The Church – the House of God

How lovely are your dwelling places, O Lord God of hosts!
My soul longed, and even yearned for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God
.”
Psalm 84:1-2, NASB

To be invited into the courts of the king has always been a huge honor. Especially, if the honor is bestowed upon one who has found his sovereign’s favor. To find the favor of the King of kings brings joy beyond imagination. Is this our mindset when we gather together for worship on Sunday morning? Do we regard the place where we gather as sacred and holy? My fear is that in our zeal to emphasize that the church is not the building but the people in it, we have lost all regard for the place itself.

It’s true that the church building holds no particular quality that renders it special in God’s economy. However, when Sunday morning comes and God’s people gather for true worship, it is transformed into the throne-room of Almighty God. It has nothing to do with the wood, brick, and mortar, but is entirely due to who is there. In that place, the saints of God are assembled to offer praise and worship to the King. And, it is His presence that makes that place special.

Followers of Christ have always been transient. We go from place to place wherever God calls us. We don’t have a single place on earth that we regard as sacred. We don’t worship a building. That being said, let’s not lose the idea of God’s house. It’s not the brick, stone, wood, or carpet that make it so. It’s what happens there. Wherever we gather, be it a building, a room in a school, or a clearing in the woods; it’s God’s house because God’s people are gathered there to honor, worship, and praise their sovereign King.

Thy Clouds which are Fountains

I think too many of us walk through life like Eeyore. It’s not that we are without joy. It’s just that the hard things in life tend to weigh so heavily on us that they seem to overtake our demeanor to the point that it impacts almost everything. The truth of the matter is that life is hard, and not only did God warn us of this reality, He told us to be happy about it.

There’s a line in the great hymn, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” that says, “Thy justice like mountains, high soaring above; Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.” Maybe it’s time for us to recognize the clouds of life for what they are – fountains of God’s love for us – and therefore, let us be grateful. Romans 5:1-5 tells us:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us,” (NASB95).

God allows and uses, and at times ordains, the trials of life to grow and strengthen us into something useful for His purposes. He uses the hard times to conform us to the image of His Son. Sometimes, He uses these trials to discipline us. To bring us to our knees in contrition and brokenness. After all, we are sinful. Remember David’s words in Psalm 51 – that great prayer of contrition following his sin with Bathsheeba.

Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice,” (Psalm 51:8, NASB95).

He doesn’t pray for God to mend his bones. They were a result of the reality of his sin. Rather, he prays for God to help him see his brokenness as cause for rejoicing. Likewise, the clouds of life are real. Let us see them as God’s fountain, showering us with what we need to be the people He intends for us to be. After all, are not His ways higher than our ways? His thoughts higher than our thoughts?

Immortal, invisible, God only wise
In light inaccessible, Hid from our eyes
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise!

 

Revelation 2 – Ephesus: A Church’s Love Abandoned

Recently, my daily bible reading schedule brought me to Revelation 2, where Jesus is speaking to the church in Ephesus. He commends them for their perseverance, intolerance of sin, and their testing of false teachers. Then in verse 4, He tells them what He has against them—that they have “left [their] first love.” I recall, some years ago, a sharp debate over this statement in Sunday school over whether their “first love” was love for Christ, or love for one another. What am I to make of this? The text itself implies that the Ephesian church would plainly know what Christ was referring to.

Is this an important issue? I believe it is, as it was enough for Christ to hold them accountable.  He tells them that, unless they repent, He will “remove [their] lampstand out of its place.” In other words, the church in Ephesus will cease to exist in Christ’s eyes.

How do I answer this apparent dilemma? I think I’ll let Scripture speak for itself.  Remember John’s words in the 4th chapter of his first epistle.

We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also,” (1 John 4:19–21, NASB95).

