“Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth,”
Difficultly is part of the journey for the people of God. Israel as a nation has been under constant scrutiny and attack since its inception and at the same it is true of the child of God. The moment you publicly proclaim the name of Jesus you will become the object of the world’s attack. Most of the positive things that are done in the name of Christ are overlooked, ignored or forgotten while anything and everything the church or the individual Christian does wrong is paraded as a proof that Christians are no different from the world.
After a recent attack at a gay night club by a person with radical Islamic roots the attention soon turned to the church as though this was somehow caused by the Bible’s position that homosexuality is a sin. Soon the news channels began to report on a church in California where the pastor declared that the victims of the attack deserved what happened because of their lifestyle. I was shocked not only to hear that a person would say such a foolish thing but that the media was able to ignore what was being said and done in thousands of churches across the nation and find one church that held this opinion and make it the news. What about the millions of Bible believing followers of Christ who gathered with their congregations to weep for the victims and pray for their families. What about those who made their way to Orlando to pass out food and water as a way to say they were sorry for the tragedy and to condemn the actions of a violent and godless man? The reality is the world has always opposed the followers of God and put them under scrutiny and attack. Jesus put it this way,
John 15:18-25 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.”
As believers we should do all we can to change the world’s perspective of Christ and the church. When a person attacks Christianity they should have to second guess themselves because of your actions. They should find themselves making generalities about Christians while having to rethink those statements because of your life, love and faithfulness to the word of God. We cannot ever compromise the message of the cross but we should be willing to lay our lives down for others to hear it, see it and know it.
“Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.”
It seems the devil and the Lord both understand the importance of the church. The Lord exhorts us regarding the need to be in fellowship, and the devil uses a wide array of tactics to keep us away. We have all heard phrases like,
“I am too busy.”
“No one was nice to me there.”
“The church is filled with hypocrites.”
I even heard the story of a man, who said, “As long as Mr. So and so is still alive I will never step foot in that place.”
It seems that we are the only ones who fail to recognize how important church attendance is. The Psalmist declares why we should be willing to endure sick children, music that might not be our first choice, crowded parking lots, awkward seasons of not knowing people very well, and even sermons that may on occasion be a bit too long. He declares, it is the one who plants himself in the house of God who will find himself flourishing in his relationship with the Lord.
The church was designed by God and purchased with the blood of His Son. He created it to be the place where His people would gather for fellowship, corporate worship and the study of His word. The reality is that all the difficulties we endure to remain a fixed part of the local church, are part of the sanctification process where God uses the circumstances of life to conform us into the image of Jesus.
Come and be planted in the house of the Lord!
“Lord, I have loved the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells.”
Life is filled with important things and with essential things. Often, what is important will overshadow what is essential. David was an important man with many responsibilities; he was a husband, father, musician, soldier and a king. Each role he played added new responsibilities and threatened his time with God. To guard against this, David learned to fall in love with the house of the Lord, because there he could experience the glory of God.
To be fair, we must recognize that the glory of God can be revealed anywhere. In a previous psalm, David explained that the heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows forth His handiwork (Psalm 19). We recognize it is possible to experience God anywhere and at any time. That being said, we must also recognize that there are places where we have a much higher likelihood of experiencing the presence, touch, voice and glory of God.
God loves to reveal Himself to the contrite and humble, so if we come seeking to receive from Him, we are likely to experience His presence. Israel was instructed to offer morning and evening sacrifices, so if we begin our day reading the Bible and praying about the things we read, we are likely to experience His glory. God set up the church as the gathering place for the saints, and promised to be in our midst when we meet. So when we gather to worship and learn with God’s people, we are likely to experience His glory.
Perhaps one of the most practical ways to grow in Christ and to ensure that we remain walking with Him, is to learn to love the places where God’s glory dwells.
