Category Archives: Bible

Ezra 3:10-13; The Good Old Days

I got stuck here in Ezra 3. Something I read the other day has kept coming to mind, so I decided to take a closer look. It’s the picture of the celebration over the finished foundation of the temple.

Priests, dressed in their finest, trumpets, cymbals, the choir singing, “He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.” All the people shouting praise to God.

Well, maybe not all the people.

Scripture tells us many of the older folk wept aloud. Why? Did they not want the temple rebuilt? Were they lamenting a personal loss? Scripture tells us their weeping was as loud as the praises of the others.

I used to hate it when Dad would talk about “the good old days,” how great things “used” to be, and how awful things were in the present. (That was fifty years ago when I was young. Ouch!)

Now all these years later, I hear Dad’s words coming out of my own mouth. Maybe there was something to what Dad was feeling all those years ago.

The old folks who cried when they saw the new foundation were the ones who remembered Solomon’s magnificent temple back in the day. They remembered the splendor adorning God’s house, and could recall the worship that was given Him there. Those truly were the good old days.

No wonder some of the people were grieved as they realized the refurbished temple wouldn’t come close to what it once had been. No wonder they were sad to know this new generation had no idea what they were missing.

We were talking in Sunday School recently about how things used to be in the church, the years of Billy Graham crusades when the focus was on meeting God, the main draw was the preaching, and the thought of being entertained was the furthest thing in anyone’s mind.

I remember walking into a church and feeling like I was in a church and not a venue. I remember sitting there for an hour without a coffee in my hand. I remember caring how I presented myself to God for worship in His house. I remember altars at the front of churches where people were able to kneel for as long as it took to get right with God. I remember pulpits.

Forgive me if I “weep aloud” when I see the refurbished church today. You see, I remember the splendor.

Now having said all that, let me also say I know worship is happening in churches today where Jesus is proclaimed as the Savior. I praise God that sin is being confessed, souls are being won through the precious blood of Jesus. I love my church where guitars accompany praise songs and hymns, where people aren’t all in suits and dresses.

But there is a part of me that wishes we could go back to the way things used to be, and I’m not apologizing for that. You see, I remember Solomon’s temple.

Now before you jump down my throat, I know things weren’t perfect back in the day. I know there were problems in churches fifty years ago, disagreements, lukewarm hearts, and sin isn’t something that just reared it’s ugly head in the twenty-first century. But I would be foolish to think a new approach to worship has eliminated those same problems in churches today.

In fact, I’m not sure the church is any better at addressing those problems today than they were fifty years ago. Maybe we aren’t even doing as well at it.

All you young people out there, mark my words. If God tarries another fifty years, you’ll be looking back at 2017 as the days of Solomon’s temple. And one day you might hear your own voice talking about “the good old days,” and wishing your grandchildren could know what worship was like when you were young.

Heavenly Father, Thank you for churches where Your Holy Spirit is free to work in the hearts and lives of people, for pastors who proclaim the truth of Scripture, where Jesus is known to be the only way to You, and where You are worshiped as You demand. But God, I also see that the further we get from the cross, the more tolerant we are of sin, the more we talk about Your love, and fear You less. I see an increasingly casual approach to worship that is contrary to Your Word, and I am grieved. I don’t want to live in the past, Lord. But I also don’t want to discount what was right and good about the way things used to be. Give us wisdom. Give us discernment. May Your Church throw away tradition and trend, for the sake of tradition and trend, and just be people who want to worship You, serve You, love You, obey You, learn about You, and please You. May our worship of You be about You, and not about how it makes us “feel.” May we all, young and old, be the Church You want us to be, for as long as You give us life on this earth.

Advertisements

Ezra 1-3; Getting Our Priorities Straight

This was a great time in Jewish history. After 70 years of captivity, they were going home. King Cyrus gave them the go-ahead to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. He even provided much of what they needed to get the job done. Over 40,000 people packed up their things for the long, happy journey.

I love that the first thing they did upon arriving in Jerusalem, was to repair the altar. And as soon as they could, they began using it for the sacrifices they had so long been unable to make.

