May 31, 2015

Building for God’s glory . . .

1 Chronicles 28:1–29:2, 2 Timothy 4:9–22, Psalm 90:1–17, Matthew 28:20

One of my OT professors was so focused on Christ that he could see shadows of Him throughout the OT. Because of that class, I also make far more connections from the OT to the NT and to the person and work of Jesus Christ. For instance, in the passing of the kingdom from David to Solomon, I see David as a shadow of Christ and Solomon as a shadow of the church, only because of how the king instructed his son.

David said to Solomon when he was ready to depart this earth, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20)

Jesus said to His disciples much the same thing just before He left this earth. He gave the work of making disciples to His followers then said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Then David the king said to all the assembly, “Solomon my son, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced, and the work is great, for the palace will not be for man but for the Lord God. So I have provided for the house of my God, so far as I was able, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, besides great quantities of onyx and stones for setting, antimony, colored stones, all sorts of precious stones and marble.” (1 Chronicles 29:1–2)

In the NT, King Jesus tells His people to continue building the new temple where He dwells now — in each person who believes in Him. To do that, we are told that: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3–4)

Just as David supplied the materials for that first temple that his son would build, Jesus Christ supplies all that is needed for His children to be His temple!

Builders of His kingdom sounds like a glorious and rewarding work, yet this can be difficult and lonely. Paul had amazing success, yet at times he felt alone and abandoned . . .

“At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:16–18)

The work of being a Christian and taking part as co-workers in building His kingdom is not easy. Like the psalmist, I’ve prayed this way, “Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:16–17)

May 30, 2015

Biblical Connections

1 Chronicles 26:1–27:34, 2 Timothy 4:1–8, Psalm 89:23–52

When David passed the kingdom to his son Solomon, he organized every aspect. He put someone in charge of all roles and activities. The Bible lists their names: priests, musicians, gatekeepers, officials, the military, tribes, and even who tilled the soil, cared for the vineyards, wine cellars, olive and sycamore trees, the oil, all herds, camels, donkeys, and sheep.

One detail catches my eye. It stands in contrast to an important part of OT culture: the place of the firstborn in each family. The verse says: “And Hosah, of the sons of Merari, had sons: Shimri the chief (for though he was not the firstborn, his father made him chief) . . . .” (1 Chronicles 26:10)

Not very often did the rights of the firstborn go to anyone other than the oldest son, so I did some investigating. The name ‘Shimri’ means vigilant. I could not find the names of Hosah’s other sons, but this father was a gate keeper who guarded entrance to the temple. He would have to be a man of discernment in order to be in that role.

No doubt his discernment extended to his family. My guess is that he could see that Shimri had the qualities that fit leadership and warranted being made chief. Perhaps the brother who had actually been born before him was not nearly so qualified, not only for the position of ‘chief’ but the privilege of being the ‘firstborn.’

Firstborn sons often inherited a double portion and were honored in other ways, but the most significant is that they were considered as ‘belonging to God.’ Because of Hosah’s position as gatekeeper, he opened the temple gates only to those who belonged there. Perhaps Hosah could see that Shimri was a man strong of faith and the older brother was not. Whatever the reason, this father made his son the firstborn rather than his older brother.

This reminds me of the verse in Proverbs that tells parents to raise up children according to their bent, their abilities and giftedness. They even choose names for them that wound up describing their character. If that was the case in this family, it makes sense for this father to give a vigilant offspring a role of responsibility over a son who might have good qualities but not that of leadership.

Today’s NT reading is Paul’s exhortation to Timothy. Other verses indicate that Timothy needed this encouragement. He was criticized for being too young, and was also a timid man. Yet Paul saw beyond these realities to a greater one; the Lord God had gifted Timothy to be a pastor, so he must fulfill that gifting . . .  

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1–2) Paul built up Timothy because he could see this young man’s potential.

