Archive for July, 2014

RENOVATE: Week 43

On July 21st we read of a perplexing event in the life of King David from 1 Chronicles (which actually corresponds to 2 Samuel 24 that we read over a month ago). The first verse of chapter 21 reads, “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.” (1 Chronicles 21:1, NASB)

Following this, against the objection of Joab his chief commander (which should have been recognized as a warning from God by David), David moves ahead with taking a census of the Israelites; he has Joab and the commanders of the troops count the people. God is in no way pleased by this action and His punishment is harsh. Through Gad, God’s spokesman to the king, David is given the choice of three devastating options of judgment upon his disobedience. The end result was the death through plague of 70,000 men from Israel and the near destruction of Jerusalem itself by an angel of the LORD.

If you are like me, your first reaction to this passage might have been one of confusion. What is the harm in counting the number of people? Why would God exercise what seems to be such an extreme edict on an action which, on the surface, appears to be so harmless? To understand, requires us to reflect on the foundational promise given to the father of faith, the core patriarch of the people, Abraham. Note as well that the deed undertaken by David is motivated by the evil one. This is one of those places in scripture where we are given a glimpse into the spiritual realm as we see God sovereignly allow satan (meaning the adversary) to incite David toward the census. Obviously if the devil was desirous of engaging in a count, it must have been rooted in evil. Nonetheless, the “why” question remains.

The initial thought in undertaking a census of any people would be considered very useful, not evil. However, in numbering Israel; that people who were to become as numerous as the stars in the heavens, the sand on the seashore, implied a distrust of the divine promise given to Abraham many years prior; faith that was tested through the act of offering Isaac on the alter, halted by the Angel of the LORD (a pre-incarnate Jesus), Who supplied a substitute of the ram caught in a thicket, a symbol of what He would ultimately be for His people. This was a sin; and though it had been done with permission in the time of Moses, the people had contributed half a shekel towards the building of the tabernacle, so “that there may be no plague among them when you number them” (Ex 30:12). Therefore, the numbering of that people was in itself regarded as an undertaking by which the anger of God could be easily aroused; but when the arrangements were made by Moses for the taking of a census, God was not angry because the people were numbered for the express purpose of the tax for the sanctuary, and the money which was collected (“the atonement (kippur in Hebrew- meaning ‘covering’ or ‘ransom’) money,” Ex 30:16) satisfied Him. In essence, a sacrifice was made to cover their sin; which exemplifies sin must be atoned for and ultimately God, exclusively, must be that refuge.

The sin of David numbering the people consisted in its being either to gratify his pride to ascertain the number of warriors he could assemble for some pondered plan of conquest; or, perhaps, to institute a regular and permanent system of taxation, which he deemed necessary to provide an adequate establishment for the monarchy, but which was regarded as a breach of the freedom of the people, inappropriate for a king of Israel. Whatever the reason, self was at the root of the action; David taking the seat reserved for God and God alone over His people.

The lesson for us today is comprised of two very important aspects. First, those who know and follow the Creator of all things must live by faith alone in His words and promises given to them regardless of circumstances and appearances. Trust is the expression of belief in the origin of Truth, which itself is embodied in Jesus; and truth is vehemently opposed by the devil, the ‘father of lies,’ who trusts no one and nothing. Secondly, our temptation to be the lord of our lives, the masters of our destiny, must be relentlessly crushed by the realization that there is only one LORD and He must occupy the throne of our lives in every way. We must think twice before marinating in our self-assurance.

To Him be glory and honor and praise!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 42

The Bible is so real and relevant. It does not seek to “hide” the ugliness of human relationships and coat with a glossy veneer its main characters. Such is the case in today’s reflection taken from the July 16th reading of our devotional Bible.

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:36-41, NASB77)

These men were actually human and had disagreements to the point of separation! Paul and Barnabas were close friends and a powerful team. God used their companionship in astounding ways. Yet in our text for today, it would seem all would be thrown away; lost on the proverbial trash heap of broken relationships. Paul, the strong and outspoken leader, and Barnabas, the supportive and uplifting encourager, giants of the faith, appear as if they have an irreconcilable conflict. John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark, was their point of contention. Paul was focused on the mission at hand and he needed “all hands on deck” so to speak. Time was short and the mission great. Therefore, based on John Mark’s previous behavior of what Paul considered a desertion because of the difficulty of a previous undertaking; Mark had become a liability to the task at hand. In Paul’s mind, John Mark was not fit for what lay ahead.

Barnabas, seeming to place a greater concern on the development of John Mark as a person over the potential success of the mission, desired to bring him along. John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) and it is probable that Barnabas’ affection for him was a major incentive for wanting to include him on the journey. To study scripture’s reflection of Barnabas reveals a man who was a gifted mentor with a drive for people development.

