Friday, June 28, 2019

A Child's Trust

There is something else essential that we must learn from the story of Job, from the father's heart he reveals to us as he purifies his children after their parties - and that is the trust and love that his children had for him. 

In order for Job's desire to purify his children to be fulfilled, his children have to come to him when he calls them. They have to show up the next morning and stand before him, ready to be cleansed. They have to confess what they may have done, accept responsibility for their choices, and desire what it is that their father is offering them. 

They didn't have to. It would have been easy for Job's children to make excuses. After partying all night, they were probably tired; who wants to get up bright and early and face the music? No one. maybe they would insist that they had only partied; they hadn't really done anything wrong or sinful. After all, don't we make our choices based on what we think is right? Most of us don't intentionally do what we know is wrong, so Job's kids could have said, you know, I didn't make any bad decisions last night. Nothing to be purified from. Simple as that. 

But they don't. The way Job tells the story, it implies that his kids show up faithfully when he's ready to purify them. When he's ready to offer a sacrifice to cleanse them, they're there. When he's ready to pour oil on them and anoint them anew, they're willing to stand and receive it. 

This is a posture that we must learn as children of God. 

Our Father's heart toward us is good. It is perfectly good and wonderful and blessed. But there's something in us that shies away from it, something that turns and runs and hides. Some of it is our own self-righteousness. It's easy for us to make excuses or to justify ourselves, claiming that we don't really stand in need of God's tender mercies and so refusing to stand before God at all. After all, we make our choices based on what we believe to be right. And if we believe ourselves to be right, why even entertain the possibility that we might have been wrong? Why even bother confessing that we may in some ways be blind to our own iniquity? 

Some of it, too, is our fear of God. We don't understand the pureness of His heart toward us. We are ashamed. We are nervous. We spend a lot of time thinking He's going to be disappointed in us, that He's going to disown us. We saw yesterday, from Job's perspective, how this is not the case, but we worry about it anyway. If we are sinners, how can we possibly be God's children? And yet, God sent His Son to die for sinners to make them all His children. So He already knows this about us and loves us anyway. 

So then our greatest battle really isn't with knowing or not knowing the Father's heart, no matter how much we try to pretend that it is. Our greatest battle is with ourselves, with humbling ourselves and becoming the kind of children who come when their Father calls. With being willing to confess the blindness we have for our own sin. With being willing to acknowledge that although we do our best, we still falter and fumble sometimes. With knowing that we stand in need of purification, of atonement, of redemption. 

Job's kids show up when he offers to purify them. 

As children of God, do we?

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Father's Heart

There's an example of a gracious father, of our gracious Father, in the Old Testament, but we easily get caught up in so many of the other details of his story that we don't even notice what he has to teach us about fatherhood. That example is, of all persons, Job. 

Yes, the very same Job whose children were all killed when Satan came against him in an effort to get him to curse God and die. 

Maybe you're wondering how this can be, how a man whose children all died can teach us anything about living as children of the Father or what God goes through to be our Father. But if you're paying attention at the beginning of Job's story, before it gets so messy, it's beautiful. 

Job's children are counted among his many blessings. And he's done everything he can to raise them right...and righteous. He's taught them, instructed them, set an example for them. He's guided them, disciplined them. He's prayed for them, forgiven them. He's given them the world, all that he has of it to give, and he's given them his heart; Job's children lack nothing. 

But they have a bit of a problem. You see, Job's children like to party. They like to go on wild binges and do crazy things, just for the sheer thrill of doing it. And while Job doesn't necessarily have a problem with his children's desire for a little fun, he does worry a bit about what they might be doing at these parties. 

So every time his children go to a party, Job wakes them up early the next morning and purifies them before the Lord. Just in case. Just in case the party got a little wild. Just in case they went a little astray. Just in case they forgot the foundation of all that they are and what it means to be a child of Job. He doesn't yell at them. He doesn't degrade them. He doesn't disown them. He simply purifies them, praying over them and anointing them afresh for the sanctified, righteous lives for which he has painstakingly prepared them, that he has tried so diligently to instill in them. 

Sound familiar? It should, for we are Job's children. 

We are children who have been raised right. Our Father has done everything He can for us. He's taught us, instructed us, set an example for us by giving us His Son to show the way. He's guided us, disciplined us. He's prayed for us, forgiven us. Again and again. He's given us the world, all that He has good to give, and He's given us His heart; God's children lack nothing. 

And yet, we have a bit of a problem. We like to party. We like to go on wild binges and do crazy things, just for the sheer thrill of doing it. We think we know what's best for ourselves or at least what seems good at the time, and we go after it. And while God doesn't necessarily have a problem with our desire for a little fun, He does worry about what we're really doing. 

So every time we go to a party, every time we wander away, every time we go astray, God, our Father, comes to purify us. Just in case we got a little wild. Just in case we forgot the foundation of all that we are and what it means to be a child of God. 

He doesn't yell at us. He doesn't degrade us. He doesn't disown us. He picks us up, brushes us off, cleanses us, and purifies us, praying over us and anointing us afresh for the sanctified, righteous lives for which He has painstakingly prepared us, for the holy lives to which He has called us. With tender care, He loves us well - out of His own righteousness, for the sake of ours. 

I don't think most of us get that. I think it's too easy for us to see the disaster of life, the destruction, the desolation. It's too easy for us to see the fires and the storms and the boils and the disease. It's too easy for us to see the struggles and the heartache and the despair, just as we so easily do in Job's story. 

It's why we have to be intentional about looking deeper, about taking it all in. About seeing what it is that Job teaches us, not just about ourselves when trials come, but about our Father. For Job was a good, good father, and we? We are all Job's children. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A Banquet

Esther is a beautiful woman with a ginormous task; she must use the position that God has put her in to save her people from a wicked plot against them. It's dramatic. It's dark. It's suspenseful. 

And it's a foreshadowing of things to come. 

Prompted by her uncle, Mordecai, to approach the king and seek his favor for her people, Esther steps boldly but respectfully into the throne room of Artaxerxes, hoping to be welcomed and accepted. When she is, she asks not for what she truly wants, but for something different altogether - she asks for the king and for the servant Haman (who is wicked, but who is not yet known to be wicked) to come to a banquet that she will prepare for them. 

They come, gladly so, but the king knows that this is not really what Esther has wanted. So he asks her again, what is is that you want? And she invites them to a second banquet, where she promises to reveal her true request. Again, they come, gladly so, and after feasting together, she lays it on them. What she wants is the redemption of her condemned people. 

It's easy for us to defer to worldly power structures here, to think how cunning and shrewd Esther was to know how to ask for what it was that she really wanted. She was buttering them up, certainly. Wasn't she? She was going through the steps and preparing all the decorum and doing things the right way to honor these men who were so much greater than she was, deferring to their power and prestige and playing to their sense of exaltedness by serving them first. Ah yes, Esther truly understood the way the world works. 

Or did she perhaps understand better the Kingdom?

Because this is not the only banquet in Scripture. It's not even the only banquet where both a King and an enemy are present. Remember that generations later, Jesus is going to break bread with Judas, a feast prepared by the disciples who want something, who desperately want something - they want to see all that Jesus is going to do.

In fact, the Scriptures are often about a banquet. We're told over and over and over again how God Himself breaks bread with us in fellowship. How He broke bread in the Upper Room. How He fried fish on the seashore. How He divided loaves on the hillsides. How He calls us again and again to a wedding feast, to a banquet, to a table He's prepared for us. 

And yet, we know that to eat with us is not the full measure of what He desires. He wants something more. 

He wants the redemption of His condemned people. 

We want that, too. 

So when we read the story of Esther, we absolutely ought to praise the way she goes about it. But let us never fail to see how the story of her banquet is the story of our banquet, where so much more is on the line than a mere meal. It's our very hearts, our souls, our lives. Our eternal life. Where we are called to break bread, but the real end game, the real mission, is the redemption of us, a condemned people, as it has been all along. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Festival of Shelters

In Nehemiah 8, the people have been working faithfully on the Temple and have come now to the place where they are recounting the Word of God and going through His law and history. They come upon a description of the Festival of Shelters, an observance they haven't undertaken in many, many generations, and then something amazing happens. 

They do it.

Look at that again. The people read about the Festival of Shelters, a time during which God calls His people to live in makeshift tents in the land to remind them of what it was like in the wilderness when they did not have a permanent home among them, and they immediately go and build themselves makeshift shelters to live in for the celebration of this festival.

Maybe you're thinking, okay. What's the point? That's exactly the point - they read the Scriptures, then followed them.

They didn't ask what kind of shelters were the best kind of shelters to make. They didn't talk about how expensive it would be to get the materials for the shelters. They didn't ask whether God really meant what He said or if it was some kind of metaphor for something different He wanted them to do. They didn't spend their time diving into the story of the original shelters that the festival was instituted in remembrance of. They didn't substitute good preaching on the subject for actual obedience to the word. They didn't pontificate the finer points of shelter living. They didn't attempt to justify themselves by saying that well, they were already kind of living in shelters while they rebuilt the Temple because their own houses weren't really the best. 

They read the Scriptures, and they followed them. 

What a novel idea!

We live in a time that has taught us to question everything, even our God. Even our faith. Even His Word. We're told that the best thing to do is to seek to understand, not to seek to obey. We're told that not everything is what it seems to be and that often, these things we find in the Bible are really just images, just metaphors for something else. Jesus didn't really want the rich man to sell all he had and give it to the poor; he was just "making a point." The Red Sea didn't really part; it was a point of low tide where it just seemed like the waters pulled back for awhile.

Again and again, we take these beautiful stories and incredible bits of wisdom that God has given us for living, and we nag them to death until the very life is sucked out of them. Because we're told that's what "reasonable" people do, and we are, aren't we?, reasonable people. And then we try to build a life and a faith and a heart on stories without the life in them and we wonder why we're feeling so parched, so dry, so...dead. 

We're feeling dead because we read the Bible, but we don't take it at its Word. We listen to God, but we don't believe Him. We spend our time trying to figure out what He meant instead of living by what He said, and I'm telling you - it's not that complicated. Read the Scriptures. Read them again. Turn the page, and you'll see yet another person who simply believes, and it is credited to him or her as righteousness. 

The people in Nehemiah read the Word, built the shelters, lived in them, and worshiped. It really is that simple. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

A History in Prayer

When it comes to the stories of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, Nehemiah's account is far more readable than Ezra's, I think. It's got more narrative to it, a better flow, a better conversational style than the more official tone taken by Ezra, and there's a very good reason for that. 

Nehemiah isn't really a history; it's a prayer. And prayer is, well, conversational.

I can't tell you how many times I've read Nehemiah and missed this, taking the narrative style for what it appears to be - a guy telling a story about how the rebuilding of Jerusalem went. About a people dedicated to the Temple and its work. About men building the wall around their homes with swords slung on their waists for defense. About enemies coming against them and obstacles in their way. 

And every now and then, a line or two about Nehemiah's own faithfulness, his dependence upon God, his passionate heart for the people and their work. He's certainly a good and skillful leader, it seems. And why shouldn't he be? Back in exile, he was the king's cupbearer; he had a front-row seat to leadership. 

But when you read Nehemiah, you keep coming across these sentences that seem like interruptions to the narrative. They seem like interjections. Again and again, Nehemiah says things like, "God, remember this about me" or "God, when the time comes, remember this."

Almost like he has some kind of prayer Tourette's syndrome. Like he just keeps tic-ing into prayer. Like some breaths just blurt out as prayer and then, well, back to the story like nothing ever happened. 

That leaves us with two options. We can read Nehemiah as though he's a bit of a weirdo, occasionally interjecting these weird, random, one-line prayers into the narrative he's sharing. OR we can read Nehemiah as though it's the fullness of a prayer in itself. 

Now, wait a minute. How can a history be a prayer? Nehemiah is clearly telling us the story of what happened in Jerusalem at that time. Is he? 

Or is Nehemiah telling God a story about what happened in Jerusalem at that time?

Isn't that what prayer is? Prayer is us telling God our story from our perspective, from what things look like down here, from a heart that is aching for a little something more. From eyes that see Him and want to see more of Him, from hands that work for Him and feet that depend on Him. Prayer is our saying, "This is what my story is right now, Lord" and often, "here's where I'm looking for You." 

And we already know there's a paradigm for this. We've seen other prayers in the Bible that recount God's history among His people, that start with Abraham or Jacob and go through the exodus and the wilderness, that remind His people, while they are praying, about all that He has done - that tell His story even while writing it. It's the same thing in Nehemiah - he's telling his story even while writing it in prayer, reminding the people of what God has done and how to continue to expect Him and to look for Him. 

It really changes the way we read this book. It does. If you get some time, pop open your Bible and take another look at Nehemiah. Read it as a prayer and see what you find. It might just be the kind of conversational, story-sharing, narrative language you need to help your own heart connect to God in a new way. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

A Long List of Sinners

Ezra 10 is perhaps one of the most perplexing, and at the same time, encouraging, chapters in all of the Bible. Here, we are given yet another of the Bible's list of names, but this time, it's a list of sinners.

Yes, you read that right - Ezra 10 is a long list of sinners, mentioned each one by name.

Here's what's happening: a relatively small group of Israelites have returned from exile to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. And the work is well underway, having encountered here and there some resistance and rebellion but persisting nonetheless. And the more that the Temple comes along, the more the people are drawn to its righteousness and to purify themselves for it. 

Because there comes a point when you are trying to make a Temple worthy of your God that you discover that you want to make yourselves worth of the Temple. 

So the men realize that exile has done more to them than they really noticed, since they didn't have a central point of faith/obedience from which to live during that time. Many of them have taken wives from outside of their own people, a natural occurrence when you're living as a stranger in a foreign land, but they come now to understand that this has drawn them away and will continue to draw them away from God. In other words, they have sinned. 

And as the people gather at the Temple and Ezra prays, they understand what they've done and how it is binding them to something other than their God and they determine not to continue in their sin. Thus, we have in Ezra 10 a list of the men who have married foreign women. In other words, a list of known and confessed sinners. 

Contrary to what the church has preached about God for too long of a season, this isn't really God's way. He's not really the kind of God who calls out our sin and publishes it on a billboard and lists us by name when we've done something wrong. He's not all about convicting and condemning us. If He were, He wouldn't have sent His Son to save us. 

Yet, here it is - an extensive, exhaustive list of sinners in the Holy Scriptures themselves. What are we to do with that? 

A trick question, really. 

Because the truth is that the entire Bible's narrative is a list of sinners. You've probably seen something similar to this on a popular meme that circulates from time-to-time. Noah was a drunk, Jacob was a thief, David was a murderer, and so on and so on. The truth is that God's story is told by sinners, in them and through them, from the very beginning. Adam and Eve all the way through you and me. 

The fact that Ezra chooses to include a whole list of them is not really all that unique in the Bible, except by sheer quantity. Because in context, even he's not talking about their sin; he's talking about their confession and repentance. This list of sinners is a list of the redeemed, of those returning to righteousness and choosing God all over again.

Just like we do. 

So if you're a sinner this morning (and if you're not yet this morning, give it time and you will be), take heart. God's story unfolds through sinners, sinners so loved they are listed by name. Not for what they've done wrong, but for what they're doing right - returning to righteousness and choosing God all over again. That's all it is. If you're off track, if you're in the wrong, if you're lost and wandering, if you don't know where you are, if you're uncertain, unsure, if you don't know how your name is coming off in His story, if you're worried about how it looks or whether it's real or what matters or doesn't matter or eternally matters, this is it: choose God all over again. For you, even you, are a sinner so loved you are listed by name. Not for what you've done wrong, but for all you're trying to get right. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Like a Snake in the Wilderness

Ezra tells the story of a small number of Israelites who returned from exile to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. He also records for us a number of challenges and oppositions that they faced, many of which came from outside the people of Israel. Political rivals, persons with an ax to grind, those with a stake in the desolate territory often came against the people of God to try to stop their momentum (which never, by the way, went fantastically well; one governor who tried to put a stop to the rebuilding ended up being ordered by his higher-ups to fund it). 

For the most part, the people seem to ignore these intrusions, to roll with the punches, and to live with grace. But in Ezra 6, we learn that that wasn't always the case. Here, we're told that those who tried to interfere with the rebuilding of the Temple were impaled on a beam from their own homes and lifted up in sight of the whole community. 


It's interesting because a few generations later, a Guy is going to show up who will claim that He has come to be the cornerstone of the new Temple, who will claim that He is going to rebuild it, who will be accused of saying they should destroy the Temple and let Him rebuild it in three days. There is a Guy who is coming who will say that the Temple isn't what it seems to be and that the real Temple is in the hearts of God's people. 

And He will be impaled on a beam and lifted up in sight of the whole community, with a sign over His head that reads, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews." 

This is the kind of stuff it's all too easy for us to miss in our Bibles. It's the stuff we read right past because we don't really get into it with our sanctified imaginations, don't watch it play out before us. If you can see in your heart's eye these men lifted up around the rebuilding of the Temple, hanging there on the beams of their own houses, you can see Jesus lifted up outside Jerusalem just the same. The image becomes clear. 

We think that the Romans crucified Jesus. We think that the Jews took Jesus to the Romans to do what they didn't have a paradigm for doing, but that's not entirely the case. They had a clear precedent to crucify Him and there was a time in their own Jewish history where, seeming to stand in the way of the Temple, the Jews themselves would have nailed Him up. 

He's compared, most graciously, to the bronze snake in the wilderness that was lifted up to heal the people, but any faithful Jew who knew the history of Jerusalem and the Temple would also have seen lifted up the same trouble that plagued Ezra's generation - someone who was a threat to the Temple. 

Let us not fail to see this, too. 

For it's part of the glory of who Jesus is, and it's evidence that He taught what He taught - that the Temple isn't central any more; it's intimate. That the Temple isn't a building; it's an indwelling. That the Temple doesn't dominate the faithful life; the heart does. This Jesus is for real. 

The Cross testifies to that, in more ways than we often realize. In ways just like this. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Rebuilding the Altar

After the exile, a group of Israelites returned to Jerusalem to undertake the work of rebuilding the Temple and the city. The mission of these Israelites is recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah and includes a long list of names of those who returned and what they did when they got there. And the first thing they did when they got there was to rebuild the altar.

Now, you would think that this makes perfect sense. A faithful people of God returning to their promised land and to the Temple that bears His name would be most interested, probably, in having a place to offer their sacrifices. Finally, a holy place to slaughter a ram or a lamb, to pour out the blood, to raise an aroma pleasing to the Lord. For years, they've been offering their sacrifices in exile, in whatever place they could find or whatever barren land they've been given. But, they can offer a proper sacrifice. So rebuilding the altar seems like the natural thing to do. 

All of this makes sense if we're talking about a people of the Temple, but keep in mind - this hasn't really been a people of the Temple in a long time; this has been a people of exile, a wandering people, a displaced people. So to understand what the altar meant to them, we can't just look at the people of the Temple; we have to look at the wanderers, too. 

And what we find in the wanderers is that for them, the altar was a witness. 

It was a witness for Abraham when God provided. It was a witness for Jacob when he built an altar along the shores of the Jabbok, where he had wrestled with God. It was a witness for the tribes after they had crossed the Red Sea and the Jordan. It was a witness between Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh and the rest of Israel when they settled into the Promised Land. God's people have been erecting altars as witnesses since the day they walked out of Eden. 

So when they walk back into Jerusalem after so many years in exile, what do they do? They build an altar as a witness - to all that God has done to bring them here and to all that God is doing to help them here and to all that God will do to affirm them here. 

This altar stands not just as a place to worship but as a witness to the Worshiped. 