This statement makes my love for God and love for my brothers and sisters in Christ, inseparable. I cannot love God without loving my brother. This leads me to another question. Is love what I do, or is it both what I do and feel. Scripture clearly tells us love is primarily something I choose to do, not always something I feel. In other words, it’s possible to love those I don’t necessarily, at a given time, feel affection for. That being said, my failure to love others demonstrates that my love for God is not real—remember, to love is a choice.

When asked for the greatest commandment, Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5.

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29–30, NASB95)  

He then followed that up with the 2nd most important, quoting Leviticus 19:18.

“The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31, NASB95)  

How, then, do I love God, whom I have not seen?

  • With my heart – a deep and heart felt affection for God, my Father.
  • With my soul – in response to the testimony of the Holy Spirit on my spirit that I am His child, (Romans 8:16).
  • With my mind – my thoughts, my meditations, my prayers will reflect a regard for God that is worthy of Him.
  • With my strength – the energy I expend, and what I choose to do, will demonstrate my love for God.

So then, how do I love my neighbor as myself? By applying the same effort in meeting the needs of my neighbor that I apply to meeting my own. In the 10th chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?”.  Jesus responded with the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. If I strive to love others in the same way as this Samaritan, that love will testify to a deep love for God.

The unfortunate reality is that all this is easier said than done. Why? The apostle Paul says it best…

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want, (Romans 7:18–19, NASB95).

So, we continue the struggle to be the people we are called to be.  I am encouraged know that Paul, this great man of God also tangled with his own failures.  Here’s his answer to the struggle.

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin, (Romans 7:24–25, NASB95).

He followed that up with this wonderful statement…

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death, (Romans 8:1–2, NASB95).

So, be encouraged. God will finish the work begun!

Psalm 83 – That they may know…

“O God, do not remain quiet; Do not be silent and, O God, do not be still. For behold, Your enemies make an uproar, And those who hate You have exalted themselves.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭83:1-2‬ ‭

There are few things more frustrating to a follower of Christ than our own inability to silence the critic, the denier, or the scoffer of our Great God and Savior. We wonder why, with God’s power so clearly on display, any sentient being could be so far off in their conclusions about the nature, the majesty, and the sovereign power of God.

It is even more disheartening when the deniers are those who should know better—those with the benefit of exposure to spiritual blessings and the power of the gospel. However, it should not surprise us. Ever since the fall of man, there have been those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” (Romans 1:18) those for whom the wrath of God awaits.

We live at a moment in history when those of us who know and follow Christ are met with rabid hostility from a world that grows increasingly more depraved; where immorality and sin is not only approved, but applauded. More than inciting our anger, this should incite our pity. We must recognize that the current displays of depravity serve as reminders that judgment and condemnation await those who stand in opposition to the truth. King Jesus will return, and they must “give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead,” (1 Peter 4:5).

There will be a day of reckoning. The day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, (Philippians 2:10-11) For some, this will be the most blessed event imaginable. For many, this reality will come too late. As we await, with anticipation, the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, may our prayer continually be…

“That they may know that You alone, whose name is the Lord, Are the Most High over all the earth.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭83:18‬

From Him, to Him, through Him…

Proverbs 25:2 (NAS): It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

The mysteries of the universe lay exposed before God Almighty. There are no new discoveries for Him to find. There are no questions unanswered, no sights unseen, or sounds unheard. He created all that exists and there is nothing that exists outside His vision. God has no need to learn or discover something new. Everything was created by Him and for Him.

Mankind, created in God’s image, is the only creature made with an insatiable drive to discover the new, answer his questions, and seek out the mysteries. From birth, man continues on a journey of learning.

Because God is infinite, we who are in Christ, will spend eternity learning about God, from God.

Definitions and Consequences

Words have definitions and ideas have consequences. When definitions of words are no longer static and dependable, the consequences to the culture can be unnerving, unfortunate, and detrimental to society.

Over the past 2 years, at the risk of their own health, doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel have cared for those suffering the effects of a dangerous virus. We don’t know their names, but we call them heroes; and, they are heroes.