They repaired that altar, even though they had a bit of fear concerning the people around them. But they did not let their fear paralyze them. They celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles, offered the regular burnt sacrifices, the New Moon sacrifice, and all the sacrifices for all the sacred feasts. Plus freewill offerings! That altar got a workout. And all of this happened before the temple foundations was even laid.

I like this example. It demonstrates the priorities that we should have when doing God’s work. How many good projects fail when God’s people get ahead of Him? We are excited to get started on that building project, or that outreach program, or hiring a pastor. But we don’t spend a lot of time dealing with the sin in our own lives, worshiping God and praising Him for who He is, and seeking God’s direction first.

The Jews in Ezra took two years at that altar before going ahead with the building project. Two years before the temple foundation was even laid.

We are a people who demand instant gratification. It’s hard to wait, even for the light to change. But so often in Scripture God tells us to wait, to be still, to seek His kingdom, to hear from Him.

Let’s face it. We like to win. We like to be the first church in town with a state of the art sound system, or the catchy named coffee shop in our foyer, or the satellite site, the largest sanctuary, anything that will make us stand out as THE church.

None of those things are necessarily bad. But I wonder if sometimes we get focused on the project, and forget to wait for God’s direction before jumping in. I wonder if our projects are counter-productive when we allow sin to go unchecked in our hearts, if we don’t wait on God’s timing and direction.

Do we want God’s blessings on our efforts? Whether it’s the events of our day, or a major decision we must make, or a big project in our churches, I would suggest we follow the example here in Ezra.

Spend time… a lot of time… at the altar; wait on God… no matter how long it takes; then follow his lead and get busing doing what He asks. That seems to me what getting our priorities straight looks like.

 

 

2 Chronicles 33-36; There Is No Time Like The Present

A few weeks ago my pastor, who is doing a series of sermons through the Gospel of Mark, shared a heart-felt, heart-wrenching sermon on the unforgivable sin. We all went away from there knowing one of two things: either we would not commit that sin because we have already accepted God’s gift of grace through the blood of Jesus, or we were guilt of that sin because we are rejecting Him.

A couple of days later I was at our Good News Club at a local elementary school. The leader was helping the kids with our memory verse, John 3:16. “Jesus died,” she said, “so that anyone anywhere who believes in Him will be saved, and have eternal life.”

One boy raised his hand. “My pastor says some people run from God. They say, ‘I’ll get saved later. I want to live life my own way first.'” The boy and his family have been attending our church for several weeks. I rejoiced that his youngster understood what he was hearing.

I thought about that as I read the last chapter of 2 Chronicles this morning. Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah, a good king who did mostly what was pleasing to God during his reign. But when Manasseh became king, he wasted no time undoing the good his dad had done. Under Manasseh’s leadership, the Jews did more evil than the pagan people around them.

Manasseh eventually quit running from God, humbled himself, and repented. Then, with as much fervor as he’d had doing evil, he began to clean up his mess. He got rid of foreign gods, restored the altar, and told the people to start serving God.

All good things. But his years of defiance took its toll. His son Amon, who became king after Manasseh died, totally defied God his entire reign. Manasseh may have given his life to the Lord, but his son who had lived in his house during Manasseh’s rebellious years, never did. Manasseh had time to clean up the mess he’d made of the nation, but the time to repair the damage he’d done to his son ran out.

Sometimes I think we forget that our influence, our actions and attitudes, effect those closest to us in a very real way, for a very long time. If you are holding anything back from God, don’t think that isn’t effecting the dear ones who live in your home, or who love you and are loved by you.

I certainly hope you aren’t one who is saying, “I’ll get right with God later.” Don’t be living with that unforgivable sin hanging over your head. And for goodness sake, don’t give your children the impression that’s ok. They are watching your example, and learning from you.

Let our loved ones see that NOW is the time to deal with sin, to humble ourselves before God, and accept His forgiveness. Model for your children what a Christian looks like, by the things you do, the places you go, the things you say, the attitudes and passions you have.

There is no time like the present.

