Thursday, March 31, 2016

Smoke and Fire

Smoke and Fire

Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel, lived his life with the reality of God's presence before him every day. David had established his tabernacle on Mt. Zion, and had developed 24/7 worship before the Ark of God's Presence. I'm sure Solomon was trained as a musician like David, and had possibly even participated in the worship before the Ark of God's Presence. There is really no way to know exactly what he had witnessed during those times of worship. However, I believe the things that occurred on the day of the dedication of the temple Solomon had built were not fully expected.

The old adage states, “Where there's smoke, there's fire.” However, when it comes to the things of God that is not always the case. Many times we stop short of the fire by settling for the smoke.

Solomon built the temple guided by the instructions given him by his father, David. David had completed much of the preparation, leaving the actual building of the temple to his son, Solomon.

There was tradition, protocol, and history; obedience to the vision received from a previous generation.

2 Chronicles 5:1-10:
When all the work Solomon had done for the temple of the LORD was finished, he brought in the things his father David had dedicated--the silver and gold and all the furnishings--and he placed them in the treasuries of God's temple. Then Solomon summoned to Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord's covenant from Zion, the City of David. And all the men of Israel came together to the king at the time of the festival in the seventh month. When all the elders of Israel had arrived, the Levites took up the ark, and they brought up the ark and the Tent of Meeting and all the sacred furnishings in it. The priests, who were Levites, carried them up; and King Solomon and the entire assembly of Israel that had gathered about him were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted. The priests then brought the ark of the Lord's covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and covered the ark and its carrying poles. These poles were so long that their ends, extending from the ark, could be seen from in front of the inner sanctuary, but not from outside the Holy Place; and they are still there today. There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt.

Preparation was made. It was not happen-stance that brought them to this place. It was destiny. It was the foresight of their fathers. It was a fulfillment of the heavenly vision.

They didn't just wing it. The priests prepared themselves according to the law. The musicians were prepared by those taught by David. They all knew what to do and when to do it. They knew where they were supposed to be. There was no competition among them. They all had the same desire: give honor and glory to God.

1 Chronicles 5:11-14:
The priests then withdrew from the Holy Place. All the priests who were there had consecrated themselves, regardless of their divisions. All the Levites who were musicians--Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun and their sons and relatives--stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. 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 forever." 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.

It was an awesome sight; something not seen before by many of those present. The tangible presence of God had filled the place and they could not stand because of the cloud. Human effort was no longer tolerated. Man's effort had come to an end. Now all that could be done was to wait.

But then the man of God, Solomon, began to bring forth the Word of God for the moment. In the very presence where priests failed, Solomon performed HIS appointed service: to speak for the Lord! And speak he did!

1 Chronicles 6:1-42:
            Then Solomon said, "The LORD has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud; I have built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever." While the whole assembly of Israel was standing there, the king turned around and blessed them. Then he said: "Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who with his hands has fulfilled what he promised with his mouth to my father David. For he said, 'Since the day I brought my people out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city in any tribe of Israel to have a temple built for my Name to be there, nor have I chosen anyone to be the leader over my people Israel.
            But now I have chosen Jerusalem for my Name to be there, and I have chosen David to rule my people Israel.' "My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel.
            But the LORD said to my father David, 'Because it was in your heart to build a temple for my Name, you did well to have this in your heart. Nevertheless, you are not the one to build the temple, but your son, who is your own flesh and blood--he is the one who will build the temple for my Name.'
            "The LORD has kept the promise he made. I have succeeded David my father and now I sit on the throne of Israel, just as the LORD promised, and I have built the temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel. There I have placed the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD that he made with the people of Israel."
            Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in front of the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands. Now he had made a bronze platform, five cubits long, five cubits wide and three cubits high, and had placed it in the center of the outer court. He stood on the platform and then knelt down before the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.
            He said: "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth--you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it--as it is today.
            "Now LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, 'You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me according to my law, as you have done.' And now, O LORD, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David come true.
            "But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! Yet give attention to your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive.         "When a man wrongs his neighbor and is required to take an oath and he comes and swears the oath before your altar in this temple, then hear from heaven and act. Judge between your servants, repaying the guilty by bringing down on his own head what he has done. Declare the innocent not guilty and so establish his innocence.
            "When your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you and when they turn back and confess your name, praying and making supplication before you in this temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land you gave to them and their fathers.
            "When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and confess your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance.
            "When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when enemies besiege them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made by any of your people Israel--each one aware of his afflictions and pains, and spreading out his hands toward this temple--then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of men), so that they will fear you and walk in your ways all the time they live in the land you gave our fathers.
            "As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm--when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.
            "When your people go to war against their enemies, wherever you send them, and when they pray to you toward this city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name, then hear from heaven their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause.
            "When they sin against you--for there is no one who does not sin--and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, 'We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly'; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you.
            "Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.
            "Now arise, O LORD God, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. May your priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation, may your saints rejoice in your goodness. O LORD God, do not reject your anointed one. Remember the great love promised to David your servant."

