I love it when God moves in
2 Chronicles 5: Then a billowing cloud filled The Temple of God.
Solomon’s building project is complete and it’s a great success. An impressive Temple is now the official place of worship for the people of Israel and all others who will come. The building is complete with the fixtures in place, the offerings ready, and the personnel standing ready to serve. Then God moves in. In a display of glory that hasn’t been seen since Moses climbed the mountain to meet the Almighty, the Glory of the Lord fills the Temple. The Presence of the Lord is so great, so real, that the priests can’t even carry out their assigned duties. Outside the Temple Solomon does the only reasonable thing: he begins to call on God in prayer. Today, I long for God’s glory to fall on his Church, for Him to come in such majesty that the order of worship is set aside and people begin to simply call on the Name of the Lord. Oh God, we seek, not so much the “billowing cloud” as we seek you. Pour yourself out upon your Church as you did upon the Temple so long ago.
Take Away: The people of the Lord need to seek and, yes, expect, the Lord to fill our worship services with himself.
1 Chronicles 15: God exploded in anger at us because we didn’t make proper preparation and follow instructions.
This is the second effort David has made to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The first ended with death. David says that was because the proper preparations and procedures weren’t followed. This time things will be different because he’s paying better attention to the details. There’s nothing like the Ark in Christianity. Many traditions have holy objects but none of them are revered as was the Ark. There’s a reminder here of the importance of sacred places and things. For instance, there are places that are special to me because I’ve had especially powerful encounters with God in them. Maybe you have your mother’s old Bible and just holding it causes you to feel not only closer to her, but to the Lord. These things aren’t the same as the Ark or, later on, the Temple’s Holy of Holies. Still, though, as I see David making plans to move the Ark, I’m reminded of the power of some things that have been used by the Lord to connect me to him. I don’t worship them, but they are precious to me.
Take Away: It’s a good thing to be reminded of times and places where the Lord has seemed especially near.
Do you see what I see?
2Kings 6: Don’t worry about it — there are more on our side than on their side.
The Lord has been revealing to Elisha the military plans of nearby Aram and Elisha has, in turn, told those plans to the King of Israel. Because of that, Elisha has become a prime target. In fact, on this morning in the town of Dothan Elisha awakes to find the whole town surrounded by his enemies. To Elisha and his servant this is more than an inspirational Bible story: its life and death. His servant is mystified by Elisha’s calmness in the midst of his pending capture. That is, he’s mystified until Elisha prays that this young servant will see what he sees. Surrounding the army that surrounds them is a “whole mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire.” With God’s army escorting him Elisha has nothing to fear from the army of Aram or anywhere else for that matter. God didn’t send the army of Aram that day, but he was prepared for it to come. Had Elisha been captured, well, that would have been an unwelcome thing for Elisha and company, but it could only happen if God allowed it to happen. Elisha might have been more aware of it than I am, but the Lord’s army is escorting me too. That doesn’t mean that everything always works out just the way I want. Still, difficult days only come if he allows it, and in the end, I have the assurance that victory will be mine.
Take Away: The Lord walks through life with us, even when we aren’t aware of his presence.
It’s easy to miss
1Kings 19: …a gentle and quiet whisper.
After hearing the voice of God Elijah’s told that he’s to prepare himself for a personal encounter with the Lord. As Elijah sits inside the mouth of the cave things start happening outside. There’s a great wind, then an earthquake, and then a fire. We’re told that God isn’t in these things. In other words, while they’re sent by God he doesn’t inhabit them. What the Lord has for Elijah is yet to come and it’s only after the wind, earthquake, and fire that the Lord comes to Elijah in the gentle, quiet whisper. When Moses met God on this same mountain it was the same way. There was thunder and lightning and earthquakes followed by a face to face meeting with the Lord. We see this pattern repeated throughout the Bible. For instance, on the Day of Pentecost it won’t be about the sound of wind, the tongues of fire, or other languages being spoken. Rather, it will be about God, the Holy Spirit, filling their lives with himself. As I see this repeated spiritual fact of life I’m reminded to dial back my love of the spectacular and pay more attention to the “gentle quiet whisper” of God in my life.
Take Away: Ultimately it’s not the fireworks but is, instead, the personal presence of the Lord that counts in my life.
1Kings 9: Everything that had to do with The Temple he did generously and well; he didn’t skimp.
I know there are huge differences between our church buildings and the Temple and I’m not getting ready to make an argument for the construction of large, extravagant places of worship. Still, Solomon’s commitment to the Temple impresses me. He takes no shortcuts in anything he does in relation to the Temple. While I have great respect for the house church movement, I also believe that there’s a desire within human beings to have sacred space, places set aside for the express purpose of worship. I think that the place where we worship should be clean and uncluttered. There should be evidence of loving attention to detail and, generally speaking, there should be symbols of our faith. On one hand, I know worship can take place in other settings. On the other hand, though, there’s a feeling of “rightness” when worship is done in a place set aside for that purpose. Note that these attributes can be said of a plain Quaker meeting house or a mega-church with a large campus. Solomon’s commitment to God is reflected in his commitment to the place where God is worshipped. I think this is a reasonable concern today.
Take Away: The place where I often meet the Lord becomes for me, sacred space.
Move right on in
1Kings 8: Can it be that God will actually move into our neighborhood?