Whenever, then, the people are weary, whenever they are discouraged, whenever they are questioning whether coming back was a good idea, whenever the work is going a little too slow, whenever their enemies come against them, whenever there's doubt or a loss of heart or a loss of hope, they're ready for that. They planned for that first, likely knowing those hard days were coming. They made it their priority to have a way to remember. They erected a witness.

They built an altar.

A lot of us would benefit from a few more altars in our lives. Not as places to worship, although that's important, but as witnesses. As reminders of what God has done to bring us here, what He is doing to help us here and what He will do to affirm us here. We would do well to have ways to remember the Lord who directs our lives, who has intervened - the God who has provided, the One with whom we wrestle, the Mighty One who parts the seas and leads us through. We could all use an altar here or there. 

First things first. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A New Passover

Every now and then, a righteous king of God's people would discover anew the book of the Law that Moses left, have it read to him, and then tear his clothes at the realization of how far his people had fallen from their Lord. Often, he would then try to reclaim some of the people's lost righteousness, usually by starting with sacrifices and festivals. 

Which is how God's people came to celebrate Passover in the time of Josiah. 

But this Passover was different than other Passovers in one fundamental way, which both reclaims the festival and foreshadows it. At this Passover, Josiah and his officials donated the offerings for all of the people. 

The Passover offering was traditionally sacrificed at home and eaten as a family. If a family was too small for a full offering, they would join with a neighboring family and split one, so that no part of the Passover went to waste. And to waste it would have gone because the day after the Passover, the people would be on the move, and nobody wants to be carrying leftover leg of lamb with them. It's, well, messy. 

For years, this is how Israel celebrated the Passover. Each man in his own home with his own family and with his neighbors, providing his own sacrifice, his own offering, his own prayer. They would mark it on their door frames, just as they had done in the beginning, letting the blood of the sacrifice mark their faith. 

But in the time of Josiah, it is the king who provides the offering for everyone and the people come to eat of it. 

And you're thinking, okay, but why does that matter? What's the point? If the people are celebrating the Passover, that's a good thing. Why nitpick about who does the offering? 

Because in a few thousand years, this is going to come up again. This time, in an Upper Room. 

Josiah's offering enabled the people to celebrate the Passover. It invited and welcomed them to the festival and to the remembrance of God. And it was the first time that the king had done such a thing. But then Jesus comes along and with His disciples in an Upper Room, the King provides the Passover again. And this time, that becomes the pattern.

The Kingdom is often described as a feast to which we are all invited, and this is the feast. Many of us celebrate this every week in the form of Communion or Eucharist, the Last Supper. We recognize and remember this Passover that Jesus celebrated by providing it for His disciples and commanding it to us - do this in remembrance. That's what the Passover has always been about. 

So it's cool when you read the story in 2 Chronicles of Josiah and his officials offering the Passover for all the people because it gives the people back something they had missed, but it points us forward to a time when that will become the norm for the feast. When it will always be offered by the King. It's cool. It's just cool. How is that not cool? 

Monday, June 17, 2019

On Unity

Unity is a big theme in the church, particularly in churches of the Restoration Movement of which I am a part. As Christians, we take seriously the words of Jesus's prayer that we may all be one, as He and the Father are one. And certainly, we should be.

But unity is an idea that's taken a beating in our modern age. Perhaps even long before now, but certainly now in a postmodern, pluralistic culture. We have been taught to believe that unity is uniformity, a oneness that pervades everything that we do and all that we are. As though we all have to believe exactly the same thing, act exactly the same way, do exactly the same things. It's unity only if we're all doing it together. 

That has never, however, been God's definition of unity, nor is it Christian. God has always been about plurality, about diversity, about specialization and exception. We know this because we see the way that He talks about the gifts that He has given to each one - and we certainly wouldn't expect everyone to preach the way the one called to pastor preaches or to encourage the way one called to encouragement does or to give the way those gifted with generosity (and means) give. We expect each Christian to act out of his or her unique gifting, but then we also cry for unity...whatever that means. 

And what does it mean? 

There's a word in 2 Chronicles 30 that is translated in the English as "unity." Yes, all the way back in the Old Testament. Yes, long before Christ's famous prayer. Yes, during a time of division for God's people. It's a word translated "unity," but the Hebrew from which it is taken is most telling. In the Hebrew, this same word literally means, "to be of one heart." 

One heart. Not one mind. Not one hand. Not one act. But one heart. 

That means to be in love with the same thing. To be tuned into the same thing. To have longing for the same thing. To be of one aim, one purpose, one passion. If we could only understand this, it would change the way we do unity.

See, it's far to easy for us to look around and to ask, "But how can that man be my brother?" He doesn't take Communion. He hasn't been baptized. He sings weird songs at his worship or he dresses funny. He believes very differently about social issues that I do, and he claims God's okay with that! That church down the road? They're just weird, and that makes them wrong. How could I ever pretend that he's the same kind of Christian as I am. 

Simple. It's a matter of the heart, not the mind. 

What we have to ask ourselves is whether our brothers and sisters in their hearts love Jesus. If they are consumed with living His love. If they are passionate about His grace. If whatever they do is guided by this burning desire to honor Him, serve Him, love Him. It's not about whether we think they're getting it right or getting it wrong; it's about why they're doing what they're doing. And if they're doing what they're doing out of the same heart that we're doing what we're doing, then we are brothers. Plain and simple. 

And this is not just true in the church. It would do us a lot of good to look around and assume that others are acting out of just as pure a heart as we are. Not that they are arrogant or naive or brash or backward or right or wrong or whatever, but just that they are earnest

It really changes our impression of the world and of others in it when we start with an assumption that everyone is doing the best that they can with what they have. Just like we are. When we do this, we become brothers and sisters. When we do this, we become one. One humanity, broken together, on a journey toward redemption, however our hearts understand it. There is no "us" and "them;" there's only "we." And if there's only "we," then "we" are in this together. 

All of a sudden, Jesus's prayer doesn't seem so difficult. We are one. 

Friday, June 14, 2019

Idols of the Nations

If you read through Kings and Chronicles, it doesn't take long before you notice just how much difficulty the kings of Israel and Judah had maintaining their faithfulness to the Lord. It's the tragic story of the sin of God's people, and you wonder how it happened. How could they turn away from the Lord who promised and delivered, who gave them so much? 

And then we read a couple of particular stories of certain kings, and it becomes even more unfathomable. 

Take, for example, Amaziah (2 Chronicles 25). Amaziah goes out and wages war against the enemy nations of God's people, and he wins. Decisively. He just stomps them. God's people are rejoicing; they're plundering. Life is good. But Amaziah plunders, of all things, the idols of the peoples he's just defeated. He brings them into his own place...and starts to worship them. 

