David Could Not Bring the Ark, so the Ark Came to Us

It seemed like a great idea at the time. An idea that honored the Lord. An idea that pleased God’s people. An idea that would likely secure the people’s respect for forever.

The ark of God, once in the possession of the Philistines, was now on its way back to Jerusalem. The ark, which symbolized both the presence and power of God, would soon be back among God’s chosen people.

But two things happened along the way that brought the process to a screeching halt.

First, though God clearly instructed the Jews to only carry the ark, they placed it on an oxcart for transport back to Jerusalem. Second, when the ark started to wobble and a man named Uzzah reached out and touched it to steady it, he was instantly killed.

It was a tragedy for God’s people, and certainly a setback for King David. He longed for God’s presence to be back in Jerusalem. In fear of the Lord, David prayed, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9) It was a question that would form into a prayer, now recorded as Psalm 101 (see below).

What’s fascinating about this prayer is how resolute David is for he and his people to be holy in the wake of their sin. The sum of the prayer is this: “I’m going to be holy. I”m not going to have anything to do with people who aren’t holy. I’m giving myself to eradicating sin in my kingdom. Then the ark of God will be among us.” Verse 1 sums it up well: “(My life) will sing of love and justice.”

It’s a bold prayer, one that we’ve all prayed a thousand times in the wake of our sin. “God, I’m not going to do it anymore, and then you and I can be in fellowship together.” And just like David, we’ve failed to live up to our end of the bargain. We’ve been prideful, lazy, adulterous and selfish, just to name a few.

So what are we to do? How can we fellowship with God if our best efforts fall short? Who can pray this prayer and actually live it out?

I think you know the answer.

David couldn’t bring the ark, but the ark came to us.

Yet, because Jesus was the essence of love and justice, I think His prayer would be a little different.

David said, “I will pay attention to the way of integrity. When will You come to me? (v.2).”
Jesus would say, “I am integrity, and I am coming to you.”

David said, “I hate sin and will not be involved with it” (vv. 3-4).
Jesus would say, “I hate sin and will the pay the price for it.”

David said, “The one who follows the way of integrity may serve me” (v. 6).
Jesus would say, “I will serve those who have no integrity.”

And so it goes.

And for those who have given their lives to Jesus and have the Holy Spirit living inside of them, they now have the power to pray the prayer David prayed and live as Jesus lived.

Never perfectly. Never pridefully. Always in gratitude.

For were it not for the One who lived perfectly on their behalf and took the punishment they deserved (love and justice), they could never be with God.

I will sing of faithful love and justice; I will sing praise to You, Lord2 I will pay attention to the way of integrity.

When will You come to me?

I will live with a heart of integrity in my house. I will not set anything worthless before my eyes. I hate the practice of transgression; it will not cling to me. 4 A devious heart will be far from me; I will not be involved with evil.

5 I will destroy anyone who secretly slanders his neighbor; I cannot tolerate anyone with haughty eyes or an arrogant heart. 6 My eyes favor the faithful of the land so that they may sit down with me. The one who follows the way of integrity may serve me. 7 No one who acts deceitfully will live in my palace; no one who tells lies will remain in my presence. Every morning I will destroy all the wicked of the land, eliminating all evildoers from the Lord’s city.

This is the Only Reason Why We Have Any Hope In this World

I hope many things for my three children.

Some of those hopes are quite mundane. I hope they brush their teeth. I hope their underwear is clean. I hope they learn to love green vegetables.

Others hopes are more grand. I hope they become Christians. I hope they are successful in life. I hope they have children of their own.

And if I’m hoping these things in full knowledge of the countless years of hostility on the earth, and in plain view of continued hostility, I can only imagine how great was the hope of Adam and Eve when their sons Cain and then Abel were born, for they knew only one (albeit very significant) act of hostility: their own in the Garden.

Though the consequences of their sin were many, God was gracious in many ways, and in Genesis 4 He moved to give Eve sons. Though Adam and Eve knew they would one day die, they had sons. Their family line would continue. And who knows? Maybe one of them would be the “deliverer” God spoke of in Genesis 3:15.