Edward C. Byers is a retired Navy Seal who, at great risk to his own life, saved the life of a civilian hostage in Afghanistan along with several of his own team members. For this, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Most have never heard his name. He’s called a hero, because he is a hero.

In India, in the midst of this dangerous pandemic, a Christian man named Sandeep knew of the desperate needs of people living in surrounding villages. Risking his own health, he traveled to a remote village where people hadn’t eaten in three days and provided them with food and other necessities. Sandeep was faithful to love his neighbors, no matter the cost, for the opportunity to meet their needs and tell them about Jesus. Very few among us know his name. Call Sandeep a hero, because he is a hero. 

Everyday, police, firemen, and EMTs charge straight into dangerous situations to save and protect the rest of us from harm. Rightly, they are called heroes.

In 1st Century AD, a innocent man suffered the most violent form of execution ever devised by mankind in order to satisfy the wrath of God and keep us from paying for our own wickedness. As we read in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB95). Those of us who know Him call Him Lord. He’s our hero.

A hero is someone who performs acts of tremendous bravery in disregard for their own safety or well-being. Most often their names do not appear in news stories. We don’t fawn over them while their drama unfolds on TV, or listen to talking heads gush over them.

The big story coming from the Tokyo Olympics this week, is about Simone Biles–perhaps the greatest gymnast in history. She stepped out of competition due to a mental condition called, the “twisties”. Other gymnasts will tell you the condition is very real and very dangerous. Later, she was able to make adjustments and return to competition, winning the bronze medal on the balance beam. We all know her name. People call her a hero. Is she?

Simone Biles is a world-class athlete competing on the world stage. She’s garnering well-deserved praise from all corners for her accomplishments. Millions have enjoyed watching her do what she does, and she’s arguably better than anyone else in the world at it. She’ll return home to parades in her honor. She’ll go on Oprah telling her story to adoring fans. Is she a hero? Whose life did she save at great risk to her own? When we lower the bar of heroism the word no longer means anything.

Words have definitions and ideas have consequences.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – The Minor Pains of Life

“Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal,” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).

I remember, as a young man, watching TV with my grandmother.  I remember a certain commercial that would upset her whenever it came on. It was advertising a particular pain medication that claimed to relieve the minor pains of arthritis.  She would get so angry at the phrase “minor pains of arthritis.”  I would suggest that the drug likely only affected the arthritis pains that were minor.  She would say, “There’s no such thing!”.

Life’s afflictions never seem minor when we are in the midst of them.  They absorb our attention, takeover our thoughts, and easily become the only things that matter.  But here, Paul is suggesting that we view our various trials with an eternal perspective.  He is saying that, because God’s grace abounds—what “therefore” is there for—we should not allow our trials, which are temporal, to take us captive to the pain and cause us to lose our joy over the reality of eternal glory in Christ.  Paul is teaching us that the temporary pains of afflictions and trials are actually serving an eternal, divine purpose by producing in us a greater anticipation for this eternal glory.  The greater the pain, the greater the anticipation. 

Pain and affliction are real, but when we recognize that these various trials are temporary and we place our focus on eternity with Christ, we truly experience what it means to abide in Him and live fruitful lives in the midst of this life’s troubles, (John 15:4). By focusing on eternity we can truly know the fullness of joy in Christ (Psalm 16:11).

Psalm 79:9 “Help us, O God…”

“Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; and deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name’s sake.”

So often in the psalms of lament, we see the psalmist cry for deliverance from the circumstances causing his lamentation. This particular psalm is also an imprecatory prayer in that he calls on God to pour out His wrath on those kingdoms who do no know Him, (Psalm 79:6). Here, as we see in most of these types of psalms, the motivation for the psalmist’s plea is God’s glory. He is calling for God to avenge His holy name.

