I Love Your House!

Today’s reading is Psalm 26.

Have you ever walked into a friend’s house for the first time and just been blown away? It’s layout is cool. The d├ęcor is fabulous. It’s cozy. You just love it. You wish it was yours, and you start mentally jotting down ideas about how to improve your house. Psalm 26 is all about that. Except it isn’t simply a friend’s house, it is the Lord’s house. “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.” For David, this referred to the tabernacle. After Solomon, it spoke of the temple. But for us, it is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:19-22 demonstrates that the collection of all Christians whether Jews or Gentiles is the temple of the Lord. Ephesians 3:19 is the prayer that this modern temple will be filled with the fullness of God, that is, being filled with His glory. While this refers to the universal church, the sum collection of all disciples of all places and of all times, we mostly interact with this temple at a congregational level. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying each congregation is a temple of the Lord, but our interaction with the temple (the universal church) is on that congregational level (the local church). This entire psalm is about “going to church.” No, it isn’t about going to a church’s building. Rather, it is about gathering with the church, the assembly, the brothers and sisters. It is about gathering to worship the Lord God with our spiritual family. Whether we are gathering to pray, sing, read Scripture, break the Bread of Life, or break the bread of communion, or a combination of these things, David demonstrates the attitude we should have. Do you look forward to Sunday? Do you look forward to congregational gatherings, classes, worship, singings, prayings just because it is time with God’s church, time in God’s house, time in the midst of God’s glory? Or is it a checklist item you want to mark off as quickly as possible and get out of the way so you can get on with all the other things you think are more important? No doubt. It’s a growth process. But may we all get to where we can say, “I love Your house, Lord!”

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 26.

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Let Him In!

Today’s reading is Psalm 24.

Those final verses of Psalm 24 are a conversation between the gates of the temple and the triumphal procession of Yahweh. The temple was charged to open wide its gates and its doors to allow the King of glory entrance. But this should give us pause for a moment. Where is that temple? Can this song be sung today? That temple has been shaken out of the way so what cannot be shaken could remain. The kingdom that cannot be shaken remains. And so does the temple that cannot be shaken. What temple is that? That, my brothers and sisters, is us. We are that temple. According to Ephesians 2:19-22, we the believers in Jesus Christ, whether from among the Jews or from among the Gentiles, are the temple of the Lord. We learned yesterday of Israel’s great failure. We must not also fail. We are to be the dwelling place of the King of glory. He should dwell in our hearts. He should dwell in our churches. He should dwell in His church. We must lift up our heads, open our hearts and our minds to give Him entrance. We must open our lives to give Him free reign. He is the King of glory. He is mighty in battle. And when we give Him entrance, He will fight on our behalf and we will be victorious. God be praised! Our King is great! Let Him in !

Next week’s reading is Psalm 25.

PODCAST!!!

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Clean Hands and Pure Hearts

Today’s reading is Psalm 24.

We’ve decided to lay down our tools for building our own personal hill. We’ve decide there really is a hill to climb. But we are still left with the question of who actually gets to climb it. The God who “dwells” on this hill owns everything because He created it all. Surely, not just anyone can make their way into His presence. A similar question was asked in Psalm 15. Almost every bit of that qualification list had to do with the worshipers relationship with others. This list, however, seems to give the other side. This one is mostly about our relationship with God. The four qualifications: 1) Clean hands. 2) Pure heart. 3) Worship God only. 4) Honest; though, considering the list, this is probably more about not profaning God’s name (see Leviticus 19:12). Isaiah seems to have these same principles in mind in the context of Isaiah 59:3. God doesn’t listen to the worship offered by those with defiled hands. Paul makes this same point in 1 Timothy 2:8 when he points out men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger and quarreling. While this statement demonstrates prayer with uplifted hands was a norm for Christians in the New Testament, his main emphasis is those uplifted hands were supposed to be clean. Perhaps the most pointed allusion to this passage is often overlooked by commentators and search engines (maybe because the Greek words aren’t the same as those in the LXX for Psalm 24:4). In James 4:8, James says sinners need to cleanse their hands and purify their hearts. But, contextually, this was part of drawing near to God so He will draw near to us. This is part of submitting ourselves to God and resisting the devil. It is part of humbling ourselves before God. And the pure heart actually means to be single-minded, which, of course, means our mind doesn’t go after other masters. We don’t become friends with the world or with false gods. But here is a fantastic principle we need to grasp. The person of Psalm 24:4 is not the sinlessly perfect person who has brought his/her own righteousness to lay out before God. After all, who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin?” (Proverbs 20:9). Rather, this person is blessed with “righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Psalm 24:5). If we humble ourselves before God, He will exalt us (James 4:10). In other words, even the clean hands and pure heart are not made that way by our own strength, but are made so by the strength and grace of God as we resist the devil and draw near to the Lord. Who can ascend the Holy Hill? The one who resists the devil and draws near to the Lord. The one who seeks the face of the God of Jacob. Why the God of Jacob? Because Jacob was the one who sought the Lord’s blessing and simply would not let go no matter how much it hurt and how much it cost him until he got it (see Genesis 32:22-32). In other words, we were wrong in the beginning. Anyone can climb this Holy Hill. That is, anyone who really wants God more than he or she wants anything else. What do you want?

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 24.

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On Hills and Towers

Today’s reading is Psalm 24.

When we realize everything that exists belongs to the Lord Yahweh, we are suddenly struck by an overwhelming question. Who among us could remotely ascend the hill of the Lord? Yet, isn’t that exactly where all of mankind wants to stand? As far back as Genesis 11, folks have wanted to ascend to the Lord’s domain, to dwell on God’s holy hill. Yet, they didn’t want to stand there as subjects invited into the Lord’s house. They wanted to stand beside Him as equals. They wanted to make a name for themselves. They wanted to build their own holy hill that would rival any belonging to the Lord. What did they learn? The earth belongs to the Lord, not men. So do the heavens. The owner schooled them in new languages and scattered them across the face of His earth. And isn’t this exactly where mankind is today? It seems there are three kinds of people today. The first is busy building his own holy hill, whether it is a completely false religion or a personal version of Christianity. Few of these people are purposefully trying to stand with God as an equal, but in the end the person who follows his own religion is his own god. The second isn’t trying to build a holy hill at all. Rather, this person is trying to level the Lord’s Holy Hill as if destroying that hill will somehow mean he has proven God isn’t there. The third is merely climbing the Lord’s Hill. No doubt, this person makes mistakes, sometimes slides downhill, sometimes gets off the beaten path, but by the grace of God is making his or her way to be with the Lord. The earth is the Lord’s. Its inhabitants are the Lord’s. We only do what He gives us enough rope to do. Let us be careful, lest we get hung on the gallows of our own making. We need to climb the Lord’s Holy Hill on the Lord’s terms and stay there. Nowhere else is worth the climb.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 24.

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According to the Way

Today’s reading is Acts 24.

In Acts 24:5, Tertullus calls the kingdom of Christ the “sect of the Nazarenes.” But Paul makes a correction. It isn’t a sect of anything else. That is, it isn’t a branch or philosophy under the umbrella of any other ideology. It is the Way. I have no doubt, that name is used because Jesus is the Way. One of the very intriguing aspects of Christ’s church whether referring to the universal church or to the localized manifestations of it is the New Testament never names it. Rather, His citizenry is only ever described. Sometimes the head, source, owner of the church is the basis of the description. For instance, the church or churches of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; et al), “the churches of God in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 2:14), “the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15), “the churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16–the only place this is used), or simply “God’s church” (1 Timothy 3:5). Sometimes the geographical location is part of the description. For instance, “the churches of Judea that are in Christ” (Galatians 1:22) or “the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2). Sometimes the folks who make up the congregation are part of the descriptions. For instance, “the church of the Laodiceans” (Colossians 4:16), “the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23–Notice “are” is the plural verb; the author is referring to the citizens as the firstborn, not the Christ). Sometimes the description is minimalistic, as if the authors just expected the readers to understand, and the word “church” is simply used (see 1 Timothy 5:16; James 5:14; 3 John 6, 9; et al). It is called the “household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15). It is described as a “flock” by Jesus (John 10:16) and Paul (Acts 20:28) and Peter (1 Peter 5:1-2). Notice none of these is a name. They are all descriptions. The closest the New Testament comes to naming Christ’s church is right here when Paul calls it The Way (see also Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23). And notice, it is not “a” way, it is “The Way.”

Today’s reading is Acts 24.

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Thousands of Jewish Christians

Today’s reading is Acts 21.

When Paul got to Jerusalem, James and the elders of the Jerusalem church wanted to impress upon him how important it was that the Jewish Christians understood he wasn’t teaching them to abandon the Law or forsake Moses. They asked him to “See how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed.” That is amazing because back in Acts 8:1, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were scattered. Essentially, only the leadership of the Jerusalem church was left in town. But by Acts 21, there are thousands of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem again. WOW! That shows the incredible working and grace of God. When the Lord’s hand is with a congregation, it is amazing what can be done. It also shows God’s incredible use of strong leaders. When Jesus conducted His life ministry, He did make disciples, but mostly He developed a handful of leaders. God used that handful of leaders from the day of Pentecost onward to cause exponential growth in the kingdom. And when the church of Jerusalem was scattered, it was essentially that same handful of leaders that God used to prompt exponential growth again. It’s important for churches to make disciples, that is our commission. However, as we make disciples, let us also develop leaders. After all, it is the leaders who will do the lion’s share of making more disciples down the road.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 21.

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On the First Day of the Week

Today’s reading is Acts 20.

A couple of important things for Christians happened on the first day of the week. Jesus rose from the dead. Christ’s kingdom was established. It should not be at all surprising then to discover that Christ’s congregations meet on the first day of the week. We see it here in Acts 20. The first day of the week is not the New Testament Sabbath. No, the Sabbath is always the seventh day of the week; though, under the New Covenant, Sabbath observance is not bound. However, the first day of the week is the day Christians gather within their congregations to remember Jesus, His death, and resurrection by breaking bread together. And, of course, the bread that we break is a participation in the body of Christ and the cup that we bless is a participation in the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). We aren’t here talking about getting together for a potluck, but participating in the Lord’s Supper, in communion. When it is the first day of the week, congregations need to gather to break bread in the Lord’s Supper; if congregations are gathered to break bread in the Lord’s Supper it needs to be the first day of the week. That is what we see from churches in the New Testament, that is what we need to see from churches today.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 20.

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The Hand of the Lord

Today’s reading is Acts 11.

Why did the Antioch church have so much success with the gospel? Because the hand of the Lord was with them. How will we have success with the gospel today? The hand of the Lord needs to be with us. I know I have to remember this all the time. Sometimes…okay, I’ll be honest, a lot of the time, I get caught up in my own arrogance and pride thinking my ideas are the best, my plans are greatest, my work is what is needed to grow my home congregation. It’s just not true. What is needed is the hand of the Lord. If the hand of the Lord is with us, He can use anyone, any plans, anyone’s work. No doubt, like those Christians, like Barnabas, like Saul, we need to work. We need to plan and then act out the plans. But we always need to remember who the author of the success really is: the Lord. Let’s simply thank the Lord that He lets us be involved.

Next week’s reading is Acts 12.

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Barnabas: A Son of Encouragement

Today’s reading is Acts 9.

We started the week with the shocking choice of Saul, but we are seeing a whole cast of supporting disciples who made Saul successful. Without Ananias, Saul would have not even been a Christian. Without Barnabas, Saul would have been forever on the outskirts of the church. It took Barnabas, a son of encouragement, a merciful, compassionate, trusting disciple to bring Saul in and stick his neck out for Saul before the apostles. By the way, did you notice that it wasn’t the Holy Spirit who brought Saul before the apostles? It wasn’t the Holy Spirit who revealed to the apostles or the Jerusalem church that Saul could be trusted. It was Barnabas. Why? Because God works through people. We need to be the kind of people the Holy Spirit works through. We need to be the Barnabases that God uses to grow the church and comfort the brethren.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 9.

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Preaching the Word

Today’s reading is Acts 8.

When the Christians from Jerusalem scattered, they didn’t go quietly. They went preaching and teaching. However, notice what they went teaching and preaching: The Word. They didn’t go teaching and preaching self-help psychology. They didn’t go teaching and preaching philosophy. They didn’t go teaching and preaching cultural mandates. They taught the Word. The Word has been so linked to the kingdom of Christ that the growth of the Word has been used interchangeably for the growth of the kingdom (see Acts 6:7). While the Word teaches us to be moral, moralism is not the foundation of the kingdom. The Word is. While the Word provides guidance for successful living, successful living is not the foundation of the kingdom. The Word is. While the Word gives instruction in a psychologically fulfilling and meaningful life, psychological fulfillment is not the foundation of the kingdom. The Word is. When what we teach and preach looks and sounds more like the self-help section of the local bookstore than it does the preaching and teaching of Jesus, Peter, and Paul, we are going to be in trouble. And while folks’s lives may seem to improve, they won’t be saved. These early Christians were scattered, but went about preaching the Word. Folks were saved. May we do the same.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 8.

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