2 Chronicles 29-32; You Are Invited

King Hezekiah did some house cleaning. He not only rid the temple of any pagan worship, he re-established worship of the One True God. Many Jews tirelessly worked to restore what had been lost due to the disobedience of former kings, and the Jewish ancestors who followed them.

A couple of things stood out to me as I read these chapters this morning. One is the Passover feast was delayed because the priests had not done what they needed to do to consecrate themselves for the work of the Lord. The church leaders seem to have been dragging their feet. Why, when so many Jews were tearing down idols, and getting the temple ready for worship? Why didn’t the priests get ready, too?

We can only guess. Maybe they were working with the people, restoring the temple and just lost track of time. Maybe they were holding off to see how far this transformation would go before it got stopped in its tracks. Maybe they were reluctant to let go of their own idolatry. What we do know is, King Hezekiah was not fooling around. And he did not let the priests off the hook. They eventually went through the consecration requirements so the Passover could be held.

It makes me wonder if, on occasion, our church leaders might not be dragging their feet, too. Even pastors and elders get comfortable. Even pastors and elders can have sin in their lives they aren’t confessing. Could this be one of the reason so many churches in our country are closing their doors?

Now before we start pointing fingers and laying blame, the other thing I noticed is that when the invitation to come to celebrate the first Passover observed in years, some people blew it off and even made fun of the ones who brought the good news. Maybe they thought observing Passover was “old school”, or maybe someone used the word “tradition”, so they turned up their noses.

Once again it would seem the people had become comfortable in their sin, and weren’t about to change. Well, some of them felt that way.

But a large crowd did gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Sacrifices for sin were offered, and God was worshiped like He demands. Thousands of animals were slain, and the feast was extended an additional week. The peoples’ hearts were turned to God, and God blessed them for it.

I can’t help but think of the ones who refused the invitation. Did they care that they were missing God’s blessings? Did it occur to them that they were disobeying God? They received the same invitation everyone else received. They just didn’t accept.

I come away from reading these chapters today with a realization that I have the responsibility and the privilege to extend God’s invitation to the people in my world to come and worship Him. I must first ready myself for the work of the Lord. I need to address sin in my own life, I must allow God to clothe me with Jesus’ righteousness. And I must yield myself to His will, trusting that He will be my strength in the mission.

Then I need to get out there and deliver the invitation, regardless what people might think of me. Yes, I believe Jesus is God in human form, that God has established only one way in which we may come to Him, that Jesus died to pay what my sins demand, and that I am saved completely and eternally through the precious blood of Jesus. It is a gift of God, it’s grace, and it’s mine from a repentant heart.

You might think that’s old school, that you are enlightened so therefore have a more inclusive approach to God. You might snicker and roll your eyes when I tell you you are a sinner in need of a Savior, that your eternal soul will experience the worst possible pain beyond imagine if you refuse the invitation God is extending to you. You might even write me off as a lunatic when I tell you your decision concerning Christ is the single most important thing in your life now and forever.

But I’ll extend the invitation anyway. I pray you’ll join us in worshiping God as His child, saved by grace.

2 Chronicles 25-28; It’s None Of Your Business

Have you ever been obviously blessed by God, and thought, “Wow. I don’t deserve that”? First of all, that should be our response every day. Every breath we breathe, every beat of our hearts, are blessings we don’t deserve.

But I trust you have enjoyed the direct blessings of obedience, too. Maybe God lays on your heart to give sacrificially to your church, then your boss gives you a raise. Or you visit that cranky neighbor when God nudges you, and you have the privilege of leading that person to the Lord. The Bible is full of examples when obedience results in great blessing.

But before you get too satisfied with yourself because of the amazing ways God has blessed you, read 2 Chronicles 28. Israel had just had victory over their brothers in Judah. 120,000 soldiers in Judah were killed, hostages and plunder taken. But the Israeli army, on their way home after God had blessed them so dramatically, were met by the prophet Obed. Listen to what he said to them:

Because the Lord, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand… But aren’t you also guilty of sins against the Lord your God? (verses 9-10)

In other words, listen up boys. You aren’t “all that.” You were blessed because God was disciplining Judah. Don’t get too comfortable. You are just as guilty as they. And God always punishes disobedience.

