The Glory of the Lord; July 13, 2019

2 Chronicles 5:13-14 The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
“He is good;
his love endures for ever.”
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.

This might sound like a story exaggerated for effect, but I have heard of similar things happening even in modern times. We have so little grasp of just what “the glory of the Lord” really is. It’s a term that flows glibly off our lips or our fingers, but without any real understanding of what we’re talking or writing about. In this particular incident, some people have cynically posited that Solomon had planted smoke bombs in the temple to create this effect, but such people are denying the power of God. The Star Wars franchise makes a great deal of “the force,” but it’s small potatoes compared to the power of God. God is omnipresent because He’s infinite, meaning that everything finite, including us, exists within Him. However, when He so chooses, He can and does manifest Himself in a specific location. That can take many forms, and one of them is described here. I think another way to describe His glory would be His essence, the distillation of who He is. Given that we are mere created beings, it’s hardly surprising that the priests couldn’t “stand to serve” in the presence of such a manifestation. It is significant that the singers and trumpeters were in perfect unity here. It is a fascinating study, both in the Bible and outside of it, how God delights in unity in His people. The example that comes to mind most immediately is Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out. We tend to be very fractious, so when we are in unity because of our love for and obedience to God, He shows up. If we want God to manifest Himself, we need to get things right with our brothers and sisters.

I have experienced tastes of this, and they make me hungry for more, particularly when my flesh won’t place limits on how much I can take in. I have been prone on the floor in worship, and the weight of God’s presence was so great I could hardly breathe. I have been in worship with a few brothers and the intensity of the joy was so great that I had to ask God to take it down a notch, if He had anything further for me to do with this body. I frequently pray that things would happen “for Your glory,” but often I’m not so clear on exactly what that might mean. The Bible is filled with references to glory, but the word seems to have many shades of meaning. I don’t think I’m to stop using the word, but I need to be careful to let God define it as He pleases.

Father, thank You for this Word. You have me speaking on “Lord of Glory” tomorrow, but several of our key members won’t be here. I think the reason I was so disappointed when I found that out was that I was limiting my definition of glory. Help me be so yielded to You that You are free to manifest Your glory however You please, whenever and wherever it will have the most effect in advancing Your kingdom, in individual lives and in society as a whole, not just here but throughout the earth. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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An Old Fool; July 12, 2019

1 Kings 11:4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.

To me, this betrayal approaches that of Judas. Few people in history have been as blessed, as privileged as Solomon, yet somehow he forgot where all of that came from and turned to other gods. For all of his smarts in some areas, he was incredibly stupid. The very idea of “700 wives and 300 concubines,” as the previous verse specifies, is the height of absurdity. Granted, marriage was considered a tool of statecraft in those days, but with numbers like that, he couldn’t keep up with who was a wife and who wasn’t! The background for the nihilistic tone in Ecclesiastes becomes very clear. This verse specifies that Solomon’s idolatry happened “as he grew old,” but I don’t think we could chalk this up to some sort of senility. If it were medically based, his personal responsibility would be reduced at the very least, but there’s no indication of that. He just allowed the physical to blind him to spiritual reality. He himself said that “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.” (Ecclesiastes 2:10) That’s no recipe for spiritual maturity! Recently the news has been full of reports of someone who seems to have used his great wealth to prey on young girls. That’s one of the grave dangers of seemingly unlimited wealth, which Solomon certainly had. When you have that much, everything becomes an item to be purchased, but as Jesus said very clearly, “You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24) Solomon ended up serving his flesh, and that was a tragedy indeed.

I have never been “rolling in money,” but I too was incredibly blessed from birth. My genetic and spiritual heritage was magnificent indeed, but like Solomon, I have tended to take it for granted, as though I somehow deserved it. You can’t earn something you’re born with! One reason Solomon’s story hits me so strongly is that I can identify with so much of it. Because I rarely struggled in school, I thought I had all the answers. Thinking back, I think I could easily have become a sociopath, but God in His grace protected me from that. Actually, my whole life is a testimony to God’s amazing grace. At this point I am at an age where stupidity would immediately classify me as “an old fool,” just as Solomon was. I need to be conscious in my choice to fear, love, and obey God, because that is true wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10)

Father, thank You again for Your grace toward me. Thank You for helping me see some of that from which You’ve protected me. I have lived much of my life in more danger than I knew! May I be able to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) Thank You. Praise God!