“You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes—”
Ignoring the Word of God, and doing whatever we determine to be right, has always been a problem for mankind, and is a reoccurring theme within Scripture. It was the driving force behind the problems recorded in the book of Judges, and was the ultimate cause of Israel’s civil war, and their fall to Assyria and Babylon. Here, this self-reliant attitude is used as it related to the way people chose to worship. God declared, once Israel entered into the promised land they were to set the tabernacle in a designated location, and there the people would congregate to worship God. No one was allowed to set up his own altar on a hillside or under a tree. God established a centralized location for worship that would unite the people to one another. Years later, Israel would experience a civil war that resulted in the kingdom being divided. Ten tribes formed the northern nation of Israel, and two tribes the southern nation of Judah. The first thing Jeroboam, king of Israel, did upon taking the throne, was to set up new places of worship so the people would not go back to Jerusalem. He understood the way to unite people was to worship God together.
Sadly, this same attitude is all too common, today, among followers of Christ. Way too many Christians are separating themselves from the church, and attempting to worship God apart from congregating with other believers. Among the more common excuses for this behavior include: I can’t find a good church, those people are all hypocrites, or we might allude to how our feelings were hurt by the way the church treated us. It is important to keep in mind, the church is not a perfect entity, but has been designed by God as the means in which believers grow, and the gospel is declared to the world. Instead of isolating ourselves, we should seek to surround ourselves with others who will be used by God, to both encourage and challenge us to become more like Christ.
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25
The Priestly Blessing
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, “This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”””
“So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of thieves.”
Journeying through the gospels, we have many glimpses into the emotions of Christ. We see His compassion for the multitudes and the sick, His love toward the rich young ruler, His sadness at the death of Lazarus, His tenderness toward the children, and so much more. As we encounter Him at the Temple, it is His anger that becomes evident to us. We read of Him turning tables over and driving people out of the Temple. Whatever we do not understand about this event, it is clear to all that Jesus is very upset with what is going on in the Temple courts. The key to unlocking the meaning of this event is in the words of Jesus Himself. He said,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of thieves.”
The Temple and it’s ministries, we’re designed by God with the purpose of bringing sinful men into fellowship with God. A person would bring an offering to the priest, the offering was sacrificed, and sin covered. The Temple should have been a place where people loved and longed to go. When Jesus arrived, things had changed. The courts had been turned into a market place and worship became a way of making a buck. The money changers charged a high rate to convert the Roman coinage, used on the streets, into the Temple coins, used for offerings. The priests required the people to purchase sheep from them for sacrifice. All this was turning people away from fellowship with God, and restricting worship.
Today the church ought to be a place where sinners are drawn to Jesus, and people are able to fellowship with Christ. Just like priests, we can become guilty of doing things that hinder others from coming to Christ. Perhaps an attitude toward a neighbor or co-workers is keeping them from Christ. Perhaps a prejudice toward a certain group of people is hindering you from inviting them to church. We should seek to do our best to be sign posts pointing people to Jesus, rather than road blocks that keep them away.
Is there anyone to whom you may have been a stumbling block? Anyone who, because of your behaviors, may have reason not to come to church? Take a few minutes to pray for them, that God would make you a positive influence upon them.
“Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,”’ says the Lord of hosts.”
After seventy years of captivity Israel was allowed to return to the land and begin to rebuild their broken down Temple. Millions had been taken captive and only a fraction returned to get the task started. Even those who returned had become discouraged and had forsaken the work. It is in this setting that Zechariah declares,
“Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,”
For some, returning to the Lord actually involved a change of their current location. If they were going to be obedient, they would need to pack up their stuff and make the long journey to Jerusalem. For others, returning meant getting back to the work in which they were once involved. Life had taken precedence over serving the Lord, and it was time to get things back in their proper order.
What about you? If God’s word is going to have its proper place in our lives, we need to examine how we should respond to its exhortations. In this case, we are exhorted to return to God. For some, that means we need to get back to the work in which we were once involved. I have noticed, over the years, that many families start out serving the Lord together, but as the kids grow and life gets busy, they begin to wane. Soon they are not only neglecting service, but even begin to neglect fellowship all together. Don’t wait until tragedy strikes, before you will reevaluate your spiritual leadership in the family. Take the necessary steps today to return to the Lord.