How the Temple Came to Be

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to dove_1xGod.” (Hebrews 13:16)

There’s a fable that the old rabbis would tell about how the spot was chosen for the Temple of Israel.

Two brothers farmed one tract of land and shared one mill. Each day, the brothers worked the fields together. Each night, they would gather together whatever grain they produced and bring their portion home.

One of the brothers was single. The other was married with many children. The single brother decided that his married brother needed much more grain than he did. So secretly in the middle of the night, he snuck over to his married brother’s storehouse and gave some of his portion to his brother.

The married brother realized that his single brother had no children or anyone who could care for him in his old age, so he decided that he needed to have more in storage for the future. So each night, he secretly deposited some grain into his single brother’s storehouse.

One night, the two men each undertook their secret mission when their paths crossed halfway between the storehouses. When each realized what his brother was doing, they embraced and wept.

As the story goes, God witnessed what happened there and said, “This is a holy place—a place of reconciliation, love, and sacrifice—and this is the place where my presence will dwell.”

The story isn’t historically factual, but I believe it is theologically true. God is present when his people take care of each other and are reconciled to each other. You can make your home a “holy place” by practicing the art of forgiveness and sacrifice.

An Important Greeting

fearAlmost every time that an angel meets a human, the angel says the same thing: “Do not fear.” I assume there’s good reason for that, because almost every time an angel meets a human, the human is face down on the ground, trembling in terror.

Two truths are revealed by the angels’ greetings in scripture, and both truths must be kept in perspective.

Truth #1: God is awesome.

“Awesome” means awe-inspiring. That means awe-full. That means terrifying. He is bigger, stronger, smarter, brighter and better than you. Being in his perfect presence makes my imperfections and limitations so painfully obvious I cannot stand it. Moses was so changed by being in God’s presence that the Israelites begged him to talk to God on their behalf because they would die if exposed to his radiance (Exodus 20:18-21).

Truth #1 means that we are wise to fear him.

Yes, I know, perfect love casts out fear. But yes, we need to know that his presence is bright and full and terrifying in a way that we cannot stand to be in his presence. Scripture affirms this in Ecclesiastes 12:13 “Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (See also Deuteronomy 10:12)

Truth #2: We shouldn’t be afraid when the terrifying Lord of Heaven shows up, because he tells his people not to be afraid. (See Luke 1:30, Matthew 1:19-25, Luke 2:8-20 and others).

In summary, we need to be afraid. We need not to be afraid. Confused yet?

This is one of those beautiful and powerful paradoxes of scripture. “God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29, Deuteronomy 4:24). We should never let our view of God become too tame or too small. “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 NASB).  If we forget that we are dealing with God, we risk minimizing him, disobeying him, and trivializing him. When Lewis imagined him in Narnia as Aslan, he was not “a tame lion.”

This fear should not be our only or overwhelming response. If fear is all we have, we don’t have a relationship with God who invites us to fear no more. We remember his mercy towards us. Paul said, “Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God” (Romans 11:22 NET).

Don’t neglect the fear or the kindness, rather, bow before the God who says do not fear!

Personal Day of Prayer

national-day-of-prayerThursday was the National Day of Prayer. People from all sorts of backgrounds met together to pray for our nation and our communities.

Do you ever run out of things to pray for? Here are some things that might spur your prayer list:

  • For the government to rule justly and peaceably
  • For the safety of our police, paramedics, and fire fighters
  • For wisdom and patience for school teachers
  • For endurance for our missionaries overseas
  • For the farmers who grow our food
  • For single people to feel valued and loved in the Kingdom
  • For the health of the athletes who entertain us
  • For artists to use their gifts to glorify God
  • For those whose faith is weak to be strengthened
  • For boldness to speak the gospel in a world that has forgotten it
  • For the media to report truth accurately
  • For those who are grieving to find comfort
  • For the billions enslaved by the false promises of materialism
  • For our military men and women who serve on our behalf
  • For those who are researching cures for diseases to have success
  • For preachers of the gospel to study truth and communicate well
  • For the sick to find health and peace
  • For eyes to see the sins hiding in our own hearts
  • For parents to raise their children in the love of Jesus and not give up during those sleepless nights
  • For doctors and nurses to serve compassionately and wisely
  • For teens to make good decisions in a world without a moral compass
  • For our enemies to repent and find a better way
  • For those stuck in cycles of poverty to find a way out
  • For opportunities to share Jesus with people who are searching for him
  • For married people to have relationships that reflect the love of Jesus
  • For authors to write useful and beautiful books to inspire us
  • For the wicked to repent or that God will stop their harm
  • For children who are orphaned or neglected
  • For elders to shepherd the church wisely
  • To praise and thank and glorify the God who allows us to make such bold requests of him
  • For a better ability to pray, for the wisdom to ask the right things, and for the will of God to be done.