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Government; July 11, 2019

1 Kings 10:9 “Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.”

I am a bit distracted, because in Japanese “to make king” is a homophone for “to vomit.” I type the Scripture phonetically, and that was the way Microsoft insisted on rendering it! I may have “Pun Disease,” but in Japanese it’s unavoidable! With that aside, there really is an important truth here. The queen of Sheba was not Jewish, but she had heard enough about Yahweh, and Solomon, to want to check things out for herself. What she saw impressed her so much that she wanted all of it that she could get. There is a very strong tradition that included a child with Solomon, and that is where Ethiopian Jews come from. The world naturally loves that angle, but we need to focus on just what she saw that impressed her so much, and she says it here. Human societies have always had governments of one sort or another, and they are all over the place in both style and quality. Seeing how Solomon governed, the queen of Sheba realized that it was all because of the love of God. Paul also realized that governments are God’s idea, even though he lived in a time of persecution. (Romans 13:1) Anarchy and chaos are out of line with God! In America and a number of other countries we have representative democracy, which is pretty new in terms of human history. In that, we are given the opportunity and the responsibility to choose those who will govern us. We need to be very aware of human imperfection, and seek God’s will in every detail. The freedoms that are enjoyed in America are a direct reflection of the free will God gives every human being, and as such they have much the same result, with some people using them for good and others misusing them for evil. In terms of government, we need to seek those who will indeed “maintain justice and righteousness,” for the benefit of all.

I was never particularly political until about 10 years ago, but at this point I am pretty involved, at least emotionally. Since I live in Japan and don’t have excess funds for donations, my participation is in signing online petitions and praying. I do plenty of both of those! (And, yes, I do vote absentee.) I need to keep my focus on God and love, as well as His holiness, rather than on human beings, either admirable or otherwise. As I often tell others, people will always disappoint us in one way or another. God alone is totally righteous and faithful. I’ve got to keep my heart fixed on the One who will never disappoint, and rest, relax, and rejoice in Him.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all that You are doing, both right here and around the world. The devil is really stirring things up, but You alone are God. May Your name indeed be recognized as holy and Your Lordship be manifested as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Things vs. People; July 10, 2019

1 Kings 8:27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”

For all of his failures, Solomon did say some pretty wise things. Here he shows that he knew he really did worship the infinite Creator, and that’s something we today lose sight of at times. Even when we do realize it, we have trouble figuring out how that fact should impact our daily lives. The temple that he had just completed was indeed magnificent, and the remaining foundation wall is an object of extreme veneration in Israel today. We tend to get fixated on physical objects, but Solomon had a revelation of the insignificance of anything physical compared to the Creator. That’s why the whole Bible emphasizes the people of God, rather than buildings and the like. This temple Solomon built was in many ways a distraction, because people tended to fixate on the building even more than on the One who was worshiped there. That’s why Jesus said, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24) Because we inhabit physical bodies, physical things are important and useful to us. However, it is important that we keep things in perspective, to understand what is really important. Too many leaders develop what has jokingly been called an “edifice complex,” wanting bigger and better buildings, when buildings are never more than a means to an end.

I struggled with the idea when we were being led to build this building, but the guidance seemed pretty clear. In the process we learned some pretty painful lessons, and I’m sure those were more important than the building itself. At this point in my life I am finally learning, as more than just words, that people are what is important, because people have eternal souls, and nothing else I encounter is genuinely eternal. I have always enjoyed machines, and was a geek before the term was popular. (I still react negatively to “nerd,” since that was the term applied to me at the time.) It has been a long road to realizing that all such things are ultimately insignificant, since God didn’t need anything like that when He created the universe. I’ve not been much of a “people person” most of my life, but thankfully, God is still growing and changing me. My interactions with people are the most important thing, because I have been given the incredible privilege of representing Christ to them. Like Paul, I am sharply aware of my own imperfection, but I know that God is greater than all of that, and He can use even me. (2 Corinthians 4:7) Jesus told us to “lay up treasure in heaven,” (Matthew 6:19-21) but the only thing I can take to heaven with me is people. I need to grasp, on the deepest level, that each person I meet is someone for whom Jesus died, and is therefore more valuable than everything physical put together.

Father, thank You for this Word. I’m not sure I’ve ever expressed it like this before. Help me indeed live it out, valuing people above and before everything else, so that I may treasure what You do, and so be a pleasing son and servant, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Giving God the Credit; July 9, 2019

Joshua 23:10-11 One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

The NIV inserts the word, so, between these two verses, but I think that in context that is quite justified. The Israelites had experienced many consecutive victories, and there was a huge risk that they would feel it was their own prowess that had achieved that. Joshua wanted to stand against that tendency, so he said this. In the first place, he says that their victories have been because God was fighting for them, but then he reminds them to love God, since God is the source of all the good they experience. We actually run the same risk. Mankind has progressed remarkably in many areas, notably science, medicine, and technology. The problem is, we tend to think we deserve all the credit, instead of being grateful that God has guided us and given us understanding and wisdom. As a result, some doctors, for example, develop a “god complex,” since their decisions and actions are literally life and death for their patients. (Surgeons seem to be particularly susceptible here.) Some scientists feel that given enough time, they could understand the whole universe and answer all the questions. Honest scientists realize that the more they learn, the more they discover they don’t know! When it comes to technology, it is clear that many people, both inventors and consumers, have idolized it, making it into a “god substitute,” forgetting that all technology eventually fails. The more God enables us to do, the more careful we need to be to love Him and keep Him first in our hearts and minds.

This has been a risk for me personally. I was blessed with good genes and a boundless curiosity, and I have brought many headaches, and worse, on myself and those around me by feeling I either had the answer or I could figure it out, to almost anything. By God’s grace I now know how foolish that attitude is, but I still have to be careful! Victories and accomplishments are nice, but I’ve got to keep in sharp focus the reality that none of them are possible without God. My heart must be given to and fixed on Him, because otherwise I will be deceived, and even deceive myself. (James 1:22)

Father, thank You for this reminder. You’ve been doing some good things recently, and I’m grateful. Help me never take personal credit for them, before others and especially in my own mind and heart. May I be so in love with You that nothing interferes with the flow of Your Spirit through me, for the sake of Your kingdom and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Love and Obedience; July 8, 2019

Joshua 22:5 “But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”

Repetition certainly helps with memory, and this particular content is repeated many times throughout the Bible. Some people might try to dismiss it as “Old Testament,” but Jesus not only referenced the original statement of this as “the greatest commandment,” (Matthew 22:37-38) He also was very explicit that loving Him includes obedience to Him. (John 14:15) We tend to relegate love to feeling and emotion, but all these passages make it clear that it’s an act of the will. (Don Francisco wrote a song about the marital relationship that says this explicitly.) When we consider love to be an emotion, we make all sorts of excuses for ourselves, because it’s very clear we don’t always feel loving. Families fall apart because people get married on an emotional high, but don’t know how to handle it when the emotions ebb. When the commitment of the will is there, the emotions return! The marital relationship is indeed a good metaphor and parable of our relationship with God, as Paul wrote about in Ephesians 5 and is mentioned many times throughout the Bible. When we depend on emotions for our Christian walk, we encounter the same problems a couple does when they try to depend on emotions. Far too many people have essentially divorced God! We don’t like to obey when “we don’t feel like it,” and that certainly takes the bloom off of the relationship. The problem is, God’s commands are all for our benefit, and the abundance of His blessings comes only with obedience.

This is something I have experienced first-hand. I well remember when we were really struggling financially (our younger daughter’s birth was covered by Medicaid) but felt we were supposed to tithe. We never had a tenth of our income left over at the end of the month, but we finally decided to bite the bullet and tithe as soon as the money came in. What do you know, we had a little left over at the end of that month! It has been over 45 years since then, and as we have tithed, God has supplied. Emotion has nothing to do with it. There have been a number of other things that we didn’t feel like doing – including forgiving people – but God has always blessed our obedience. God has demonstrated His faithfulness to us in so many ways that the emotion of loving Him comes very easily! As the Bill Gaither song says, “The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows.”

Father, thank You indeed for Your gracious love toward us. Thank You for the privilege of being channels of that love to others. Thank You for all that You did here yesterday, for all who attended and for how they were blessed. I do pray that the Body of Christ would be built up as You intend on every level, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Evangelism; July 7, 2019

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In a very real sense this is the proclamation of every evangelist. The difference is that for Gentiles, we don’t have the physical Promised Land to possess. Also, we know that in Christ the promise isn’t simply for a long physical life, but for eternal life with God. How good is that!? The problem is, most evangelists today only talk about the blessings and life, and leave out the little detail that apart from Christ people are already cursed and are headed for death. We quote John 3:16 and even 17, but leave out verse 18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Recently the term, existential threat, has come up in the news a good bit, but we don’t like to accept that our sins are an existential threat to each of us. We don’t like to accept that the wide road that everybody seems to be on leads to destruction. (Matthew 7:13-14) At this point, only those who have some reason to be forced to consider their own imminent mortality seem eager to choose life. It has long been said that “There are no atheists in foxholes.” We need to realize that every one of us is in a pitched battle for our soul, if we haven’t surrendered already to the enemy who wants to destroy us. The choice of life or death, blessings or curses, is ours.

I have never been a “hellfire and brimstone” preacher, but I keep running into passages like this one that indicate I need to be more clear about the consequences of refusing Christ’s offer of life. It’s not politically correct to tell people they’re headed for hell, but failing to do so is totally irresponsible. This is a struggle for me, because I have a strong tendency to conflict-avoidance. I greatly prefer telling people nice stuff! I’m not to stop telling them all the nice stuff that is in Christ, but I am never to sugar-coat the reality of hell and destruction. I have always operated on the basis of absolute honesty. I must not draw back when the honest truth might be unpalatable.

Father, thank You for this Word. Give me wisdom in following through. May I always speak Your truth in love, even when that truth is that someone is headed for eternity in hell. Thank You. Praise God!

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