When Solomon had finished giving the Word of the Lord, Jehovah responded to his prayer. The heavens opened and fire came down and consumed the sacrifices. The glory of God then filled the temple, such that the priests could not even ENTER the temple. It brought everyone to their knees!

1 Chronicles 7:1-3:
            When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, "He is good; his love endures forever."

Other examples: striking the ground with the arrows;

Problems with stopping when the smoke arrives.

As worship leaders, we tend to remember “the list” the day the glory came. Or, maybe “the song” that always gets the people engaged. However, if we repeat the song for the purpose of getting the repeated response we miss the purpose of God for that day. It was not the “sounding as one” that brought the fire, only the smoke. It was not until the full release of the Word of God that the fire appeared.

If we place limits on where God can take us as a congregation, we will never get beyond our ability to comprehend. We must move into the realm of faith.

Another instance of God finishing what man started.

Aaron and his sons completed everything that Moses told them to do. But when they “stepped down” after performing their duty, Moses and Aaron “blessed the people.” God responded by bringing fire to consume the sacrifice.

Leviticus 9:1-24:
            On the eighth day Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. He said to Aaron, "Take a bull calf for your sin offering and a ram for your burnt offering, both without defect, and present them before the LORD. Then say to the Israelites: 'Take a male goat for a sin offering, a calf and a lamb--both a year old and without defect--for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for a fellowship offering to sacrifice before the LORD, together with a grain offering mixed with oil. For today the LORD will appear to you.'"
            They took the things Moses commanded to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and the entire assembly came near and stood before the LORD.
            Then Moses said, "This is what the LORD has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the LORD may appear to you."
            Moses said to Aaron, "Come to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and the people; sacrifice the offering that is for the people and make atonement for them, as the LORD has commanded."
            So Aaron came to the altar and slaughtered the calf as a sin offering for himself. His sons brought the blood to him, and he dipped his finger into the blood and put it on the horns of the altar; the rest of the blood he poured out at the base of the altar. On the altar he burned the fat, the kidneys and the covering of the liver from the sin offering, as the LORD commanded Moses; the flesh and the hide he burned up outside the camp.
            Then he slaughtered the burnt offering. His sons handed him the blood, and he sprinkled it against the altar on all sides. They handed him the burnt offering piece by piece, including the head, and he burned them on the altar. He washed the inner parts and the legs and burned them on top of the burnt offering on the altar.
            Aaron then brought the offering that was for the people. He took the goat for the people's sin offering and slaughtered it and offered it for a sin offering as he did with the first one. He brought the burnt offering and offered it in the prescribed way. He also brought the grain offering, took a handful of it and burned it on the altar in addition to the morning's burnt offering.
            He slaughtered the ox and the ram as the fellowship offering for the people. His sons handed him the blood, and he sprinkled it against the altar on all sides. But the fat portions of the ox and the ram--the fat tail, the layer of fat, the kidneys and the covering of the liver--these they laid on the breasts, and then Aaron burned the fat on the altar. Aaron waved the breasts and the right thigh before the LORD as a wave offering, as Moses commanded.
            Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people.
            Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.

Man can, at best, prepare an environment conducive for God's glory to appear. This does not, however, work by formula. God's glorious outpouring is usually in response to man's earnest, sincere heart-cry to Father. Consider 2 Chronicles 16:9 (KJV).

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.

God is looking for us. He is waiting on us. We are not waiting on God.

On the day of Pentecost the people gathered to seek the Lord. When they found themselves “together together” the room was filled.

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Acts 2:1-2 (KJV)

The Bible clearly teaches that God responds to His people. “Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened.” Matthew 7:7 (KJV) God told Moses that He heard the cry of His people from Egypt.
And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; Exodus 3:7-8 (KJV)

It is time for the Church of Jesus Christ to approach the throne of God and seek first His Kingdom. We need to pray that His will would be accomplished in us. We need to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. He, then, is faithful to hear us and respond to us with His love, grace, power, and justice.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

We Were Guilty … But God – A Communion Devotion

We Were Guilty … But God – A Communion Devotion

While living in Cullman, I became acquainted with a man named Stanley Barnett. He is probably one of the nicest people I have ever met. He always had a pleasant demeanor, soft-spoken, but very outspoken about his love for the Lord, Jesus Christ.

