He Will Always Be Worshipped

Reflections from the book of 2 Chronicles

“For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that My name may be there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.”

~2 Chronicles 7:16

Time and time again, sin threatens to eradicate the presence of pure worship from God’s people.  Time and time again, God preserves worship.

This is the story of God’s people, whom He created and set apart to worship Him.  Man fell into rebellion, and he wiped mankind from the face of the earth (remember the great flood?), but preserved a remnant of worshippers in Noah and his family.  In the face of demoralization of mankind, God preserved worship.

After the flood, man scattered over the face of the earth.  People groups were formed, and nations developed.  These nations instituted religions – pagan religions, in which false gods were worshipped while the true God wasn’t.  Except for one nation – the nation of Israel.  God grew, delivered, and consecrated Israel to himself.  In the midst of a pagan planet, God preserved worship.

Israel would develop into a wealthy nation, and one of its kings would build a temple for God – the center of worship in which God’s glory would dwell.  Time and time again, sinful people would desecrate His house.  Yet, time and time again, His house would be reformed by a righteous king.  It looked as if formal, public, and corporate worship of the true God had been eradicated when Babylon conquered Judah and burned down the temple.  But just seventy years after Judah’s captivity, Persia took over.  And God stirred the heart of the Persian king to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and – lo and behold – rebuild the temple where they could worship God again.  In the midst of the destruction of His house and captivity of His people, God preserved worship.  This story of the house of God – its construction, reformation, and ultimate preservation – is the story of 2 Chronicles. 

It’s an important story – never to be ignored by the believer and non-believer alike – because it screams to all of humanity that God is serious about being worshipped by His people – individually and corporately, privately as well as formally.  It is worship that He seeks from His people – worship marked by purity and integrity.  Whenever the integrity of such worship amongst His people is compromised and attacked, God steps in.  he implements discipline, executes judgment, raises up reformers, and restores His rightful place amongst His people.  This was true during the history of Judah as a faithful priest recounts in 2 Chronicles.  Over five hundred years after its rebuilding, the temple would be once again cleansed and reformed – by Jesus Christ Himself, who Himself would become the fulfillment of the temple and the center of all worship for God’s people.  The reformation of worship continued to hold true in church history. 

Today, the integrity of corporate worship continues to be attacked, defiled, and compromised.  Not much has changed from 2 Chronicles.  Idolatry and worldliness continue to invade and infect the lives of God’s people.  Yet, time and time again, God raises up leaders and pastors who confront such idolatry, restore worship to its intended form, and exalt God in His proper place.  Time and time again, God makes it clear that – regardless of what is going on in the world and in the church – He will see to it that He is always worshipped at some place in the globe. 

Such is the hope for every believer who truly has a heart for the Lord, His glory, and His exaltation.  Should you be the man who earnestly prays, “Hallowed by Thy Name!,” take hope.  From man’s perspective, pure Christian worship seems to be under constant threat from both the outside and inside.  The world is increasingly hostile to God, to His character, and to the truthful preaching of His Word…and the church seems to be caving in and compromising.  Pure worship of God as He intends seems to be under the gun, and it’s easy to wonder whether such purity will dissipate with the passing of generations.  But the truth is that the sovereign God cares too much about His exaltation to let it dissipate.  In the midst of a culture that seems to prioritize integration over integrity, God will be worshipped.  For every defilement, there will always be a reform.  For every false teacher that misleads, He will bring about a leader who shepherds His people.  For as long as the sun continues to rise and set, God will always be worshipped.  And even after the sun is no longer in existence, He will still be worshipped.  His name can never be forgotten, and can never be eradicated.  His people may be persecuted, but He will always be exalted and praised by His people.  The orchestra that sings true praise to Him will never cease playing, from one generation to the next.

May the worship of God never cease from His people, and may it never cease from the heart of he who reads this.   

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Persistent to Save

Reflections from the book of 1 Chronicles

“He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever.”

~1 Chronicles 17:12

Humans have a tendency to want to prove themselves worthy of what they’ve been given. It’s easy to confuse the command to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel with feeling worthy of the salvation that’s been graced to you. It’s easy for a believer to mistakenly place his hope and security in his own faithfulness, thinking that God’s faithfulness to him hinges on the degree of his faithfulness to God. I remember clearly struggling with this at different points of my walk with the Lord, but particularly when I first went into the pastorate and became a parent. I’d often find myself paralyzed from believing that God’s practical blessings toward me were dependent on my level of holiness. It reached the point where I would continually find myself in a state of panic (not just grief) when I’d fall into sin, struggling against thoughts that God may withhold His blessings from me until I found a way to prove myself worthy.

To my pleasant surprise, God’s blessings continued – and have continued – to increase in their abundance. I admit that I’m still caught by surprise at times, at the seriousness that God has in blessing me beyond what I could even ask or think. This is largely because the rate at which His blessings flow upon my life, family, and ministry is vastly greater than the rate at which I perceive myself to be growing in holiness. And so the realization dawned that God’s blessing me is indeed dependent on something else – something outside my ability to prove myself faithful and worthy. His commitment to bless me stems from His decision to save me. And His decision to save me was conditioned not upon my own faithfulness, but on a covenant promise that He made close to three thousand years ago to which He swore Himself.

This was the same message God intended to communicate to His people, Israel, after they had returned to Jerusalem from that painful fall and Babylonian exile – an exile that resulted as a punishment from God to His people for their disobedience. How insecure, then, Israel must have felt with regards to any kind of future hope and salvation. And so the Holy Spirit inspired scribes to author Chronicles – to create a record that traced the genealogy of the post-exilic people, a record that showed that David’s lineage had been preserved and that the hope of the Messiah coming was indeed alive. And he inspired those same scribes to reveal why the Messianic lineage had been preserved – namely, because God promised David unconditionally that He would through what we know today as the Davidic covenant.

The perseverance of the Davidic lineage through both the exile and return from the exile displays the unwavering and unchanging faithfulness of God to fulfill His promise to save His people. He promised to bring forth the eternal King from David’s line, because of His desire to redeem His elect. Israel’s sin couldn’t stop this. Babylon’s siege couldn’t prevent this. To the Jews in exile wading in hopelessness, Chronicles sent this message loud and clear: “Your sinfulness and your circumstances won’t turn God from His faithfulness to bring forth the Savior of the world and of you.”

The lesson from 1 Chronicles is clear. God was unflappable about His plan to save you and me. We stand redeemed today and secure in His blessings not because we proved ourselves worthy, but because the Lord purposes and promises. The genealogical history of Israel came about as no arbitrary act, but as the orchestrated work of God Himself to bring forth Jesus Christ. That you and I are saved came about not because we begged God when He was planning to destroy us. Our salvation came about because God had planned it long before we even existed, and there’s a nation’s record to prove it. Security in our salvation and the blessings that come with it ultimately rest on His faithfulness, and not on ours. We have salvation because He was persistent to save.

Consider this, the next time you’re tempted to prove yourself worthy.

Intoxication of Idolatry

Reflections from the book of 2 Kings

They served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.”

~2 Kings 17:12

So what exactly is the greatest threat to the welfare of God’s people? 

Is it religious persecution?  Is it financial poverty?  Is it the danger from natural disasters?  Is it the presence of terrorists?  Is it Satan?  What exactly is it that God’s people are told guard themselves against?  What exactly is it that has overhauled God’s people in the past that has led to tragic consequences? 

There’s no question that all of the above are things from which God’s people are to keep watch against.  But the greatest threat to the welfare of God’s people, paradoxically, is something that comes from none other than God Himself.  The greatest threat to the welfare of God’s anger.  It is an anger that leads to a judgment – a judgment that cannot be resisted or escaped.  And it is an anger that is provoked when God’s people engage in idolatry. 

It’s no wonder that John’s final charge in his first epistle is, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).  Without a doubt, John was familiar with the Old Testament.  Without a doubt, John was aware of Israel’s history.  And without a doubt, John knew the kind of idolatry that God’s people had engaged in, which led to their moral decline as kingdoms and their eventual fall – all recorded in 2 Kings. 

Israel (the northern kingdom) was filled with kings who walked in the sins of Jeroboam, and blatantly led their nation to idolatry.  Judah (the southern kingdom), may have had more righteous kings, but all but two of them failed to remove the places in which idolatry was practiced – leaving room for the kingdom to later engage in it again.  Time and time again, God was provoked.  Eventually, God would withhold His judgment no longer.  Israel would fall to Assyria; Judah, to Babylon.  And no, it wasn’t because their conquering nations were so powerful (God would later indict those nations for arrogance and judge them because of it).  They fell because God gave them over to those nations.  He gave them over because they angered Him.  They angered Him because they replaced worshipping Him with worshipping idols. 

Implication: If Israel had successfully guarded herself against idolatry, she would have not been conquered.  God, in fact, promised that in the Mosaic covenant way back when.  Instead, she worried more about her financial prosperity and national alliances than worshipping God purely from the heart.  She compromised the purity of her worship to gain other things.  The result was nothing short of calamitous.    

Again, it’s all recorded in 2 Kings.  And such a book was written so that we, God’s people today, might learn from Israel’s mistakes and do otherwise.  2 Kings was written, so that we may know the consequences of idolatry and instead offer up pure, unadulterated worship to God.  Idolatry, after all, constantly lurks around the corner.  From these, we must constantly be on guard.  Israel failed and fell.  As Christians today, sealed and indwell and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to fail and don’t have to fall.

Yet, many Christians today fail and fall because they neglected the call to guard against idolatry.  Perhaps it’s because idolatry today takes on different forms.  No, we don’t often run into cultic poles, Baal statues, and molten images of calves.  And so we think that we’ve secured ourselves from idolatrous influences.  And yet, we’re enslaved to television.  We’re enslaved to technology and upgrades.  We’re enslaved to food.  We’re enslaved to money.  We’re enslaved to material wealth.  We’re enslaved to prestige.  We’re enslaved to academic success.  We’re enslaved to power and prestige.  We’re enslaved to family honor.  We’re enslaved to career development.  We’re enslaved to sexual satisfaction.  Take a closer look, my friend.  Take a look, at how so many so-called “Christians” have compromised total obedience to God’s Word for an alternate gain.  So many Americans are enslaved to someone or something other than the Lord Jesus Christ.  We’ve been lured into idolatry without even knowing it.  That’s scary.  Scary, because it’s a subtly snatching.  Scary, because of the way it provokes God to anger. 

Nothing provokes God’s anger – that holy wrath that is impossible to withstand or escape – the way idolatry does when practiced by His people.  Poor grades don’t provoke God.  Having a low income doesn’t provoke Him.  But living for and being controlled by someone or something other than Him surely provokes Him .  Idolatry provokes God to anger so greatly, because those Christians who practice such are engaging in the very thing from which they were saved in the first place (1 Thessalonians 1:9).  Christ didn’t come to eradicate poverty.  Nor did He come to find scholar athletes or to secure anyone a college education or a career.  Christ came to save God’s elect with His own blood and transform them into worshippers of God who worship Him in spirit and truth.  To purify such a people for His own possession cost the Son of God His life, and that He paid.  And, lest I forget to mention, He has no intention of sharing with anyone.  The worship that He deserves, He will not share with another. 

Let not the man of God dare engage in the worship of other gods.  Let not those who follow Christ do so with anything less than a whole heart.  Let not the one who calls Himself a worshipper of God provoke Him to anger, and place himself in the presence of the greatest threat to his welfare.

Not All There

Reflections on the book of 1 Kings

For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been

~1 Kings 11:4

I was once told, “It’s ok to be religious (speaking about Christianity), as long as it doesn’t get in the way of your desire to succeed and make money.”

I’ve yet to forget it, because it remains one of the most rotten slices of the pie of worldly counsel that I’ve ever been served. 

I was thirteen years old at the time I heard that.  I hated what I heard, but I’ve also seen it lived out around me over the past two decades.  Modern-day Western Christianity is a brand of faith that can be distinctly marked by unwholesome devotion.  I’ve come to find that, for the most part, our faith isn’t all that admired by fellow believers in different countries.  We’ve become experts on compartmentalization.  We’re experts on being Sunday-morning Christians – giving our dues to Christ on the Lord’s Day and treating the rest of the week as it it didn’t belong to the Lord.  To live wholly for the Lord – to seek His Word and will in every facet of life – almost seems unbalanced and freakish to the typical American Christian.  That’s why terms like “hard-core Christian,” “Jesus freak” (aside from the 60s movement), and “hyper fundamentalist” have arisen.  In our community, Christians have been designated to two different levels.  There are the normal ones and the crazy ones. 

Granted, there’s a difference between being wholly devoted to Christ and simply being weird in an extreme way.  Weirdness is usually accompanied by the expression of legalism and judgmental arrogance.  So before expounding in this entry, there are a few mists to be cleared.  No, there is nothing wrong with your six-year old dressing up as Micky Mouse on October 31 and asking people for candy.  No, I do not believe that home-schooling is the holiest form of education (and neither are we against it).  No, there is nothing wrong with going to a school dance and bringing a date.  No, your pod-cast list doesn’t have to be exclusively from Christian music.  No, there is nothing wrong with being a millionaire.  No, there is no biblical prohibition about watching TV on school days.  And no, there is nothing wrong with reading the NLT translation of the Bible!

But there is something wrong with a life that claims devotion to God in some areas but not in others. 

This unwholesome heart – the heart that was not all there – was Solomon’s problem.  Read 1 Kings.  It starts off well, but ends tragically.  The son of King David loved the Lord, but not wholly as his father did (1 Kings 3:3).  Over time, it led to his engagement in polygamy and idolatry (1 Kings 11).  Sure, he may have loved the Lord, and through him great things for the nation of Israel were accomplished.  But when it came to the realm of women in particular, Solomon wanted to pursue romantic and sexual relationships on his terms – not on God’s terms.  The consequences were nothing short of devastating.  Israel, the united nation of twelve tribes, was divided into two kingdoms – Israel and Judah – that would remain in a state of civil war with one another.  Eventually, due the lack of united power would cause both nations to be overcome.  Consequences these were…of the divided heart of a king.

Lest I be misunderstood, God does not expect every christian to be simultaneously at the same level of spiritual maturity and wisdom.  But does God expect every Christian to be wholly devoted to Him with an undivided?  Absolutely.  A compartmentalized heart is not the kind of heart that He desires from those whom He has redeemed for Himself and for His kingdom work.

By the way, Solomon’s divided heart remained a legacy.  It was a tragic legacy, but a legacy it was.  It was passed down from one king to another who walked after him.  Again, read 1 Kings.  How many times you see the author point out that so and so king “did evil in the sight of the Lord, walking in the ways of his father.”  This was the story of the divided kingdom.  The legacy of the divided, compartmentalized heart that Solomon passed down.  Thankfully, he was a believer.  And thankfully, he repented and lived long enough to warn the rest of us about it in Ecclesiastes.  It must be noted that it is indeed possible for a truly regenerate man to be divided in his love for God, his love for himself, and his love for the world.  Again, western Christianity.

But what exactly does it look like for a man to have a wholesome, undivided heart for the Lord?  What exactly does it look like for a man to have a heart that is “all there”?  A man with a divided heart is a man who seeks to obey the Lord in certain areas of life but not in others.  The man with an undivided heart, conversely, is someone who seeks to obey God in everything – yes everything – that he does.  He seeks the Lord’s honor in his private life.  He aims for obedience to God in his marriage and fatherhood.  He ambitions to please God in his pursuit of a career and in the manner in which he conducts himself in his career.  He is mindful of God’s character as he engages in physical activities.  He is intent on furthering God’s kingdom in his educational pursuits.  From the way he spends his money to the way he dresses to the way he maps out his daily schedule, he does everything for God.  He is a man given over to the singular pursuit of God’s glory in every facet of life, every nook and cranny, every minute movement and magnanimous decision.  He is a man who is consumed with the will of God and reverent of the character of God in every step of his journey from this life to the next.

Such a man is the way he is – not because he desires to be weird, but because he understands who owns him.  He is a man who is embraces the reality that he has not only been saved, but bought.  Christ’s blood not only rescued him, but purchased him.  With the sacrifice of His own life, He gained ours for Himself.  This we must acknowledge.  This we must respect.  This we must embrace. 

Such a man, well, Solomon failed to be.  As did the majority of the kings of Israel who walked after him.  And 1 Kings was written for our instruction, such that we may not fall into the same transgression.  1 Kings was written, to remind us to be wholly devoted to the Lord, to love Him with all of our hearts and souls. 

1 Kings was written, to remind us that for the Lord we need to be all there.  So that, unlike what I was told as a child, we may instead say “I will try to be successful and make money, as long as I’m convinced that it’s what the Lord desires for me to do.”

Not Quite the Spielberg Ending

A biblical reflection on 2 Samuel

“Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight?  You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon.  Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”

~2 Samuel 12:9-10

It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.  I had envisioned my orientation to seminary to be just like the one I had during my undergraduate college welcome week, where the new student body would be taught the tricks and the trades of how to handle a massive course load and slam a 4.0 while maintaining sanity and sleep in the process.  I should’ve known better, given that seminary isn’t a secular institution.  Our president and professors knew better.  A good seventy-five percent of the orientation was devoted to exhorting the men in the room to nurture our wives and children, while always keeping our personal relationship with Christ during our four years of training – even if it meant sacrificing a stellar G.P.A.  Testimony after testimony was given of different men in the past who had neglected to keep watch over their lives and wives in an effort to succeed scholastically, along with the tragic and humiliating consequences that resulted.  The point of the orientation was not to fool us into into thinking that we were Christendom’s next Einsteins.  It was to send a warning to keep a close watch on our personal and family lives…for it is possible for God’s chosen vessels to fall into deep transgression and have to face the irrevocable consequences that result.

Our seminary leaders were wise; they were aware of history.  And no doubt, they were aware of 2 Samuel.

It’s almost perplexing to read of this second half of the larger book of Samuel, as its account isn’t exactly the heroic ending that Steven Spielberg would have scripted had he been the story’s author.  The book starts with a flurry of fireworks.  David, the man after God’s heart and God’s chosen one – after being violently pursued by Saul the adversary for thirty years – finally is anointed as king over Israel.  Until the eleventh chapter, David’s reign is marked by one triumph after another, from defeating the Philistines to the punctuation of the establishment of the Davidic covenant.  Militaristically, politically, spiritually, David’s reign had undeniable traction.  if Spielberg had indeed written the account, the book would’ve ended on the tenth chapter.  But it doesn’t.  The chosen one of God, at the pinnacle of his reign, commits adultery, polygamy, murder, and covers his tracks for a year before finally messing up after a pointed confrontation by the prophet Nathan.  And though God forgave David, he was not spared of the consequences of his sins for the rest of his reign.  His household felt the impact; his nation felt the impact.  One of his sons died seven days after birth.  Amongst his children, there was incest, rape, and murder.  His son Absalom both rebelled and conspired against him, eventually was murdered in war – all of this to David’s great sorrow and regret.  David was not a fallen king, but he was a fallen one – having stumbled in a significant and unforgettable way.

The author gives a stern warning to all of us.  Great men of God can commit great sins and face their great consequences.  Woe to the one who thinks himself as the exception.

It’s a reminder to all believers – and particularly to leaders – that God takes righteousness, holiness, and integrity oh so seriously.  And though He is a God of mercy, he will not hesitate to inflict consequences – yes, even the irrevocable ones – on those in positions of spiritual influence.  One of the unfortunate  realities is that so many of those who are in positions of leadership in the church and other para-church circles often neglect to cultivate their private life before God and their household.  They focus more on their responsibilities than their pursuit of righteousness.  When this happens, falling into transgression and trouble are only around the corner, waiting to pounce.  Not all of God’s leaders’ lives conclude with happy or heroic endings.  Again, survey the history of church leadership.  Tragic falls in leadership are more common than you expect.  And woe to you, if you insist that you are above the possibility.

David’s ending was not a heroic one, ultimately, because Spielberg didn’t write it.  His story was ultimately authored by the Holy Spirit, and He desires for God’s people to realize that David isn’t the hero of Scripture.  The account of Israel’s first chosen yet flawed king serves to remind us that there is a true hero of history in Jesus who, when 2 Samuel was written, was yet to come.  2 Samuel ends not with a stamp, but with an arrow.  It’s an arrow that points to the future descendant of David in Christ – the righteous and rightful King, who would come to save all who repent and believe in Him. 

On Him, and Him alone, we trust.

Be Strong and Courageous, because Some Things Don’t Change

trackWhen I thought about Joshua…from an oval track

Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go”

~Joshua 1:9

It was September 8, 2012.  And for some reason that day, 10:00 pm just seemed too early to hit the hay – at least according to my personal circadian rhythm.  Perhaps it was because the 2012 London Olympics had just concluded, and I was just a bit more inspired for physical activity than normal and a tad less inspired to snooze without having exercised.  Or maybe it was  because I was a bit more stressed that day in anticipation of some major ministry changes that were just over the horizon.  So I threw on some work-out clothes and some running shoes…and headed to the track at the local high school just a few miles away from my house.  At around 10:30 pm – after some stretching and self-reassurance talk, I started running.  Continue reading

He Will Bless, but Will You Worship?

Reflections from the book of Deuteronomy 

“watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.”

~Deuteronomy 6:12-13

I’ve never had the gift of singleness.  So you guessed it – bachelorhood was painful.  From ages 18 to 24, I burned with desire, and burned with anxiety.

“Would God ever bless me by providing me a wife of my youth?  Or is He going to test me and make me wait till I turn 50 before finding one?”  Continue reading