Sometimes we might be tempted to be jealous when some jerk seems to get all the breaks, while you struggle. And you’re so much better than he.

What God reminded me today is that I don’t know the whole story like He does. How God is dealing with someone is none of my business. God draws people to Himself through good times, and bad times. And He never lets me in on His methods of the heart.

If I am focused on someone else’s fortune, or if I become too prideful with God’s blessings in my own life, I need to brace myself. Sin is knocking at the door. I’d better confess it, ask God to forgive it, and be the person He wants ME to be. Anything else is none of my business.

 

 

2 Chronicles 21-24; The Reign of Joash

What do you read? Who do you listen to? Where are you on Sunday mornings? The answers to these questions are extremely important.

Joash did a lot of good as king of Judah. He rebuilt the temple, returned the people to worshiping God, destroyed the temple of Baal and killed Baal’s priest. There was quite a revival among the Jews during the first years of Joash’s reign. During those years the king stayed close to Jehoiada, the priest of God. He listened to Jehoiada’s counsel, and did good in the eyes of the Lord.

But Jehoiada died. And things went downhill from there. Joash stepped out on his own, and sin reared its ugly head.

Is there someone in your life who holds you accountable in your walk with the Lord? Someone who prays for and with you, someone with whom you talk about what God is teaching you, then checks to be sure what you are learning is true according to Scripture? Are you in God’s Word every day, reading and listening as you pour over its precious pages? Do you stand with a congregation of people each week, serving and worshiping God as He deserves?

Or do you think you can live this Christian life on your own? If that is your attitude, I would challenge you to read Joash’s story here in 2 Chronicles, then rethink your position. Good things happened as long as Joash was partnering with a godly man. Read for yourself what happened when the king lost that influence.

As I was writing this, the thought occurred to me that I have the responsibility and the privilege of being a Jehoiada to someone else. It’s a two way street. I need someone who will keep me in check, and I need to reach out to someone who needs me for the same reason.

May all of us walk in Truth, hand in hand, strong and determined to be the Church God wants us to be.

2 Chronicles 17-20; Praise Changes Things

When I read Jehoshaphat’s story I am always struck by the unusual battle plan God laid out for Judah. A vast army was approaching, and the kingdom was in big trouble. The people fasted and prayed, then God told them to go toward the battle, but they would win the war without fighting.

So Judah’s army marched down into the valley to face their enemy. But the army wasn’t lead by fierce warriors on sturdy horses. The army was lead by…

the choir.

The singers lead the soldiers armed for battle, singing praises to God. “Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever.”

Read for yourself what happens next. God is amazing.

Is praising God so important? I bet most of you in the US took a moment last week to thank God for something. It’s what we do once a year before we gorge ourselves with turkey and stuff.

But what about praising God today? The cancer diagnosis hasn’t changed. Your loved one is still dead. Your job is still frustrating. Your marriage is still unhappy. You might tell yourself you have nothing to praise God for.

Praise Him anyway.

Jehoshaphat’s choir didn’t sing about the war, they sang about God. They took their eyes off the seemingly impossible situation, and looked instead toward God. And that’s what I think God would have us consider today.

When those thoughts begin to creep in and tell us how hard our lives are, how unhappy we are, how things are just not fair, we need to quote a psalm, sing a praise song or hymn that points us to our Heavenly Father.

There is no room for self-pity when we are praising God.

Let’s face it. Some of us hate this time of year. Loneliness is more pronounced. Shattered families are more hurtful. Some people feel the hopelessness of their situation more deeply this time of year, when everyone seems to smile and wish us “Happy Holidays.”

Praise God. Not just a quick, Thanks, but a sincere, heartfelt praise to the One who loves you more than you know, the One who is the giver of all good things, who wants to comfort you, strengthen you, hold you up, and forgive you. He is worthy of our praise.

If you read Jehoshaphat’s story, you’ll find out the Jews enjoyed a decisive victory that day without lifting a finger. They were blessed beyond what they could have imagined, when they started the day praising God.

Praise God, dear one. Your circumstances might not change. But you will. And you will be blessed beyond what you can imagine.