Here's the thing, though - Amaziah knows, acutely, that these idols are powerless. He knows they're nothing at all. At least, he should because he just defeated the peoples these idols were supposed to protect. These were the gods of the peoples he just slayed. He swept in and took everything that was important to them, and these idols did nothing to save them. Yet somehow, Amaziah sees the idols and thinks, "Oooh, shiny! I should worship these." 

Skip forward a little bit and Ahaz does something surprisingly similar. He incurs God's anger because he has turned away from the Lord to worship the gods of other nations. God is mad, and He lets it be known. But instead of turning back to God, Ahaz goes off and finds more gods and more idols to try out, trying to figure out which one it is that will be able to save him from the wrath of the Lord that he has angered. Certainly, one of these idols, one of these gods, has got to be worth something. Certainly, one of them will be good enough to him to save him. 

Of course, only one God is good enough to save him, but that's the God he doesn't seem to want. 

Things weren't going all that badly for Ahaz until he turned away. If he wasn't worshiping the gods of the nations, then the Lord wouldn't really have any reason to be upset with him. It's insane that it doesn't occur to him to just come back to God. 

But honestly? It doesn't always occur to us, either. 

We are not so different from Amaziah and Ahaz, even those of us who call ourselves God's people. It's tempting to look at the way that others live and to think there's got to be something in it, especially if they are prosperous peoples. It doesn't matter if their wealth crumbles when the Lord lifts a pinky to it, there's still something shiny about it that draws us in and we think, gosh, if we could just be a little more like them, then we might have even a measure of what they had. So we wander off and worship something other than God, and maybe it seems to promise us a lot of things but what we quickly lose sight of is what it can never give us: victory. We know because the Lord has already defeated it. 

And like Ahaz, it's easy for us to think that once we've turned away, we're on our own. Our best bet is to keep searching for something that can soothe God's anger, that can push Him so far away that it doesn't matter how far we've turn. God is disappointed in us, He's mad at us, He hates us (we think this even though we know that God is love) and so our best bet is to just keep going until we find something, anything, that can stand up to Him, that can stand up to the heat. Really, though, there's nothing in this world good enough to save us except God, and it doesn't matter how far we've turned, we can turn back to Him at any time. It just...doesn't occur to us. 

It's crazy to read through the history of God's people and see how quickly and easily the kings turned away from the Lord. How could they? we think. Just look at what God's done for them! 

But we're not so different from these kinds, really. So the real question is, how could we? Just look at what God's done for us. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Fortified Cities in a Time of Peace

King Asa was a good king; he was known for doing what was right in the Lord's eyes. And because of his goodness and righteousness, the land of God's people had peace. And it was on account of this peace that Asa began to fortify his cities. 

That means that he built up the walls around them, strengthened their defenses, ensured their protection. All at a time when there was no threat. 

Because Asa understood that if there is already a threat - and there will at some point be one - it's too late. You can't build walls while your enemy is building a siege. You can't forge shields when the arrows are already flying. You can't structure yourself for war if you've already in the battle. At that point, all you can do is whatever you can do, whatever you have to do to stay alive. 

The middle of the fight is no time to discover your weakness; you have to look for it in the midst of peace. 

It's counter-intuitive to everything we think, everything we're prone to think. We are a people who don't know what we need until we need it, and it's why we spend so much of our lives scurrying around, frantically trying to find the things that are valuable in whatever season we find ourselves. We live in the moment, and if this moment is peace, then we aren't thinking about much of anything, except how to enjoy it. We pour ourselves a latte, click on the playlist, kick up our feet, and settle into "the life." 

And being Christians doesn't really change this for us. Want to get real for a second? We are a so-called "faithful" people who are content to read our Bibles only when we need to. Who pray only when we have a need. Who cry out to God in desperation and ignore Him the rest of the time. We go to church when our souls are thirsty and somewhere else on Sundays when they're not. We listen to worship music when the mood strikes us, but our regular radio dial would probably make our brothers and sisters blush. We are a people of God when we need Him, but in times of peace, we just live "the life." 

This example from King Asa reminds us how backward that is. It's in times of peace that we ought to be reading our Bibles more. Praying more. Worshiping more. Attending church more. It's in times of peace that we start building up our defenses, setting our cornerstones, sharpening our arrows. It's in times of peace, when we don't "need" God," that we learn to love Him. Not because He rescues us...again...but because He is who He says He is. It's in times of peace that we prepare ourselves for war because, friends, the battle is coming. 

It's our failure to prepare in peace that only perpetuates the cycle above. We're kicked back, relaxing, enjoying "the life" when the other shoe drops, the storms hit, the winds blow, and our ships start to rock and all of a sudden, we're those "Christians" who go running back to church. Who finally crack open their Bibles. Who all of a sudden remember how to pray. Who turn the dial to worship. By then, it's too late. It is. The battle is already raging; this is no time for basic training. 

The faithful life, the truly faithful life, is built in times of peace. The cities, our hearts, are fortified when there's no enemy coming against them. Our righteousness is built up in loving God in calm seasons.

So, then, the question is this: what are you doing with God when you don't "need" Him? Are you still loving Him? 

When the battle is on, this will make all the difference. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Way for Doing Wrong

Solomon's a pretty smart guy; he's known throughout the world and throughout history for his wisdom. Even the Queen of Sheba came and discovered that the rumors didn't do him justice; he was wiser even than she had heard he was. But Solomon seems to have one glaring blind spot in his wisdom, and it's the same blind spot that most of us have:


There's no question in Solomon's mind about how he is supposed to live. He has the example of his father, David. And while David was not a sinless man, he is described as a man after God's own heart, which means that he was able to eventually see and understand something about his ways that brought him back to the depths of God's indwelling in him. He has the instruction of the Word, which he knows quite well. He knows what he's supposed to do and not do. He knows the traps that exist for him in the world. 

Yet, his own lust and love gets in the way. He falls for women outside of Israel and starts bringing them into his household. He builds for himself a storehouse of concubines, women of every kind to satisfy his flesh. He's got women who connect him to all of the kingdoms of the earth, political alliances sealed in his own bedroom - the way that things were done in the cultures that didn't fear God. 

We're tempted to think that this is perhaps his greatest sin. How could he? He knew he wasn't supposed to have women from other cultures, but he took them anyway. He knew he wasn't supposed to soil himself with the non-God-fearing, but he does it anyway. It's a direct order from God, and it doesn't seem to matter to Solomon. Solomon!

Except that it does. 

There's a point in the saga of Solomon where we see that he actually does understand what he's doing, and that point is this: he says that it is not right for his wife to live in the house that his father built because the house that his father built is holy.

A little guide for life: if you know something isn't good because it violates the holiness of God, then you probably shouldn't do it at all. 