This should give us pause for a few reasons. First, we must recognize that God’s name is synonymous with His person. In Exodus 3 when Moses inquired of God His name, God responded with “I AM WHO I AM,” (Exodus 3:14). God is the absolute ultimate being, and His name is not a simple moniker. It is, in essence and in reality, who He is. God’s ancient people understood this clearly and forbid His name to be uttered. Jesus also knew this to be true, a fact that gives such gravity to Christ’s words when He said, “…before Abraham was, I AM,” (John 8:58). There, Jesus is saying, just as to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”  Jesus Christ is, in fullness, God.

Second, we need to understand that God’s care for us is not simply because He’s nice, and we’re so lovable and deserving of good treatment. God is preserving for Himself, “…a people of His own possession,” that we would “…proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called (us) out of darkness into His maervelous light,” (1 Peter 2:9). In short, He has saved us and continues to preserve us for Himself—for His own glory.

Third, we need to feel the full weight of the position this puts us in as His people. We are His, living among people that will look to us to model Christ in a world that grows increasingly more hostile to Him. We cannot claim the salvation of Christ while rejecting the lordship of Christ. He is, to us, both or neither.  Our purpose and primary mission is to present Christ to a broken and fallen world regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. We are to faithfully serve Him, and He will take care of the rest.

While it is right for us to pray for God’s care and provision, we must remember that God is absolutely sovereign and He takes His own glory seriously. Likewise, so should we. When we pray for Him to provide for our needs, right our wrongs, and fix our circumstances, is it His name that is supreme in our minds? Or do we think that because we have taken the time to pray that we somehow deserve His favor? We must remember that we are simply clay in the Master Potter’s hand. Pray that what He makes of us will bring Him glory.

Psalm 77 – Remember God

This psalm consists of four stanzas, each separated by the Hebrew word Selah. In the first two, Asaph is focused on the trials and tribulations of the Hebrew people. Here he asks if God has turned away from His people forever. In the third stanza his focus moves from the troubles around him to the Lord and all that God has done for his children. The final stanza, he offers praise to God for His power, sovereignty, and glory.

In this song Asaph is a troubled soul. While it’s unclear what is specifically happening to cause his grief, it is clear that his concerns are not only for himself, but also for the nation. It’s not that he isn’t mindful of God’s graciousness to Israel, it’s just that remembering doesn’t lift the cloud over him.

It can be the same for us, can’t it? In the midst of a storm, we remind ourselves of the love and power of God, but that doesn’t always make us feel better because it doesn’t make the storm go away. The problem may be that our perspective needs to change. Just as in the picture, the tornado and the rainbow can seemingly converge at the same spot–right where we are.

Psalm 77:10 is where Asaph’s perspective changes. “Then I said, “It is my grief, That the right hand of the Most High has changed.” He remembers who God is and what He has done. Suddenly his lamentations turn to praise. The trial has not abated for him, just his grief.

God does not promise that life will be easy, or that He will always take away our trials. But, He has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. He may not always calm the storm, but He will give us all we need to weather it.

“Sometimes He holds us close, and lets the wind and waves go wild; Sometimes He calms the storm and other times He calms His child.” –Kevin Stokes and Tony Wood

Psalm 76 – God whom we fear

Psalm 76 paints a picture of a fearsome God. That God is to be feared is all through Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, and I wonder if we are mindful of what it means to “fear the Lord”. We gather every Sunday morning and we sing songs praising Him for His love, His mercy, and His tenderness; but, how many songs do we sing praising Him for His fearsomeness?

We fear God for what He can do. We fear Him for what He has done. And, we fear Him for what He’s promised to do. For the unbeliever, this fear brings about denial and eventually trembling. For His children, fear of the Lord brings obedience and praise.

God’s fearsomeness is on display in His power, and His willingnees to use it. He demostrates His power in defense of His people. He uses His great power to bring about His intended ends. As we praise Him for His love, His mercy, and His tenderness, may we never forget that He is also to be feared.