My children are adults. All three have professed faith in Christ and all three have strong convictions about justice and fairness, even though they have different gifts. Recognizing their gifts, their ‘bent’ and the desires of their hearts is as important now as it was when they were growing up. Like all people, they need encouragement.

The reading from the psalms goes back to the firstborn. This time it is about David, but this is a messianic psalm in that it speaks of the king in terms that fit the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Near the end, it says, “He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’ And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens.” (Psalm 89:26–29)

David, like Shimri, was made the firstborn even though he was the youngest brother. God blessed him, even called him a man after His own heart. Yet veiled in this Psalm filled with encouragement are signposts pointing to a greater reality to come, a King greater than David with a throne that will last for eternity.

The Messiah, Jesus Christ, did not need to be ‘made’ the firstborn for He is the only begotten Son of God. He is the vigilant one, the gatekeeper, the judge of the living and the dead, the great preacher and teacher, our best exhorter, the one who gifts us and urges us to serve Him with those gifts. His love is our love, and because of the covenant in His blood, I am established for eternity.

What a blessing to see connections in the Word of God!

May 29, 2015

Music and prophesy

1 Chronicles 24:1–25:31; 2 Timothy 3:10–17; Psalm 89:1–22

Today’s OT reading says something I’ve never noticed before (probably because I’ve too often scanned all the genealogies, names, and lists in Chronicles?) I’ve underlined the words that surprised me . . .

“David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals. The list of those who did the work and of their duties was: Of the sons of Asaph: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asharelah, sons of Asaph, under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied under the direction of the king. Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied with the lyre in thanksgiving and praise to the Lord.” (1 Chronicles 25:1–3)

The first one is a noun: prophet. The other two are verbs. The middle one says this was done under the direction of the king, and since David represents the Messiah, this is not a surprise. What surprised me is that the prophets used musical instruments to do it.

Most of us associate prophesy with predicting the future, but this word actually means ‘a message from God.’ It could be a prediction, but also could be His direction, or a statement of His standards. In this passage, He says that He can give that message through music. For that reason, it pays to pay attention while we sing those hymns and choruses; God could be speaking!

God certainly speaks through His Word also. The NT reading contains these well-know words, favorites of mine: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

I particularly love Christian music that uses Bible verses. I’ve even marked a musical symbol beside the verses I recognize as part of our current worship songs. Those verses, as this passage says, are messages from God. He teaches what I need to know, rebukes me for not heeding what I’ve been taught, corrects to help me know what to do instead of my mistakes, and instructs me in right living. While this comes primarily through the Word of God, it can come through the words of others, including my pastor, and even through music!

Besides hearing God speak, today’s music and the music of the OT gives me opportunity to praise Him. Today’s reading from the psalms, like most of them, is rich in praise. The psalmist lifts up the qualities of God that he appreciates . . .

“You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face, who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted.” (Psalm 89:13–16)

I’m blessed to read what happens to those who stay close to God in obedience and praise; we are blessed and because of having His righteousness, we are exalted!

May 28, 2015

God is still God

1 Chronicles 23:1–23:32; 2 Timothy 3:1–9; Psalm 88

When David was old, he made Solomon his son king over Israel. Then he did something that could be a great example to the kingdom of God today. He made some changes . . .  

First, David assembled all the leaders of Israel and the priests and the Levites. The Levites, thirty years old and upward, were numbered, and the total was 38,000 men. Then David said, “Twenty-four thousand of these shall have charge of the work in the house of the Lord, 6,000 shall be officers and judges, 4,000 gatekeepers, and 4,000 shall offer praises to the Lord with the instruments that I have made for praise” as he organized them in divisions corresponding to the sons of Levi. (1 Chronicles 23:2–6)

He explained later, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has given rest to his people, and he dwells in Jerusalem forever. And so the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the things for its service.” (1 Chronicles 23:25–26) Their situation had changed, so they didn’t need to do things they way they always did them.

My first thought went to those congregations who become stuck in habits that are no longer effective, but this applies to me also. Since graduation a couple weeks ago, I’m no longer studying several hours a day. My routine must change. I don’t want to go back to pre-study days because what God has taught me needs to be put into practice. I’ve thought of several things, and am now in the process of figuring out what to do next.

And times have changed. Since the NT was written, putting the history of Christianity on a popularity graph would reveal plenty of ups and downs. Currently, depending on what part of the world is in view, it could be at either end of the spectrum. Right now, Christian is not popular in my culture. This was predicted . . .

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:1–7)

Not too many decades ago, most people knew the Gospel and many considered that the Bible is the Word of God even if they had not put their faith in Christ. This has changed. Greater numbers consider the Bible obsolete and for many, Jesus is only a swear word. This has an impact on how they hear what Christians have to say and how they view what Christians do.

Complicating that is the sense of God abandoning His people. We pray and see no answers. We struggle against the enemy and feel beaten. We talk to people about faith and at best get blank stares. Yet I’m encouraged by those ‘Psalms of lament’ that express my feelings, such as this one. It begins with these sad words . . . 

“O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.” (Psalm 88:1–5)

Today’s devotional writer offers comforting thoughts for those days when I feel that God is far away. He says if God was willing to abandon His only Son on a cross to redeem me, then He is certainly trustworthy. He will not forsake me. I also know He will help me as I consider changes and adapt to new things. Regardless of what goes on I our world, God is still God. Amen!

May 27, 2015

When is a Christian fit or unfit to serve God?

1 Chronicles 21:1–22:19, 2 Timothy 2:14–26, Psalm 86:1–87:7

God gently reminds me of two important truths from today’s readings. The first is in the OT reading concerning David after he became the king of Israel. “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” (1 Chronicles 21:1)

This was not a normal census; David numbered his army. It could be compared to me listing my strengths, particularly when I’m trying to determine the best way to serve God. It is so easy to forget that God doesn’t need my strengths, and that He wants me to serve in weakness, relying on Him.

The NT reading has a couple verses that correspond to what David did and what he needed to do after this numbering happened. It says God’s servants are to correct their opponents, which is what Joab tried to do with David. The reason for this is that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:25–26)

David did repent, but he learned the hard way that listening to Satan and doing what he suggests had disastrous consequences for his people. Because of David’s sin, 70,000 people in Israel died.

The second truth is even more personal. When I first became a Christian, the local church didn’t want me to become a member because I had been divorced before I was saved. At the time, I didn’t not know what ‘narrow-minded legalism’ meant.

Even when I was allowed membership, they would not allow me to serve. Their reasoning was that because of David’s sin with Bathsheba, God would not allow him to build the temple. Therefore, because of my sin of divorce, I could not help in the church. Again, at the time I thought this was the ‘rules’ of being a Christian and did not protest.

Later I learned what today’s reading reveals — the real reason David did not build the temple. He said to Solomon, “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth.’” (1 Chronicles 22:7–8)

In this case, a man of war may have trouble leading in peace time, but whatever God’s reason, David accepted it. However, past (and forgiven) sins cannot disallow Christians from serving God; otherwise no one could. Some pick out David as justification for making some sins worse than others, and use that to deny other sinners opportunities to do service to God. Some of them would be better informed by these thoughts....

“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20–21)

According to this, some may serve in a different capacity than others because of some current condition, but that condition (or sin) can be changed! If I continued to repeat a divorce/remarry pattern, or was guilty of any other sin (robbing banks, beating my children, gossiping about my neighbors, etc.) then it would make sense to tell me to sit back. Yet God is in the business of saving people from the power of sin. He can change a dishonorable person into a holy and useful person.

David was the song-writer of Israel. His prayers were put to music and sang from their psalter. Here is one of them:

“O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them. But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant. Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” (Psalm 86:14–17)

After my early experiences as a Christian who could not be useful to God, I realized that the temple Solomon built (instead of David) is long-gone. David was not allowed to build it, but he was allowed to write the worship songs of Israel, and those psalms remain today, still used by God to bless millions of people.