But Solomon doesn't get rid of his wife. He knows she can't live in a holy place because the relationship is unholy and not pleasing to God, but he doesn't get rid of her. Instead, he just builds her her own place to live. 

And it's this that is Solomon's greatest sin, and often ours. It's not just that he does wrong. It's that he knows he's doing wrong and makes accommodation for it. He knows that what he's doing violates something holy, so he just moves it over a little bit and tries to put holiness side-by-side with fleshly desire. He justifies his sin by thinking he can just keep it in a separate box next to his "God" box and that it won't interfere with the rest of his life and maybe God won't even really care that much that he's doing it. 

See, God? See? I put my sin over here where it doesn't mess with my religious life. Pretty good of me, right? Pretty clever? 

Not really. It's not good, and it's not clever. It's sin. It's Solomon's sin, and it is ours.

What areas of your life are you building houses for? What are you thinking you can just keep separate from your holiness and not need to make it a big deal? What are you justifying so that you can keep on doing, even when you know it isn't pleasing to God? What do you need to just break up with, right now? 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Solomon's Prayer

Solomon prays a powerful prayer at the dedication of the Temple that he was finally able to build for the Lord in Jerusalem. 

It's important first to note his posture when he prays this prayer, because it reminds us of something essential about Solomon's heart. Solomon, the great king of Israel, got on a platform in front of his people, elevating himself to prominence before their very eyes. Then, he got on his knees so that they could see his humility. He bowed himself low so that the Temple behind him rose high. And then, he prayed. 

In this simple act, Solomon demonstrates an understanding of both his power and his place, and he shows the people that though he is their king, he is not the greatest among them. Though he build this immeasurable Temple, even the glory for it is not his; its glory is greater. And then, he prays - not for himself, but for the people. And not just for his people. 

This is what I love about Solomon's prayer. He remembers everyone because he knows that the Lord is greater than his own kingdom. 

There comes a point in Solomon's prayer when he prays for the unbeliever and the outsider. Specifically, he prays that if someone who doesn't belong to the Lord and doesn't know the Lord sees this Temple or hears about this Temple and prays to the Lord, that God would hear them and answer so that His glory would be known over all the earth. 

When was the last time you prayed for the Lord to bless someone who doesn't claim to belong to Him? 

No, really. This is important. Because modern Christianity has spent a lot of its history condemning the unbeliever for sport. We've spent our time thinking that the person who doesn't believe in God doesn't deserve God. We've invested ourselves in making sure that the unbelieving world knows how doomed it is and we take some kind of perverse joy in reminding them of that. 

We've made it harder for the unbeliever to ever find God because we have been so loud about just how much God despises him or her for not believing. We mock the unbeliever when he or she prays. Oh, now you pray? To a God you don't believe in? He's not some kind of genie, you know. It doesn't work like that.

But what if it works like that? 

What if God answering the prayer of the unbeliever is exactly what that unbeliever needs to become a believer? What if God responding to a desperate heart is what it takes to make that a regenerate heart? What if we prayed that God would answer everyone who calls on His name, believer or unbeliever, so that His glory would be known over all the earth? 

What if we, like Solomon, remember everyone because we know that God's kingdom is bigger than our own? 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Your Sins are Forgiven

(A bit out of sequence in our journey through the Bible, which we'll get back to tomorrow, but this is important and inspired, so here we go.) Have you read through the Gospels and noticed the sheer number of persons who come to Jesus for healing only to hear from Him that their sins are forgiven? Go ahead; read through. Look at how many times He says to someone, "Your sins are forgiven." 

We think, of course. Jesus came to forgive sins so that we could have eternal life with Him, and that eternal life is more important than any earthly, physical healing they could have desired. So they got the better thing, even if they didn't know or understand it. Besides, didn't Jesus also heal their physical infirmities? So...two-for-one.

The trouble with this limited understanding is that it leads us to settle for less of Jesus. We're content to be a people who say that He saved us from our sins, and that's all we ever need from Him. It doesn't matter if He heals us, if He shows up, if He loves us, if He cares for us, if He binds our wounds or anything else; Jesus redeemed us from our sins, and that's what Jesus is all about. 

Except that the Gospels tell us plainly that that's not all that Jesus was about. Jesus was about healing. And friendship. And presence. And truth. And grace. And love. 

How did we get to a place where none of that matters to us any more, as long as we're not going to hell? It starts with what we don't understand about these four simple words of Jesus - "your sins are forgiven."

You see, these words of Jesus had nothing to do with the sins of the afflicted; they had everything to do with their hearts, their understanding. 

In the time in which Jesus lived, and for much of Christian history, affliction - being blind, lame, deaf, a leper, a bleeding woman, a cripple, whatever - was believed to be the result of being a sinner. We even see this when a group brings a blind man to Jesus. "Who sinned?" they asked Him, knowing that there had to be sin somewhere in order for this man to be blind. 

So when someone comes to Jesus afflicted, that person already has a narrative about his or her sinfulness. That person has spent quite some time reflecting on everything he or she has ever done wrong in life, every misstep, every mistake. It's all they've had to think about in their infirmity. The most dominant narrative in these men and women's lives is not, "I am afflicted," but rather, "I am a sinner." 

Then they come before Jesus wanting to see, to hear, to walk, to live, and the first thing that Jesus says to them is, "Your sins are forgiven." And these four words set their hearts free to even be healed. 

Because you can't live a new life until you're free from the old story. 

Jesus knows they need to hear this. Jesus knows they need to be set free from all they've been believing about themselves so that they can believe in Him. Jesus knows how deeply rooted these stories are in their hearts, and He knows that the first thing they need is to be spoken to, not to be healed. It has nothing at all to do with their sin, real or imagined; it has everything to do with what they believe about themselves. 

When we understand this, it changes the way we understand Jesus. He doesn't forgive our sins so that we don't have to go to hell; that's not the greatest thing Jesus has ever done for us. He forgives our sins to set us free so that He can do greater things still.

So that He can heal us. 

And for all our religious posturing, for all our blind faith, for all of our resigned assurances that we need nothing more than the forgiveness of our sins, who among us doesn't long for His healing anyway? Who among us doesn't need it? 

Friday, June 7, 2019

Threshing Floors

Recently, I proposed that if you want to have some biblical fun, you should trace the appearance of figs through the Scriptures. And that's absolutely true (and fun, for real). But if figs aren't quite your taste, here's another one for you: follow the threshing floors. 

Threshing floors are extremely important to God's story. The threshing floor was an open, flat space where a person would come and beat the grain in order to separate the wheat and the chaff, the good stuff from the bad stuff. Here, you'd end up with a pile of stuff to use and eat and a pile of stuff to burn. 