Solomon’s praying his great prayer of dedication of the newly constructed Temple. He understands that, while the Temple is an impressive house of worship, that God is bigger than any one place, even as beautiful a place as this is. With the thought in mind that God is the God of the universe and can’t be contained in any one place, Solomon prays that the Almighty will always be attentive to the worship done, and the prayers prayed, at this new Temple. He’s a wise man, after all God’s too big to really live among us, right? Well, not quite! Many years in the future God will do exactly what Solomon imagines being impossible. God will come to us. He’ll indeed move right into our neighborhood. As he does this, human beings will encounter God in a whole new way. And the story won’t end with the pages of the Gospels. God will come to us in the Person of the Holy Spirit, and in so doing, he’ll move right into the temple that is the heart of every willing person. He’ll not only be “with us,” but God, the Holy Spirit, will be “in us.” As impressive as the Temple is, and as lofty as Solomon’s prayer of dedication is, we have the privilege of God actually moving into the neighborhood of our lives today.
Take Away: Have you invited God, the Holy Spirit, to take up residence in your life?
1Kings 8: The glory of God filled The Temple of God!
The painstaking work of constructing the Temple is complete. It’s a truly impressive structure with every detail perfect. This house of worship is one of the wonders of the world. But that’s the least of the story. What really matters is what happens next. As the dedication service is about to begin God’s glory falls on the place. His glory is so powerful that it’s tangible. The Presence of God flows into and through the structure to the extent that the priests, who have assumed their assigned positions of service are driven out! Like a cloud, God’s glory has descended and the people are in reverent awe of the Lord. I’ve been in church services in my life in which God came in glory and majesty. The scale was much smaller, but I’ve tasted just enough to imagine it’s like on this day. In less public moments God has touched my life and these are my most precious spiritual memories. I thank him for such wonderful encounters with the divine. Beyond that, I hunger for God to pour his glory out on me and on the church I pastor. Passages like this both warm my heart and rekindle a hunger for God in the depths of my spirit.
Take Away: There’s nothing like the presence of the Lord.
1 Samuel 3: God continued to show up at Shiloh.
God’s presence has been rare and, as a result, even those who desire righteousness have blindly stumbled through life. At our best humans are still pretty pitiful and, in this distant day, most people have no interest in striving for anything close to “the best” anyway. Because of that spiritual darkness dominates. Then, in the figurative and literal night God speaks to young Samuel. Even better than that: God speaks and then continues to speak. There’s something wonderful about the phrase, “God continued to show up at Shiloh.” It has the feel of springtime in it. After the long, cold winter, the sun is shining and new life is breaking out everywhere. I’ve journeyed through my share of spiritual winters: times when God seemed far away and unreachable. But I’ve also enjoyed spiritual springtime. Frankly, my experience was more like Samuel’s than I care to admit, because in my case, like his, I didn’t have much to do with the dawning of the new day in my heart. All I know is that, after the night, God showed up and then continued to show up. By his grace, I will be faithful when spiritual winter comes, but, oh, how I love the spiritual springtime!
Take Away: Spiritual winter comes to just about everyone. How good to be reminded that after the winter season, springtime arrives.
Are you with us or against us?
Joshua 5: “Whose side are you on — ours or our enemies’?” He said, “Neither, I’m commander of God’s army. I’ve just arrived.”
I confess that I love these mysterious passages of the Bible. As Joshua prepares for his first Canaan conquest battle he encounters a stranger who’s holding a drawn sword. Joshua asks his allegiance, and the answer is that this stranger is on neither side. He’s commander of God’s army and has only just arrived on the scene. What’s going on here? God has an army? He sends his commander to scout out the battlefield? There are more questions than answers here. Apparently, the commander of God’s army has come to give Joshua the heavenly battle plan. As I continue reading, the “March around the City” strategy is given to Joshua. In light of the abundance of unknown things in this little passage, I don’t want to go too far out in finding devotional material, but a few things come to mind. First, God’s ready to go to war on my behalf, even when I’m unaware of his presence. Second, God doesn’t claim allegiance to me; I claim allegiance to him. Third, God has a plan that may be very different than my own. Fourth, his plan is always the best one.
Take Away: It’s good to know God has an army, that he’s on my side, and that he has a sure fire, God-guaranteed plan.
The funeral was poorly attended
Deuteronomy 34: No prophet has risen since in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face-to-face.
At 120 years of age Moses is physically and mentally as fit as ever. The years have not taken their toll because the Lord has intervened, overriding the aging process. Now, though, the time has come for Moses to die. Under God’s direction this 120 year old man sets out alone to climb a mountain. From the peak he looks across into the Promised Land. He will never set foot there but he knows his people will. Then Moses dies leaving a legacy of superlatives. The only one at his funeral is the same God who met him alone at the burning bush eighty years earlier. From first to last it’s been God and Moses. I’m a bit sad that after giving his life to the project that Moses doesn’t get to lead the Israelites across Jordan. However, it’s hard to be too sorry about it. After all, he lived long and well. He walked with God and knew his Maker face-to-face. At the end of his long journey, the Lord, himself, lays him to rest. I can only hope that, with the more spectacular elements stripped away, something remotely similar can be said when the final lines of my life are written.
Take Away: There’s something beautiful about the passing of one of God’s choice people.