don't do this again?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Day of the Lord

"He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" 1 Cor. 1:8.

"Who will be making you folks stable, certain and established on good footing until maturity (until attainment of the purposed goal; until accomplishment of the intended and destined results): people not [being] open to accusation (or: those not in the midst of a [legal] charge, not being called into account, or considered in some category; unimpeachable ones), within the midst of and in union with the Day of our Lord [Christ or Yahweh] - Jesus Christ! (or: in the Day which is our Lord, Jesus Christ; or: in the day of [Yahweh], which is our Master, Jesus [the] Anointed.) [comment: the phrase 'day of the Lord' was used by the prophets to signify God's influence and activity upon people.]" 1 Cor. 1:8, J. Mitchell translation.

Is Mitchell's premise, based on Koine Greek, that the Day of the Lord refers to God's influence and involvement with people biblically sound? If so, may every day be the Day of the Lord in my life.

Naturally speaking, the term day isn't just a 24 hour period. It also includes the hours when the sun doesn't shine. Jesus was crystal clear concerning the true source of light.

"As long as it is day, we must do the works of Him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I'm in the world, I am the light of the world." John 9:4-5.

According to Mitchell, Jesus is the Day of the Lord. He is the light, an influence on and an activity in people's lives. Therefore, we can have hope that all will not be reduced to chaos.

This is beautifully depicted in Genesis 1. Tohu bohu is the Jewish word which describes the condition that existed before the God spoke the words, "Light be." In the same manner that the cosmos' disarray was resolved by the entrance of God's light, our lives suffer the same state of affairs until God intervenes. Remove God from the equation and it is easy to see why individuals, governments, world systems and even religions get derailed. Operating in darkness guarantees ultimate failure.

I'm thankful that today for many it is the Day of the Lord. He continues to impact and actively participate in the lives of all who have received Him, and even in the lives of those who haven't. People of the light receive additional clarity, those in darkness find a means of escape.

The Day of the Lord isn't necessarily to be feared, but to be embraced. However, we must also take Jesus' words seriously. "Night is coming..." The removal of God's light isn't a pleasant thought. It's best to take full advantage of it while we can.

How about you? Does the term Day of the Lord dredge up images of apocalyptic doom and destruction only? How, if at all, does Mitchell's translation change your thinking? With Jesus as the Light of the World, how has hope taken root in your heart and given you a more optimistic outlook for the future? How can you take full advantage of God's influence/activity on our world in your daily life?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Good Old Days

"Do not long for 'the good old days'. This is not wise"
Ecc. 7:10 (NLT).

Admit it. The past usually looks better than the present when viewed through the rear-view mirror of memory. It's easy to look back to childhood when life was easier and carefree. And for kids it is. There are few to no responsibilities to shoulder. Parents, however, may express a different sentiment about that era if asked.

Christians can fall into the same ditch. Disillusioned with the Church's present condition, they long for the simplicity the first-century believers enjoyed. What parallel universe did these Christians live in anyway? A careful reading of the New Testament doesn't print a problem-free picture of the Church's early beginnings.

Larry Osborne, author of Accidental Pharisees warns of idolizing the past. The early Church faced many of the same issues we do today. Take prejudice for one.

The early church prejudiced? Blasphemy! Sacrilege! Sad, but true, they had their issues. Initially instructed to remain in Jerusalem, when empowered by the Spirit they were to take the Gospel further and further abroad until they reached the "uttermost parts of the earth." They didn't. The uttermost parts were Gentile territories and no self-respecting Jew risked contamination by traversing on pagan soil. These early believers were saved but their mindset toward non-Jews needed redemption.

The New Testament records attempts by the Judaizers to impose the Law on Gentile Christians. The Book of Acts recounts the inequitable distribution of aid between the Jewish and Greek widows. The Greeks were getting the short end of the stick. This accusation was serious enough for the Apostles to appoint a group of spirit-filled men of integrity to ensure that all were treated fairly.

Peter and Paul had a major confrontation concerning Peter's attitude shift toward Gentile believers. Peter, the man with the heavenly vision who paved the way for evangelizing the Gentiles, caved under pressure and withdrew from fellowshipping with non-Jewish believers. Paul publicly called him out on this hypocrisy.