God found Gideon in a makeshift threshing floor, threshing grain in a winepress in order to hide from his enemies. It was from here that God launched him against Israel's opponents and secured him a great victory. It was here that Gideon tested God in the dew and the fleece and God showed up exactly as prayed for. 

It was on the threshing floor that the plague of God against His people stopped in the time of David. Remember this from not too long ago? David sinned, and God gave him options about how the Lord should punish this act, and David set Israel at the mercy of God's hand. God swept through, killing tens of thousands, but then a threshing floor. David then bought the threshing floor, built an altar, and offered sacrifices there. These are the sacrifices he insisted on paying for because he said he would not offer to God something that cost him nothing.

And then we come to Solomon. Solomon was David's son who was promised to build the Temple for the Lord among His settled people in the Promised Land. And build that Temple he did...

...on a threshing floor. 

Jesus tells us in the parable of the weeds and the wheat to let both grow together; the day is coming for the harvest, and it is at that point that the good will be separated from the bad. You'll be able to pick out what's usable and what's not. What's valuable and what's not. It's a metaphor for a good God who doesn't come down hard on a fallen world, but gives it the grace to grow together - the good and the bad - knowing that the day will come when He will separate the two. 

We read that and think, oh, yes. Yes, of course. That sounds exactly like the kind of thing that God would do. And then we essentially move on with our lives and sort of understand this and sort of don't. 

But when you see how often the threshing floor comes into the holy places in the Bible, if you follow God from threshing floor to threshing floor, if you look at just how frequently He shows up here, you understand how much this is an essential part of who He is. Of who we praise Him to be. 

So if you're looking for some biblical fun, follow the figs and the threshing floors. It's incredible. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

An Abstract God

One of the challenges of modern Christianity is that we've attempted to center it in who God is, in the very heart of the One who created us and calls us to worship and intimacy. Saying that's a challenge to our faith may strike you as odd, particularly if you've been in the church lately. Isn't that what we're supposed to do? 

Yes and no. 

It's absolutely critical that we know God's heart, for we can judge our experience in the world by what we know of Him. He will not contradict or condemn Himself, so if we know His heart, we can trust what we experience of Him because it will be consistent with His nature. However, all of the emphasis we've put on His heart has separated us from His works. 

Again, I know what you're thinking - we're supposed to have a faith that move beyond what God does for us. He's not some kind of genie, you know. It's not about what we get out of it. 


If you believe in Jesus for any reason besides that He died for your sins and redeemed you to the life you were always meant to live, then you don't believe in Jesus. The foundation of His life, His death, His resurrection, and our faith is this act - what Christ has done for us. The foundation of our faith is a "doing" - what God has done. 

Every time you see His people in the Scriptures coming back to God, turning back to Him, recalling His faithfulness, it's always concrete. They tell the stories of parting the sea, stopping the Jordan, defeating enemies, stopping plagues, saving lives, healing infirmities...and on and on and on. Not once in the Bible do we see His people turning back to Him and declaring, simply, "Oh, our Lord is just good. He's just good and amazing. And He's love. Yes, He's love. And grace and mercy and goodness and amazing love." 

They always put skin on it. 

In fact, God Himself put skin on it. 

But we are a people who have separated ourselves from His works, thinking them somehow to lessen our faith rather than to strengthen it. If we only talk about what God's done, the world might misunderstand who He is. They might think it's about us and meeting our own needs, rather than about Him. They might get the wrong impression about what faith is. 

What we don't understand is that this world, Christians included, understand God better when we put skin on Him, when we talk about concrete things He's actually done. Not because it changes the point or the message or the mission but because it means something deeply more than a series of characteristics that we can't ever seem to pinpoint. 

Ask a Christian a follow-up. What does it mean that God is good? Oh, that He's good. What does it mean that He's love? God is love, don't you know. We can only answer character questions by repeating them in the answer. What is grace? Oh, our God is gracious. It's not wonder our world, and even our Christians, don't really know who God is. 

God parts the seas. He raises the dead. He gives sight the blind and sound to the deaf. He casts out demons. He makes the lame walk. He forgives sin. He comes through on His promises. That's who God is. He's a God who acts on His character so that we know exactly Who we're dealing with.

So...what has God done for you lately? And how does that change the way you know Him?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


Having read the title of today's post, you're probably thinking to yourself already...who? Mattathiah? I have read my Scriptures faithfully, and I do not know this Mattithiah that you speak of. And that would be fair. After all, his name is mentioned only once, and there are a lot of men and women in the Bible whose names are mentioned only once, the overwhelming majority of whom we could not name again if asked. 

And yet, there's something about Mattithiah that draws me in, something that I cannot shake. 

If you know me, and especially if you happen to attend church with me, you know that I have a deep affection for Communion. The Lord's Table speaks to me in ways that nothing else in the church experience speaks to me. It touches the very depths of my heart. There's just something about this God that breaks bread with us that catches me in tenderness that I cannot shake. But it's not really just me. There's something about Communion that God loves, too. Something about it that is essential to His relationship with His people. He is a God who has always been about the breaking of bread.

In fact, when God built the Tabernacle and the Temple, one of the commands for it was that His people always have bread out on the table. It was called the Bread of the Presence, a reminder that God was present there with His people and that there was something about the breaking of the bread with them that was essential. That is essential. 

What does any of that have to do with Mattithiah?

We find this man is 1 Chronicles 9, where the author documents for us the people of God who were the first to re-settle on their own land in Jerusalem. We are told by name of the various tribes, of Benjamin, of the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers - a series of names, the kind of thing we're tempted to skip over when reading because we don't understand why these names matter to us. (They do, but that's another topic for another day). 

After naming a few gatekeepers, the text moves out of the list of names and into a general discussion of Levites and their duties. Some were gatekeepers, and they were positioned in such-and-such places around the sides of the towns. There were four principal gatekeepers. Some of the Levites were in charge of this, some of them were in charge of that. We've moved from names to getting a general rundown of duties and tasks. Some took care of the articles, some of the furnishings. Some were responsible for mixing the spices or preparing incense. Some were musicians, and they lived in certain rooms in the Temple. 

And in the midst of the listing of all of these duties by very general terms and by vague responsibilities, we're told about "a Levite named Mattithiah, the firstborn son of Shallum the Korathite...." 

He was the bread baker. 

We've got this ongoing list of duties of the Levites in the Temple in Jerusalem, of the things that they do and how they do them and where they live and how they're stationed and what they are responsible for. And in this entire list, only one Levite is mentioned by name - Mattithiah, the bread baker. 

