Friends can be hard to find…

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1 Chronicles 27:32 Jonathan, David’s uncle, was a counselor, being a man of understanding and a scribe; Jehiel son of Hachmoni attended the king’s sons. 33 Ahithophel was the king’s counselor, and Hushai the Archite was the king’s friend. 34 After Ahithophel came Jehoiada son of Benaiah, and Abiathar. Joab was commander of the king’s army. 

The 27th chapter of 1 Chronicles tells us about people who were assigned different jobs working for King David, a few of which I’ve included in our passage. One that caught my attention is in v.33, “Hushai the Archite was the king’s friend”. Interesting.

If you’re a senior leader at your work or in your school or in your home you know it can be an isolating existence. You have few peers and little opportunity to truly let your hair down. I find this to be particularly true as a pastor. Doesn’t really matter where I am or what I’m doing I’m always known as a pastor, with certain expectations that come along with that identity.

I can only imagine how much more isolating it would be to be king of an entire people. Friends would not be easy to find, so it appears Hushai was appointed to the post. That’s a bit of a strange notion to me, being paid to serve as the king’s friend, but if it helps keep the king healthy and well adjusted – and thus a more effective ruler – who am I to criticize?

Heavenly Father we all need friends, people with whom we can be ourselves. This morning I pray for all leaders who struggle with isolation and loneliness. As part of your provision for us, give us trusted people with whom to share the leadership journey. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Demonstration, explanation, invitation…

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Acts 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God. 

There’s a pattern I see repeated in the New Testament, of which our passage is a good example. There’s a demonstration of power (doors open, chains unfastened), an explanation of what happened (God’s power in Jesus’ name, not Paul’s power), then an invitation to receive the Lord Jesus and be saved/baptized.

Demonstration… Explanation… Invitation

In my experience the element that’s often missing in our day is the first one – the demonstration of miraculous power. We can tell people about Jesus, invite people to respond in faith and be baptized, but rarely is there a miraculous event that precedes those two elements. I wonder why that is. Lord, reveal your truth to me today. Help me to understand your ways. Amen.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress…

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Psalm 18:1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
so I shall be saved from my enemies.

4 The cords of death encompassed me;
the torrents of perdition assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.

6 In my distress I called upon the LORD;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.

This is a great psalm that, to my eyes, seems to have been written in stages. In v.1-3 David recalls God’s faithfulness in times past using names for God such as rock, fortress, deliverer, and so on. Based on this experience he speaks with confidence at the end of v.3  “so I shall be saved from my enemies”. Salvation has not yet come, but David is sure it will because God is faithful.

Then v.4-5 tell us that his situation was perilous. It’s as if he might not make it. But then there’s v.6 “From his temple God heard my voice…” David’s faith in God was rewarded with deliverance from evil and evildoers.

I cannot count the number of times that God has come to my aid, strengthened me, gotten me through tough situations. Yet in truth I still waver in my faith. Fear gets the best of me and I doubt. God has been good to me in the past – but what about now? I’m not proud of this, but it’s true.

Lord, as much as I want to trust you without reservation I often fail to do so. Forgive me for my lack of faith and reveal your salvation to me despite my weakness. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Paul and Lydia…

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Acts 16:11 We (Luke, the apostle Paul and others) set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Paul and his team were visiting young churches they’d planted when they came upon Lydia. v.14 tells us that “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” Two things strike me about this:

First, the Lord prepared Lydia in advance to receive the gospel message. Second, the Lord sent Paul to preach. That means the Lord was the initiator on both sides of the equation – preacher and recipient. However, it’s also true that Paul or Lydia had some agency here. They weren’t robots at the other end of God’s joystick. They could have resisting the prompting of the Lord – but they didn’t. And generations of people were impacted as a result.

Today is my Sabbath day so I’ll be taking time to read, to pray, to listen for the voice of the Lord. I’ll be praying for grace to discern the promptings of God. What work does the Lord have for me? Who are the persons to whom I’m being sent? I pray for grace to discern God’s lead and faith to follow through. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

P.S., I’m still coughing and dealing with illness. Your prayers for healing are appreciated.

 

 

Relationships gone wrong…

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Photo of VAN HALEN and Michael ANTHONY and Eddie VAN HALEN and David Lee ROTH and Alex VAN HALEN

Acts 15:36 After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 39 The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40 But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Here we see Paul and Barnabas parting company after having been used by the Lord in mighty ways. They were a powerfully effective team for many years. It was Barnabas who vouched for Paul when Paul (then known as the pharisee and persecutor of Christians named Saul) was a new believer whom no one trusted. Barnabas sought out Paul when he needed help with his church in Antioch. Barnabas stood next to Paul during the council of Jerusalem, concurring Paul’s testimony of God’s spirit being poured out among the Gentiles. They had also been together in hard time, times of persecution, imprisonment, even being stoned – the kind of stoned where people throw rocks at you in an attempt to kill you. I imagine they were closer than blood brothers.