One day in his hardware store we were discussing his family. He was telling me about his sister and some of the struggles she was having, asking me to pray for her. He then related a story to me that gave me such a clear picture of what our Lord has done for us.

The story goes something like this:

My dad was very abusive. He drank, and when he did he became violent. When he arrived home after drinking he would always be angry with the kids. There were 5 children, me being the oldest. Whenever he decided something was wrong (even if there was nothing) he would make us line up, oldest to youngest, and would beat us with a razor strop several times. And he would hit us hard.

Being the oldest, I was always first in line and took the brunt of his anger. When he finished with me he would start in on the next one. My sister was not very strong. She was sick a lot and could not sustain the beating that he would give her.

Isaiah 53:5 tells us that Jesus was “… wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Even though Jesus had done nothing wrong (He lived a sinless life) He bore the stripes on His back so that we would not have to.

Stanley continued his story:

After I received my beating, as unjust as it was, I would go to the back of the line where my sister was. When it came her turn I stepped up and told my dad, “She’s too weak. Please don’t do this to her.” He said, “Move out of the way boy! She deserves it the same as the rest of you.” I said, “Then let me have hers.” My dad, without flinching, began to beat me again.

That sister was not guilty, but she had someone willing to take her place so she would not have to suffer. The main difference between this story and our story is this: we were guilty. We deserved punishment for the sin we perpetrated against a holy God. But instead of punishing us, there was One that came to where we were in the line. When it came our turn He said, “I’ll take whatever is due them.”

This cup and this wafer are reminders to us that we didn’t have to feel the sting of the strop that was being swung toward us, nor will we have to feel the sting of death when that time comes, because we have an Elder Brother that showed mercy on us. Let this remind us of the stripes that He bore so that you and I can experience freedom in Christ, and enjoy a relationship with our Father God, unclouded by sin and transgressions.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

One of my favorite pop groups is Chicago. I’ve enjoyed the music, mainly because of the brass. I love their use of horns. One of their hit songs was call “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” In it they ask the question, and then follow it with another question: “Does anybody really care about time?”

Time is an unusual commodity. You only have a finite amount of it each day. You cannot save time; you can only spend it. If you do not use it productively you can never get it back. Let’s take a closer look at time.

God invented time when He separated the light from the dark. God made evening and morning = 1 day.

The Jewish calendar was developed as a lunar-based method to track the length of a year, with either 12 or 13 months. Each month has either 29 or 30 days
They add an entire month every 2-3 years.

Julian calendar had 365 days per year, plus Leap Day every 4th year in February.

Gregorian calendar, which is still used today, has 365 days per year. Every four years a Leap Day is added to February. However, even this has problems. Every 100 years they skip adding the Leap Day. Every 400 years they add the Leap Day.

Even this is not exactly accurate. The most accurate measure of time is the atomic clock. However, due to the earth’s rotation on its axis continually slowing, a Leap Second is now added periodically to keep “time” consistent. The last one was added on Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

Over the years I’ve noticed several important markers of our world has some unusual characteristics. For instance, the number Pi, which is the ratio of the circumference of a circle compared to its diameter. Both the circumference and diameter are finite numbers; measurable definitively. However, the resulting ratio is always the same number: 3.14159265359 … It is a non-repeating decimal. We call this an irrational number. It has no ending. You cannot measure it definitively.

Another anomaly is a mathematical constant called “e”. It is called the base of “natural logarithms. The value is approximately 2.71828 … It is also a non-repeating decimal, irrational, yet occurs naturally in our world.

What does this tell us about the world God created? It is not rational. It is beyond our ability to fully understand.

It was not until today that I considered time also being a non-absolute. God said evening and morning. We try calling it 24 hours. As close as we have come to quantifying it we still have to make adjustments, because every attempt to define God’s creation comes up short.

For most of us, knowing the current hour is sufficient. Any industry related to transportation has to keep things down to minutes. Perhaps NASA needs split-second accuracy to place a spacecraft on a planet millions of miles away that takes years to arrive at its destination. All I know is that God does not operate in time. He gave time to man so we could mark our lives. He knew we would need definitive parameters in which to live. We push the boundaries of our existence to the max but still cannot find a way to quantify God. I believe that is intentional.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The First Day of the Week

The First Day of the Week

Have you ever wondered why Christians have church on Sunday instead of “The Sabbath”, which is Saturday? What!?! You mean Sunday is not The Sabbath?

The Sabbath Day, as mentioned in The Law, was the seventh day of the week. It’s the day God “rested” from creation. It’s the day Moses was commanded to institute the rites of sacrificial worship. It was the day Israel was commanded to “rest”.