Hence, we are left to wrestle with the question: Who is right? As a good leader, Paul seemed to be correct. The stakes were high and the souls of lost individuals were on the line. In Paul’s mind, there could be no room for the loss of time, energy, and production should John Mark desert them again. Barnabas is focused more on the character progression and maturation of his cousin. As such, Barnabas was not only dedicated to the initial conversion of the lost, but also on the discipleship of a brother in Christ; thus, Barnabas would appear to be justified.

I submit that God is right. Regardless of the side we might be inclined to line up with between the two men, God’s kingdom wins and the gospel is actually furthered in a more significant way. This is because Barnabas takes Mark toward Cyprus and Paul acquires Silas to go through Syria and Cilicia. More individuals were exposed to the gospel as a result!

The message for us centers on the difficulties we may have faced or are facing in our affiliations with others. As difficult as interpersonal relationships might become, a life given toward the goal of God’s Kingdom purposes will always win; God using the bad toward the ultimate good.

By the way, the difference was obviously reconciled, as Paul and Barnabas again became traveling companions (1 Corinthians 9:6, Galatians 2:9). There is also evidence that Paul became reconciled to John Mark (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11). How long this separation continued is unknown; but perhaps in his journey with Barnabas, Mark exemplified his courage and zeal, which caused Paul once again to place his confidence in him as a fellow traveler; even more, for Mark to become a profitable co-laborer in the spread of the gospel. In Paul’s own words, “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” (2 Timothy 4:11, NASB77)

What an amazing testimony and lesson for us today!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 41

He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. (2 Kings 18:4, NASB)

This verse is in reference to King Hezekiah, who was one of the few kings in Judah and Israel of which scripture tells us he did “what was right in the LORD’S sight.” From the July 5th reading in the devotional Bible, I am especially interested in Hezekiah’s boldness to destroy what would have been considered an invaluable religious relic made by Moses himself; the bronze serpent on the pole used to heal those in the time of the wilderness wandering following the exodus from Egypt! As judgment for the unbelieving, self-centered, complaining Israelites; God had sent deadly serpents upon them and the only remedy for the vicious venom was to look upon this curative object.

Interestingly, the most often quoted verse of scripture, John 3:16, is preceded by what seems strange and very seldom mentioned. Jesus declared, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15, NASB)

What did Jesus mean? He became sin, who knew no sin. The very object of destruction for the entire human race; namely sin, Jesus took upon Himself. Those who look to Him as God’s substitute for their own sin will be spiritually healed in the deepest possible way. They trade death for life. As Jesus was lifted up on the cross, so the serpent in the wilderness was a symbolic foreshadowing of this ultimate healing. The key term being “symbolic.”

Somewhere along the way, the people of God had forgotten the principle that they were to worship God and abstain from idols; even if the “idol” was of such great significance. Hezekiah calls the artifact what it actually was, Nehushtan (meaning loosely “a piece of bronze”). What is the lesson for us today?

Every symbol loses its significance and value if it is converted into an idol. The bronze serpent was a material token of God’s mercy, a symbol of His power, and a reminder of His holiness. But when the people began to worship it, its worth departed.

Take, for instance, creeds and confessions of our faith, which are symbolic expressions of devotion from the heart; an attempt to articulate the truth of God in the words of man. Such words are valuable only as they point to that which is more valuable than themselves. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are also symbols. Whenever they begin to be idolized and seen as the means of redemption, they lose their significance and value. The Cross is the finest symbol in all history. But it is not intended that we should rest in the outward circumstances of the Crucifixion. The looking to the Cross which brings salvation is a looking through the Cross to that which it reveals.

May we all follow the example set by King Hezekiah, no matter how challenging it may be to break the idol; may we look to and worship God alone in the Person of Jesus Christ!

In Him,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 40

The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD. (Proverbs 16:33, NASB)

Solomon’s words, taken from the July 2nd reading in our devotional Bible, are unbelievably insightful and are part of an overall thread making up an important truth about reality contained within scripture. We are finite creatures; unable to completely know the future outcome of events based on our choices and that of others. This is a continuous source of anxiety for human kind. Even the most educated decision contains an element of risk. Thus, we go on; stumbling in the dark doing the best we can with the knowledge we’re afforded.

However, for one who belongs to Christ Jesus, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; the verse under examination carries with it much hope! When the child of God makes a resolution, he or she can move forward in confidence knowing whatever the outcome, it is ultimately rooted in the decree of God.

The older I get, the more I appreciate this fact. Usually the concept of casting lots, “rolling the dice” if you will, is equated with chance. As Sinatra might say, “Luck be a lady, tonight.” In reality, lady luck is an illusion. Life is driven by an exponentially greater purpose and every roll of the dice is connected to another roll of the dice comprising an ultimate grand cosmic plan. The plan does not depend on a blind, merciless fate; but a loving, Heavenly Father. I can reflect on my own life and see some pretty bad rolls of life’s dice. Some rolls have been rather good ones. Regardless, God is over all of them and while I cannot put trust in my own ability to roll effectively, I can trust the intention of the Perfect Creator regarding the definitive end of all that He has made.

I don’t need luck when I have the LORD!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob