DEFILED (Part 1)

Santa Rose de Lima - Abiquiu NM“The people of Judah have sinned before my very eyes,” says the Lord. “They have set up their abominable idols right in the Temple that bears my name, defiling it. [Jeremiah 7:30 (NLT)]

King David assigned temple duties to the 38,000 Levites: 24,000 oversaw the work in the temple; 6,000 acted as officials and judges; 4,000 were temple gatekeepers; and 4,000 became musicians. Rather than owning land themselves, Levites were scattered throughout Israel so they could instruct the people, guard the worship of the Lord, and prevent idolatry. These were not meek men. It was Levi and his brother Simeon who killed all the men of Shechem in retaliation for the rape of their sister. After the Israelites worshipped the golden calf, Moses said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” The Levites gathered at his side and then, at his command, slaughtered 3,000 of their fellow Israelites for their idolatry. [Exodus 32:26,28] Hardly what we’d think of as typical church workers, the Levites were a tribe of warriors.

Responsible for the temple’s treasury, furnishings, and articles used in worship, the Levite gatekeepers were to protect the temple from theft and desecration. No one, not even the king, was allowed to defile the temple. Yet, during Rheoboam’s reign, King Shishak of Egypt carried off the temple’s treasures; later King Asa sent what was left of its riches to the King of Aram as tribute. During Queen Athaliah’s reign, the temple was ransacked by her followers and parts of it used to build a temple to Baal. King Ahaz presented temple treasures to the king of Assyria, moved the original bronze altar, replaced it with a replica of an Assyrian altar, and made offerings to the gods of Damascus. He removed the Sabbath canopy and several ornaments from the temple, shut the temple doors, and set up altars for the worship of pagan gods.

By the time of King Hezekiah, people were worshipping the bronze serpent made by Moses. Although Hezekiah destroyed it and had the Levites purify the temple, his son, King Manasseh, again desecrated the temple by erecting an Asherah pole and altars for star worship. By the time of King Josiah, the temple had fallen into disrepair, the Ark had been removed from the temple, the book of the law had been misplaced, and Baal and Asherah were worshipped there. Josiah again cleansed the temple but his reforms did not last and both the temple and nation were defiled by sin.

I wonder what those warrior priests, the Levites, were doing during all of this temple sacrilege. While a few prophets spoke in condemnation of the various abominations, other than the rebellion led by Jehoiada, the Levites’ silence and apparent compliance throughout the books of Kings and Chronicles is reprehensible.

Today’s temple of God is Christ’s church and, sadly, His temple continues to be violated. Rather than Asherah poles and images of Baal, today’s defilement is far more subtle. It includes things like sexual exploitation, abuse of power, cover-ups, misuse of funds, false doctrine, being a place of gossip or conflict, hypocrisy, ignoring sin, putting numbers before discipleship or entertainment before worship, seeking financial gain rather than the glory of God, neglecting the call to service, replacing the gospel with pop psychology and feel good messages, overlooking malicious behavior, following personality rather than Christ, neglecting the sacraments, and allowing prayer or Bible study to be an afterthought.

For the most part, the Levites silently stood by as they saw God’s temple being defiled. Let us never make the same mistake.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. [1 Corinthians 3:16-18 (NLT)]

And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” [Mark 7:20-23 (NLT)]

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MARIA’S SON

blue flag iris - blue-eyed grass - pansyLook carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. [Ephesians 5:15-17 (ESV)]

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (ESV)]

Maria, an elderly woman, used to come to our Tuesday Bible study but stopped when she could no longer drive. Last Christmas, her son gave her a beautiful gift: the promise to drive her to Bible study every week. This was no small gift; she lived nearly an hour from her son and a half hour away from church. By the time you add the son’s driving time to and from his house to hers, to and from her house to the church, the hour of class, and the time it took to get his mother (and her walker) in and out of the car four times, this gift was nearly a five hour obligation every week. Maria’s health eventually failed and, today, we learned that she went home to Jesus.

I didn’t know Maria or her son but I do know about time. I spent enough hours shuttling my daughter to and from dance classes to know that a mere hour between drop off and pick up is not enough time to accomplish anything in the way of running errands. By the time you get to Costco or Target you have to turn around and come back. Time is a precious commodity and, once spent, can never be recovered. Maria’s son spent his hours as would Jesus—in loving service. Can we say the same thing?

We have plenty of labor saving devices: food processors, instant pots, microwaves, automatic sprinklers, power drills, washers, dryers, dishwashers, pressure cookers, power mowers, computers, and even a virtual assistant in Alexa. In theory, with all these modern conveniences, we should have plenty of time. Yet, when I speak with others, a common complaint is a lack of time. What do we do with all the time we save?

Rather than a shortage of time, perhaps the problem is in our priorities. Since God gave us the Sabbath, I don’t think He has a problem with rest and recreation. Nevertheless, He didn’t put us here just to have a good time. He’s trusted us with the gift of time; could it be that He’s also testing us to see what kind of stewards we are of that gift?

Forbidden to reap their harvest right up to the edge of their fields and or strip their vineyards bare, the Israelites were to deliberately leave produce for the poor. The way we use our time is a little like harvesting it. Rather than leaving wheat and grapes in the field, perhaps we should deliberately leave some time in our lives for the needs of our families and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

What would Jesus do with our spare minutes? How can they be gleaned for God’s purposes? How can we use our time to magnify God and further His kingdom? Where can we spend it to improve the lives of others? The answer may be as easy as taking someone to Bible study.

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. [Proverbs 11:24 (ESV)]

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (ESV)]

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IGNORANCE OF THE LAW

And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. [Deuteronomy 6:5-7 (NLT)]

red shouldered hawkKnowing it was important for both the leaders and the people to be reminded of their rights and duties, Moses instructed the people that every seven years the Book of the Law was to be publicly read to the entire nation (including children and foreigners). This reading was to be done following the Feast of Shelters  during the Sabbath year.

Whether the Book of the Law was the entire Pentateuch or just Deuteronomy, we don’t know. We do know, however, that public reading of it is only mentioned four times in the Old Testament! The first public reading was done by Joshua following the Israelite defeat of Jericho and Ai. More than 500 years later, King Jehoshaphat sent out two priests with copies of the law to teach the people. The Book of the Law was misplaced sometime after that. When it was found during temple repairs more than 230 years later, King Josiah read it to the people of Judah. 200 years later, after Jerusalem’s wall had been rebuilt. Nehemiah gathered the people to hear Ezra read God’s law. It was then, nearly 1000 years after first commanded, that the Book of the Law finally was read during the Feast of Shelters.

The Israelites didn’t start out ignorant of God; Moses and Joshua gave them a good start. Although the people were instructed to commit themselves to the law and teach their children, generation after generation strayed further and further from God and His word. The Israelites broke God’s law, sometimes deliberately and sometimes in ignorance. Nevertheless, breaking God’s law came at a high cost; without a firm foundation in God’s word, both the northern and southern kingdoms were defeated and collapsed.

For the most part, the Israelites were Scripture illiterates. Today, however, we have no excuse for not knowing God’s word. The Barna Group’s research shows that 87% of Americans have at least one Bible in their homes (the average number being three). I was encouraged to learn that half of Americans are considered “Bible users” until I realized that simply meant they read, listened to or prayed with the Bible three to four times a year! That sounds more like Bible referrers than users to me. Worse, one third of Americans never even open a Bible!

As Christians, have we committed ourselves wholeheartedly to God’s word or are we becoming Scripture illiterates? The Israelites lost their way without His word; we don’t want to make the same mistake.

I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins. [Luke 6:47-49 (NLT)]

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GATEKEEPERS

“For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” [Isaiah 56:7b-8 (ESV)]

cardinal

In the Old Testament, the Levites acted as gatekeepers. Among their many duties, they maintained decorum, enforced the laws of ritual cleanliness, directed worshippers to the correct area, and prohibited entry to anyone considered defiled or unclean (such as lepers, eunuchs, or Gentiles). The gatekeepers placed a large stone between the Court of the Gentiles and the Women’s Court to remind the unclean they would die if they passed it; if they entered into the Temple area, they would be dragged out and killed.

Gatekeepers who determine one’s fitness to worship remind me of my response to Jimmy, about whom I’ve previously written. A man with what could be called a colorful past, Jimmy started attending our Florida church last March. I admitted in “It Takes All Kinds” that I was less than enthusiastic when my husband invited him to church after meeting him in the park. A bit of a character, Jimmy is a recovering addict/alcoholic and, while not homeless, he lives on the fringe of society. Although I knew my misgivings were unchristian, as I got to know him, I quickly learned they also were unfounded. After starting to attend our church, he began coming to Bible study, bringing his well-worn Bible with him, and often joined our group for fellowship after class. Early this summer, when Jimmy asked to be baptized, ten others from our church joined him in the Gulf of Mexico for that sacrament.

During the summer, Jimmy went north to be with family but kept in touch with our pastor. He wrote about meeting a man in the park who was new to recovery. When the fellow asked Jimmy how he managed to stay sober, his reply was simple and to the point: Jesus! Our new Christian became a witnessing disciple. Jimmy recently returned to Florida and was warmly welcomed by all when he joined us for Sunday worship; I felt honored to take his hand during prayers.

The story is told of a homeless man, disheveled and dirty, who entered a church Easter morning. The service had just started and the pews were jam packed. As the man walked up the aisle in search of a seat, people avoided eye contact and no one made room for him in the pews. Once at the front of the church, the man sat down on the floor near the altar rail. As an usher, dressed in a black suit with a boutonniere in his lapel, made his way up the aisle, the parishioners were sure that he would quietly ask the man to leave (as any good gatekeeper would do). Instead, to the surprise of the congregation, the usher handed the man both program and hymnal and sat down beside him.

Although more and more churches now use security people to protect personnel and worshippers, we no longer have Levites to keep the unclean out of worship. If we did, our churches would be empty because we’re all soiled by sin! While we don’t have official gatekeepers, let us all be cautious of being unofficial ones. What would have happened to Jimmy if we had gatekeepers in our churches? What of his new friend? The best part of any man is what’s found in his heart and we’ll never know what’s in his heart until we take the time to know the man.

May the church be the place of God’s mercy and love, where everyone can feel themselves welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the good life of the Gospel. And in order to make others feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged, the church must have open doors so that all might enter. And we must go out of those doors and proclaim the Gospel. [Pope Francis]

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. [Hebrews 13:2 (ESV)]

And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” [Matthew 25:40 (ESV)]

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OUTSIDE THE BOX

Lowdermilk Park - Naples FLI appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. [1 Corinthians 1:10 (NLT)]

Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. [Matthew 16:18 (NLT)]

Since she is new to town, I invited Alice to our church. “What denomination?” she asked. When I told her we were non-denominational she thought I meant we were a church of whatever the individual wanted to believe and asked, “Do you mean Unitarian?” I assured her we’re Bible-based Christians but, unable to wrap her mind around the concept, she rattled off a set of questions. No hierarchy, bishops or diocese? No formal liturgy? No membership requirements or official canons or procedures? Who tells you what to believe? To whom are you accountable?

In Letters to the Church, Francis Chan asks the reader to imagine someone on a desert island, having no experience with Christianity, with only the Bible as reference. Asking first how this person might picture church and worship, he then asks the reader how his church and worship stack up to those first century expectations. Here in Florida, we attend two different churches and one fits Alice’s expectations: denominational, organizational hierarchy, church campus, sanctuary, chapel, liturgy, hymnals, pews, pulpit, choirs, choir director, organ, meeting rooms, video screens, stained glass, sound system, and several services. While Alice would identify it as a traditional church, that marooned person and the Apostle Paul probably wouldn’t recognize it.

Because I love the liturgy and hymns, we do attend that church Saturday nights. The church to which I invited Alice, however, is the church I think of as home. Less than a year old, while the early church met in homes, we meet in a city park and, since we’re in Florida, we can meet there all year long. Although non-denominational, we do have a core set of Bible-based beliefs and, to maintain doctrinal, financial, and leadership accountability, we belong to several Christian organizations. We have no formal liturgy, prayer books, hymnals, sound system, or choir (although the birds usually sing throughout the service). Rather than stained glass, we have palm trees, sea grapes, blue sky, and the Gulf of Mexico decorating our sanctuary. When we meet for Bible study, we rent a room in a community center. By today’s standards, our “outside the box” church is anything but traditional but I think the Apostle Paul would easily recognize it.

Last week, our similarity with the 1st century church came to mind when we met together at the community center for an early Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone brought a dish to share and, along with more than enough food, there was laughter, joy, and plenty of fellowship. I think Paul would have recognized Christ’s church as the sixty of us ate dinner, prayed and, in true early church tradition, partook of communion as a family.

Whether we are part of a traditional or unconventional church, let us remember that Christ’s church is not about a building but rather a group of believers. A church structure without a family of believers is not a church whereas a family of believers without a building is one! Christ’s church, regardless of where or how it worships, exists wherever two or three are gathered together!

For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them. [Matthew 18:20 (NLT)]

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THE BREAD OF LIFE – THANKSGIVING DAY 2018 

“Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves. [John 6:10-13 (NLT)]

fresh breadIn all probability, you’re not having more than 5,000 guests for dinner today and, rather than sitting on the ground, they’ll probably all be seated at a table. Nevertheless, other than that, these words sound a bit like dinner today at any number of homes throughout our nation—there will be lots of people, more than enough to eat, and plenty of leftovers.

While some people will take a stroll around the block in an effort to make room for the next round of food, many will settle into comfortable chairs and probably snooze while watching football. Although “I can’t eat another bite!” will be repeated at tables far and wide, sooner or later, people again will wander into the kitchen for another morsel of turkey or piece of pie. We’ll get hungry again and overeat once more, if not today then tomorrow or the next day. No matter how much we eat this afternoon, today’s meal won’t satisfy tomorrow’s hunger.

Jesus, however, offers us a meal that is more than satisfying; one that will erase the hunger in our souls forever. We won’t ever feel stuffed or need to unbutton our pants to enjoy it. Totally calorie-free, we have no reason to worry about fats, gluten or carbohydrates. As you pass the basket of rolls today, be sure to remember that Jesus is the true Bread of Life!

Farmers everywhere provide bread for all humanity, but it is Christ alone who is the bread of life…Even if all the physical hunger of the world were satisfied, even if everyone who is hungry were fed by his or her own labor or by the generosity of others, the deepest hunger of man would still exist…Therefore, I say, Come, all of you, to Christ. He is the bread of life. Come to Christ and you will never be hungry again. [Pope John Paul II]

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. … I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. [John 6:35, 47-50 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.