So it’s remarkable to read that they went their separate ways.

It happens. Relationships form and then fracture. Couples divorce, bands break up (Van Halen/David Lee Roth reunion tour coming 2019!), business partners go their separate ways, and so on. Somehow I expected that renown leaders of the early church, empowered by the Spirit, could be different. Nope. People are people.

This morning I’m reflecting on my current relationships, particular the relationships I share related to my work as a pastor. How are those relationships? Are any of them in trouble? Am I doing my part to foster their continuity or am I neglecting some?

Lord, relationships are among the most important things we have in life, first our relationship with you then our relationships with other people. Give me grace to steward relationships well – to ask forgiveness when I am in the wrong and extend grace when others wrong me. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

 

 

A place for God…

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1 Chronicles 22:2 David gave orders to gather together the aliens who were residing in the land of Israel, and he set stonecutters to prepare dressed stones for building the house of God. 3 David also provided great stores of iron for nails for the doors of the gates and for clamps, as well as bronze in quantities beyond weighing, 4 and cedar logs without number—for the Sidonians and Tyrians brought great quantities of cedar to David. 5 For David said, “My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house that is to be built for the LORD must be exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorified throughout all lands; I will therefore make preparation for it.” So David provided materials in great quantity before his death. 

David, perhaps out of a sense of gratitude to the Lord’s faithfulness, wanted to build a house for God – the structure that would become the temple in Jerusalem. God gave assent, but directed David’s son Solomon to build it, not David. So instead of building the temple David set aside building materials in great quantity for his son to use when the time came. If you keep reading this chapter you’ll see there was a staggering amount of gold and silver and other precious materials used in temple construction.

See the top picture above, which is only a model of course. The actual temple was destroyed thousands of years ago, long before Jesus was born. Why was it destroyed? Because God’s people grew increasingly unfaithful over the years, forfeiting God’s protection in the process. Eventually the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, tore down the temple, and carried off all the precious materials to Babylon.

What I find interesting is that God never asked for a permanent structure, much less a lavish temple. God was perfectly fine with a portable tent (middle picture), which is what God’s people had used for centuries as a place to offer sacrifices, seek a word from the Lord, and so on. But David insisted on building the temple just as he’d insisted on taking a count of his warriors. And in the end the lavish expense was a waste, ending up in the hands of idolaters from Babylon.

This passage has me thinking our modern practice of building lavish facilities in which to worship the Lord. I understand the impulse to want to build things that give some hint of the majesty and beauty of God. That said, I’ve been to parts of the world where the church is thriving, where God’s presence is palpable – and where believers worship in a hut, or even under the branches of a tree (see bottom picture).

 

Putting our trust in the wrong place…

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1 Chronicles 21:1 Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Go, number Israel, from Beer-sheba to Dan, and bring me a report, so that I may know their number.” 3 But Joab said, “May the LORD increase the number of his people a hundredfold! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?” 4 But the king’s word prevailed against Joab. So Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came back to Jerusalem. 5 Joab gave the total count of the people to David. 

David sinned against God by taking a count of the warriors available in his kingdom – and all the people suffered. The rest of this chapter tell us that, as punishment for David’s sin, God brought a plague on all Israel and 70,000 people died in three days. Brutal! A key question that emerges from this passage is “Why was this such a terrible sin?”

In short, David’s insistence on counting the warriors available for battle reveals a heart that is more concerned with human capacity than with the power of God. I mean, if God is on David’s side it makes no difference how many or how few warriors he has. God can overcome any odds at any time. As an example, go read Judges chapters 6-8 and learn about Gideon, whom God sent with only 300 warriors to bring victory over thousands of the enemy. It’s about the power of God, first and last. David forgot this so God had to remind him.

In our staff meeting this morning we took a look at this passage together and realized how easy it is for us to make the same mistake David made. We look at what is in front of us and think it’s not enough. If we only had more people, better facilities, more staff, a bigger budget – whatever – we could get things moving. Nope. I don’t mean that “more” might not be helpful, but that’s not fundamentally what is needed to advance the ministry of the gospel. What we need is the power of God at work through people, in the name of Jesus. All the rest is details.

Today I’m asking the Lord to show me where I am trapped in this sort of scarcity thinking – this mindset of “lack”. Where am I counting on human capacity more than the power of God? Lord Jesus search our hearts for misplaced trust. Give us grace to put ourselves, our families, our businesses, our churches, into your hands. Amen.