For the Christian, we celebrate on Sunday, the “first day” of the week. Why? I believe it is because it was the day of resurrection. Of all the days mentioned in scripture regarding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the day He rose is cemented by the many references. All four Gospels record the day of His resurrection.

There is much debate about the day Jesus was crucified. Most liturgical churches signify Friday as the day of crucifixion. However, some say Jesus died on Thursday, or even Wednesday. The debate hinges on the term “day of preparation” found in the Gospel accounts.

Matthew 27:62 (ESV) The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate

Mark 15:42 (ESV) And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath,

Luke 23:54 (ESV) It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.

John 19:14 (ESV) Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”

The other factor in the debate is the word “Sabbath.” This term was used, not only of the seventh day of the week, but also other “high holy” days in the Jewish calendar; one of those being The Feast of Unleavened Bread. There was a day of preparation where all of the leaven would be removed from the house. This was a pains-taking process that ensured that only unleavened bread would be used during the seven-day feast.

One other consideration was the way days were marked on the Jewish calendar. They considered the start of the day to be the evening. In Genesis you see this phrase repeated as the days of creation are described: “The evening and the morning was the [first] day.” It would be very easy to debate the day Jesus was crucified.

If you use the words of Jesus, the process becomes a little more obvious.

Matthew 12:40 (ESV) For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Using this as the measure, you can count backward from The First Day of the Week (Sunday). This introduces a new problem. Do you count the day of the crucifixion as well as the day of the resurrection? Or, do you insert a period of three days and nights between the two events?

For example, if Jesus rose on Sunday, do you count Sunday as one of the days? If so, then you would have to place the crucifixion on late Thursday. The three days and nights would then be Thursday night, Friday daytime, Friday night, Saturday daytime, Saturday night, and Sunday daytime. However, the women came to the tomb early and Jesus had already risen. Therefore Jesus would have only been in the grave three nights and two days.

If you consider the most popular time-line of the Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection, including both of these days in your count, you come up with three days and two nights.

If you include the day Jesus was crucified as one of the days, and exclude the day of resurrection, you would come out with the three days and nights: Thursday, Thursday night, Friday, Friday night, Saturday, and Saturday night. However, we know Jesus actually died late in the day because the Jewish leaders wanted Him off the cross before The Day of Preparation. Therefore, you’re still left with only two days and three nights.

You would actually have to back the date of the crucifixion to Wednesday in order for there to be enough days and nights to satisfy the “three days and three nights” model. In this case, Jesus would have died late Wednesday. Therefore, He was in the tomb Wednesday night, Thursday (The Day of Preparation), Thursday night, Friday (The Sabbath marking the beginning of The Feast of Unleavened Bread), Friday night, and Saturday. This time-lapse has Jesus being resurrected some time Saturday night in order for the tomb to be empty by Sunday (The First Day of the Week). This Wednesday-Saturday doctrine became popular in the 1700’s.

Here’s another thing to consider. Jesus said the resurrection would occur “on the third day.”

Matthew 20:18-19 (ESV) “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

Using this to reduce the number of actual days in the tomb you are back to a late Thursday afternoon crucifixion. The count would then be Thursday night, Friday, Friday night, Saturday, Saturday night, with Sunday (the third day) being the resurrection.

I have one more curveball for you. If you consider the travail in the Garden of Gethsemane, the trials, and scourging, all which appears to have transpired the night and morning preceding the crucifixion, as part of the “nights in the heart of the earth you then have a Friday crucifixion with a Sunday resurrection.

Here’s the bottom line for me. If it mattered in terms of our eternal destiny it would have been more clearly stated in scripture. Not knowing exactly the day of the week Jesus died does not change the fact that He died, on a cross, to pay the debt of sin for mankind. He rose again on the third day, The First Day of the Week, Sunday. This is the reason the Christian church gathers on Sunday instead of Saturday, The Sabbath.

Acts 20:7 (ESV) On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

Just as Christmas is not the actual date of Jesus’ birth, we still celebrate the miraculous manner by which He was born. The actual date of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are not the important thing, it is that we continually remember what was done for us. Without faith it is impossible to please God.

Hebrews 11:6 (ESV) And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

The element of faith actually assumes there are some things that we do not understand with our human mind. It is what makes salvation attainable by all. Let us lay aside the things that keep us apart (the day of events) and focus on the reality that we can pass from death into life through Jesus Christ, the Spotless Lamb of God, that was crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended, and seated at the right hand of God, sent us the Holy Spirit and lives to make intercession for us. That, my friend, is a fact!