Osborne offers another example of the early Church's problems. The New Testament doesn't contain directives for Christians to sell everything as the Jerusalem church did. Paul wrote that people with means should be generous toward those in need, but he didn't advocate one liquidate all of one's assets. Paul eventually had to take up an offering for the Church in Jerusalem because they were broke.

Believing Christ's return to be imminent, Church members camped out and waited. The current culture of hospitality lent itself to hosting extended stays. Fellowshipping daily together was the norm, but Christ didn't return as anticipated and the money ran out. No wonder Paul reminded the Thessalonians that if you don't work, you don't eat. (2 Thes. 3:10). Once again, our concept of a picture perfect first-century church is flawed.

In all fairness to the first-century believers, they were pioneering new territory without a guidebook or map. For both Jew and Gentile this was a brand new way of relating not only to God, but also to other people. As Christ, the Light of the World, shown in their hearts old mindsets, biases and behaviors were exposed and change was necessary. We all know how difficult that can be.

"Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold I will do something new. Now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it?" Isaiah 43:18-19.

The questions posed to Israel is pertinent to us today. Will we get so caught up in trying to replicate the past and its glory that we'll miss out on the new things God is doing? He's not confined to any single methodology. He mixes things up, and the Church eventually catches on. We need to be alert for change and not hang on to the same-old-same-old.

How about you? Are you open to God re-configuring your concept of the Church and how it should function? He never deviates from His foundational truths, but He'll continuously bring to light where we're operating out of our own ideas of who God is as opposed to His true nature. Are you willing to sacrifice your comfort zone for a deeper relationship with God, your brothers and sisters in Christ, and those who don't yet know Him? Can you bid the good old days a fond farewell and embrace the new things God has in store for us now? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Simple Three Word Answers for Difficult (not Stupid) Questions

"Like apples of gold in settings of silver, so is a word skillfully spoken." Prov. 25:11.

Growing up in the Stone Age, one of my favorite reads was Mad Magazine (What, Me Worry?). Initially banned in our home until my father read it and realized it wouldn't turn our brains to mush, Mad came out of the closet and onto the coffee table.

A favorite feature was, Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. Although the Mad I grew up with has changed, this portion still lives on today...in Christian circles! Too often serious, difficult questions are deemed stupid and are dismissed with a zinger, which is really no answer at all.

It's true that believers have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), but our thoughts and words sometimes are so un-Jesus like that silence would be a wiser response, and say so much more. The mind of Christ is accessed by knowing Him through experience and not just intellectually. Even those actively pursing a deep, intimate relationship with Him can find themselves at a loss for words when posed with hard questions.

Here are a few simple three word phrases that can help when faced with the un-answerable.

1. "I don't know." Congratulations! You have permission to not be God's Official Informed Source about everything. Don't feel compelled to manufacture answers to things you don't know about. Don't worry about disappointing someone. It's better to admit your lack of knowledge than to try to bluff your way through in order to save face. They may not like your response, but will appreciate your honesty and unwillingness to try to con them.

2. "I don't understand." Why are some folks healed and others aren't? Why do wickedness, lawlessness and injustice exist and seemingly go unpunished? Why do my beloved Philadelphia Eagles continually implode and self-destruct? Some situations defy logic and reason. We don't have be able to explain everything.

3. "I don't care." Unlike a snappy Mad Magazine retort or the more recent vintage, "Whatever!" this confession relays the total release of and contentment with things you can't explain. Taking a position that refuses to dwell on the inexplicable frees the mind from endless machinations and turmoil. Your stomach will thank you for this too.

4. "And it's ok." This wraps up 1 through 3 in a neat, tidy package. Don't beat yourself up when faced with dilemmas that have no rhyme or reason. Some things, like my Eagles, will never be understood this side of eternity..."And it's ok."

Scripture exhorts us to always be ready to give a testimony to the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). We're also told not to wrack our brains for those perfect Snappy Answers to Difficult (not Stupid) Questions. Holy Spirit is never put on the spot. He will give us the right answer every time when necessary (Luke 12:11-12). Sometimes it just might be one of these little phrases.

How about you? How does it feel to admit there are things you neither know nor understand? How do you think others will react to an honest admission of your ignorance in these matters? How can your relationship with God be enhanced sans the pressure to explain His actions or lack thereof? How will your life improve by not having to be a 'know-it-all'?