It's because God doesn't want us to forget the bread. He doesn't want us to fail to notice it. In a place that smells like burning hair and fat and incense, in a place where prayers and atonement and sacrifice are offered, in a place just outside where mercy reigns over the Ark of the Covenant, it's easy, I think, to walk right by the table and not even notice the bread. Not even notice the Presence. Not even notice the Promise. 

Except that in a place where all this stuff is going on, where all these things are happening, where so much that seems essential to the worship of the Israelites occurs, God places special emphasis on this thing that we're most likely to miss by drawing our attention to only one man by name. 


The baker of bread. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Who Knows Better?

The problem with us as God's people is that we have always tended to think that we're pretty smart. We can look at a situation and figure out a good solution and know what it is that we think we're supposed to do. 

The trouble comes when we actually do it.

For example, look at the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh. As Israel approached the Promised Land - the land that God Himself said was good and was a gift to His people - these three tribes looked at the land they were already passing through and thought, you know, this is pretty good land right here. What we need is to settle down and build some cities here where it's good, where we don't have to fight off any more enemy nations, where there seems to be some peace. 

They got permission to do it, and so they did. All Israel waited for these three tribes to build, secure, and settle down in this land before moving on. We know that because part of the deal these three tribes got was that if they got to settle in this land, they had to lead the fight for the Promised Land to give to their brothers. They could not come back to rest here until everyone else was settled over there. 

Which means...Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh saw the full glory of the Promised Land, of everything God was going to give them, and they doubled down on their own plan by returning to the towns they had built on the other side of the Jordan.

And it's not like they couldn't foresee some potential problems with this. After everyone got settled and these three tribes crossed back over the Jordan to their own towns, the first thing they did was to build an enormous altar so that the rest of Israel could see it from their side and remember that these three tribes were part of them. They were still Israel, they insisted - just on this side of the Jordan. They didn't want to be cut off from their brothers.

Yet, this is exactly what happened. When Israel turned away from the Lord, these were among the first tribes to turn away. When she was sent into exile, these were the first tribes taken. 

Although they had the safety and security of the walls they'd built around their greener pastures, they didn't have the promise of the Promised Land, and they were sitting ducks. Literally. Backed against the Jordan on one side, cut off from their brothers, cut off from their God, cut off from their Promise. It doesn't take a lot to conquer a people like that, no matter how good they think their land is. 

We do this all the time. We look at the place where God is leading us, and it's glorious, but then we look around and realize that where we are isn't too bad, either. In fact, it's pretty good. It's even better because we're already here. It's the trap of contentment, among other things - a confusing theology that tells us we're better off to be content wherever we are, drawing likely on the words of Paul who said he learned to be content no matter what the circumstances. So we become content with where we are, and we lose sight of where we're going. We think we know best, since this is good, too, and we build our walls around what look like greener pastures - touring through the Promised Land only to come home to the beds we've made for ourselves. 

And we're sitting ducks. Cut off from the best God has to give us, backed against walls of our own making, we're here just waiting to be picked off because this wasn't God's plan for us; it was our own. We've lost out on not only His greatness, but His protection and His promise and His glory because we've settled for something that looks good. (And we've called it God, ironically, because, well, God is good, isn't He? Certainly, He wants us to have good things.)

Yes, He wants us to have good things, but He also wants us to have great things. Glorious things. Promised things. Amazing things. Grace. 

So we have to stop thinking we know better. We have to stop thinking we have it all figured out. We have to keep pressing on and pressing through and going to where God's leading us, all the way. Past good. Past green. All the way to glorious. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Just a Building

Every now and then, Israel/Judah would find herself with a king who would undertake a series of reforms meant to bring the people back to God. Josiah was one such of those kings, and the first reform that he undertook was the rebuilding and restoration of God's Temple in Jerusalem. 

What's interesting about this is that Josiah undertook this project before he really understood the depths of the Temple's importance. He did it before he understood what made this place incredible. He did it before he knew the full law of the Lord. He did it before he understood the details of worship. 

How do we know? We know because it was in the process of rebuilding/restoring the Temple that servants in Josiah's time found the book of the Law in the Temple and brought it to him and read it for him. 

It's impressive, really. Josiah knew this building was important to the God of Israel. He knew it was magnificent and majestic for some reason. He knew, somehow, there was glory there, even though he didn't have a foundation of knowledge for understanding it. 

Maybe it was civics or politics. Maybe he was just trying to be a good ruler and restore some of the more dilapidated places in his kingdom. Maybe the Temple was an eyesore that he was just trying to clean up. Maybe someone came to him and whispered some things and convinced him it was important, someone with more understanding about these things. Maybe it was a favor he was doing for someone. There are all kinds of reasons that Josiah might have undertaken the Temple project without the knowledge of what he was really getting himself into.... 

And there are all kinds of reasons why someone might walk into our churches without knowing, either. 

There's some renewed tension in the church about the importance of buildings or even of things like meeting together at all. We understand that collectively, we are the church, and so what matters most, it seems, is our willingness to love one another, to serve our communities, to read our Bibles, and to worship our God. It's less important, we think, where exactly we do that or whether we have enough building space or whether we even have our own building space. A lot of churches are now even meeting in rented spaces - schools, movie theaters, community centers - living out of trailers and thinking it entirely unnecessary and a waste of money to actually have a building. 

All that upkeep...all those mortgage payments and utility bills and plumbing needs. It's all so...unnecessary. 

Yet, a story like Josiah's reminds us why our buildings are so important. 

Josiah didn't have to rebuild the Temple. He didn't know why it was so important. Maybe he suspected it, but it would have been just as easy to convince himself that the people of God already understood their rituals and requirements for sacrifice and prayer and community life, so the building? The building was moot. It was no longer necessary. He could have convinced himself of that and ordered his men to leave it alone, or maybe even tear it down. After all, those who had any real interest in it already knew what they needed to know. 

But Josiah didn't know. He didn't have a real clue. And it was only by undertaking the work of the Temple that he discovered what he didn't know. It was only by going through room by room that he found something that gave him life. Not just him, but his people, also. A whole new generation of Israelites learned what they never knew because Josiah was willing to invest in a building he didn't fully understand. 

It's an important reminder for our churches. People are going to come to our buildings. Our communities are going to come to our buildings. They may not understand much about them, may not know what exactly goes on there. Maybe they just get the sense that it's important, that it matters somehow. And it's in our buildings that they're going to find something life-giving. 

Our missions, our outreach, our "hearts as temple, lives as worship" mentality is important, beautifully important. Holy, even. But it only works for those who already know. 

Those who don't know...need buildings. They need a place to come and discover the book of the Lord. They need a place to gather together and learn how to do this thing called faith. They need doors to walk through, halls to explore, rooms to search. They need altars and pews and welcome centers. They need bricks and mortar. They need plaster and paint. They need buildings. 

It is for this reason that we need them, too.