You could easily expand this list. Why not make your own, personal, day of prayer and spend some time in it?

The Fountain of Life

youthFive hundred years before Jesus, Herodotus wrote about a mysterious place with water that rolled back the effects of age and restored youth and vitality to the aged. Ever since his day, explorers have scoured the globe in search of the fountain of youth or the fountain of life. French explorer Ponce de León continued the search in the new world, believing for a while that he found it in what is now called St. Augustine, Florida.

The explorers have all returned home empty-handed, but that doesn’t mean their search was totally in vain, though. The book of Proverbs talks about a fountain of life. It’s not a body of water located on the map, but it is something that preserves life.

“The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” (Proverbs 14:26). Earlier in the book, we read that “the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.” (Proverbs 10:11)

There’s a biblical principle: when you follow God’s instructions, you will have full, abundant life (see John 10:10). Even if your time on earth is cut short, Jesus promised another kind of fountain of life. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26) He went further and said, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Christianity rightly lived often adds to the span of our days on earth—but that is only the beginning. In Jesus, we can truly live forever. How’s that for a fountain of life?

What are my good deeds worth?

tallyThere’s a story about an old man who died and met St. Peter at the gates of heaven.

Peter explained, “You’re going to need 100 points to get in. Tell me what good things you’ve done in your life, and I’ll tell you how many points it was worth.”

The man said, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and was a great husband.”

Peter replied, “Great. That’s three points.”

“Three points!?” the man replied. “Well, I went to church every time the doors were opened and gave generously.”

Peter said, “Good work. That’s three more points.”

The man started to get nervous, so he tried to think of what else he had done. “I went on mission trips every year and preached the gospel to thousands!”

Peter said, “OK. I think that’s worth a point.”

The man was panicked—just one point? The math wasn’t working out. There was no way he could reach 100 points. He thought and thought of all the good that he had done and finally cried out in terror, “At this rate, the only way I’ll get in is by the grace of God.”

Peter smiled and said, “Come on in. Now you get it.”

We don’t do good deeds to bribe God with our goodness. We don’t do good deeds to undo our previous bad deeds. We don’t do good deeds to impress people around us. We do good deeds as our way of saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for the grace that saved me! I want to share it with the world!”

Who are you wearing?

whowewaringWhen celebrities walk the red carpet outside the major award shows, there’s always a reporter who is commenting on “who” everyone is wearing.

After David defeated Goliath and ushered in God’s deliverance of Israel, he became national hero. The women lined the streets and sang songs of him. Jonathan, King Saul’s son, became dear friends with David—perhaps even the best human friend we read about in scripture.

To demonstrate his loyalty and love, in 1 Samuel 18:4, “Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.” This was no small act; Jonathan gave up the robe of the heir to the throne of Israel. He gave up the armor that might save his life. He forfeited his weapons and his authority and laid it at the feet of David. David now wore Jonathan’s garments.

Jonathan isn’t the only man in scripture who gave up his kingly garments for someone else. Isaiah praised the Lord, saying, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; for he has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:10)

God has given his people his own garments of righteousness. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, the Bible says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.” Most Christians understood that in Jesus, God has taken away our sin and uncleanness, but many don’t understand the rest of what God has done. Not only did he take away our imperfection, he has given us something new—his righteousness!

As Christians, we are clothed with the King’s garments. We are not perfect—but we are clothed in his perfection. Like children, as we grow and develop in the grace of Jesus, we “grow into” that garment and become more like him. What a gift! So, who are you wearing?


dominos-1“God! You are so stupid!”

Christians rightly find this phrase highly offensive. After all, we are mere mortals, and he is the all-knowing one. How could the finite possibly insult the infinite?

The book of Proverbs offers one explanation. “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker” (Proverbs 17:5). Most Christians would bristle if they heard someone blaspheme the name of God, but might not give a second thought to a snide comment about the poor. Scripture says that when you insult a poor man, you are really insulting his creator.

Scripture teaches that all sin is sin against God. When Cain murdered Abel, he stole the life-blood that God had given him. He stamped out the spirit of life that God had put into his brother. He marred the image of God within himself. He usurped God’s role as the author and finisher of human life. He victimized Abel, his parents, and his God. When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife, he rejected her advances by saying that he could not “do this great wickedness and sin against God.” (Genesis 39:9)

Perhaps if we realized that our actions have repercussions beyond the earthly, it would cause us to evaluate them more carefully. If we realized that our words to other humans were actually insulting to God, would it change what we say in the heat of an argument? If we realized that our selfishness and greed wasn’t just hurting our families, but it was robbing God, would we be more concerned about the consequences?

Solomon didn’t just write about negative repercussions. He repeated this proverb later in his book, but with a positive promise. He wrote, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (Proverbs 14:31). Our good deeds are not done just for other humans—but for God himself.

Let’s remember that our actions, whether good or bad, reflect our view of God. Jesus said that whatever we do—or don’t do—for the least of those among us, we do to him (see Matthew 25). Let’s keep in mind the words of Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in th e name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

What Unity Requires

unityFrankly, one of the reasons that families, nations, and even churches struggle with unity is that it just isn’t easy.

Have you ever thought about what unity requires?

Unity requires me to value the feelings of others more than my own. That’s never easy.

Unity listens before it speaks.

Unity needs forgiveness and forbearance to smooth over those rough patches when it would be easier to nurse a grudge.

Unity demands wisdom to discern the difference between absolutes and negotiables. It must have generosity to compromise where possible and courage to stand where it must.

Unity thrives on honesty and communication instead of gossip and speculations.

Unity exists only when people are willing to listen to each other and not assume the worst about those with whom they disagree.

Unity loves instead of hates.

Unity takes a long view. It doesn’t throw in the towel after a setback.

Unity prioritizes the conflicts it faces. It won’t make a mountain out of a molehill. It knows what hill is worth dying on.

Unity seeks to understand before being understood.

Unity stresses a willingness to change when confronted with valid new information. It can’t be hemmed in its own rut.

Unity is based on commitment to the greater good, not a personal agenda.

Division is always easier than unity, but David nailed it when he said, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

If Jesus were still dead…

tomb-image…the Bible wouldn’t be the best-selling book in all of history.

…our hillsides wouldn’t be dotted with cemeteries lined with crosses.

…the university would not exist.

…our hospital emergency rooms wouldn’t be identified by a red cross.

…your weak or elderly family members would be discarded and disposed of as unproductive members of society.

…Sunday would be just another workday.

…education would be a privilege of the rich and elite.

…calendars wouldn’t call this the year 2016 A.D., anno domini, in the year of our Lord.

…orphanages and foster care systems wouldn’t exist.

…Da Vinci would never have painted, Shakespeare would never have written, Michelangelo would never have carved, and Beethoven would never have composed.

…death would be the end.

The life, death, burial, and resurrection didn’t just change his fate. It is an understatement to say that he changed the world. Praise God that we serve not the God of the dead, but the God of the living!

Ten Tips for Fighting Fair

FTDF2Wherever you find people, you’ll find disagreements, too. Here are ten suggestions for how to “fight fair” adapted from Danny Akin’s book on Exalting Jesus in Song of Songs. I think you’ll find them useful whether you’re arguing with your spouse or your friends about politics.

  1. Confront problems as soon as possible after they arise. Don’t let them fester into bitterness.
  2. Master the art of listening. Make sure you understand what they actually are saying, not what you think they are saying. Don’t rush them.
  3. Limit the discussion to the present issue. Don’t bring yesterday’s mess into it. What’s done is done.
  4. Use “I” messages to make your point and express your feelings. “You” messages are attacks. “I” messages are admissions.
  5. Avoid exaggerations. “Always” and “never” aren’t helpful. They move us from attacking the issue to attacking the person.
  6. Avoid character assassination. Don’t insult, don’t demean, don’t patronize. Jesus didn’t use these when he talked to the devil, so you probably shouldn’t use them with other children of God, either.
  7. Use appropriate words and actions for the discussion. Is this really worth yelling about? Does the way I load the dishwasher really need to get my blood pressure up?
  8. Don’t focus on winning or losing. If you win an argument with a friend, you’ve won a loser. How well does that work? Focus on understanding. What do you really want? Reconciliation and peace.
  9. Determine limits. Know what “hot-button” topics do nothing except derail the conversation. Vow not to cross them.
  10. Choose to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice. When you hesitate to offer it, remember how often you need it. And if you can’t figure out why you would need forgiveness, think harder. Be willing to say, “I was wrong” and mean it.

Do you think any of these suggestions, if implemented, might change how we talk about politics? Might they change how we relate to that hard-to-get-along-with person in our lives?