There was hope.

I imagine it’s the same kind of hope you might feel when you hold a newborn child, place your nose on their head, and take a deep breath: a futile attempt “suck in” the youthfulness of life. It gives you hope that things are better … or at least will be better … long after you’re gone.

For this reason, I can only imagine the devastation Adam and Eve felt they learned they had given birth not to a deliverer, but a murderer. Cain, in a fit of envy and/or spite regarding their respective offerings to God, killed his brother and buried him, perhaps from the very field that produced the food Cain had offered to God in the first place.

And just as God had come looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden, He came “looking” for Abel. Of course, he would not be found.

GOD said, “What have you done! The voice of your brother’s blood is calling to me from the ground. From now on you’ll get nothing but curses from this ground; you’ll be driven from this ground that has opened its arms to receive the blood of your murdered brother. Genesis 4:10-11, The Message

Hope was seemingly dashed. A son is dead and gone, murdered at the hands of their only other son. Abel’s blood cried out for justice, and justice was swiftly given to the unrepentant sinner.

But was hope gone?

No.

Adam slept with his wife again. She had a son whom she named Seth. She said, “God has given me another child in place of Abel whom Cain killed.” And then Seth had a son whom he named Enosh. That’s when men and women began praying and worshiping in the name of God. Genesis 4:25-26, The Message.

God graciously continued the lineage of Adam and Eve, just as He promised, so that one day the Deliverer would come.

And He has come. His name is Jesus.

But he, too, was killed by the hands of his brothers.

He, too, spilled his blood into the ground.

But unlike Abel’s blood that cried out for justice, Jesus’ blood cried out for grace.

Whereas Abel’s blood demanded that wrong me made right, Jesus’ blood made wrong right.

Abel was not the deliverer. Jesus is the Deliverer.

Or as the author of Hebrews puts it, His sprinkled blood speaks a better word (Hebrews 10:24).

So is there hope?

Yes. And it is a certain hope that God has acted once and for all to deliver us from the curse.

On Homeschooling, Wheat Grinding, Child Vaccinations, Yoga, and Essential Oils

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:2-5, ESV.

I’m disturbed by what I perceive to be a growing trend within American evangelicalism.

I’m not talking about anything heady or something only theologians worry about.

I’m talking about something very practical … something that touches the lives of us normal, everyday Christians.

I’d like to think that it’s merely a reflection of my social media stream, but conversations with others have confirmed my fears.

So what is it that is disturbing me?

That Christians are adamant about things we have no business being adamant about.

We are adamant that each couple have as many children as they can possibly manage, if not more.

We are adamant that everyone homeschool their children (which we currently do).

We are adamant that everyone grind their own wheat and make their own bread (which we often do).

We are adamant that the consumption of processed foods is sin (foods we don’t regularly choose first).

We are adamant that some, if not all, vaccinations are bad for our children (our shots are current).

We are adamant that our smoothie recipes are superior (I’ve got some good ones if you’re interested)

We are adamant that birthing moms at least consider a home birth (we’ve loved hospitals in the past).

We are adamant that there are essential oils for every ailment under the sun (we use these from time to time)

We are adamant that yoga is evil (which I do frequently).

We are adamant that everyone have an exercise routine (like I do).

And we are adamant about “arguing” over these things on social media.

We are adamant about many things, yet the one thing we must be adamant about, we are not. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

An adamant attitude is not one of weakness, fear and trembling: it’s one of brashness, overconfidence, and pride.

An adamant attitude does not exhibit itself in speech that is humble and exemplary of the Spirit’s power: it’s one of vitriol, self-righteousness, superiority.

An adamant attitude does not lead others to faith in the power of God; it leads to despair as others attempt to be as wise as you demand they be.

Brothers and sisters, let us be adamant about only one thing: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Force not your preferences on others. Force not those things upon which the Spirit may be leading you to do yet not others. God did not call us to be evangelists for the secondary and tertiary things of our faith, but only our faith. Our good news is not the fruit of the gospel, but only the gospel.

Let us not be adamant about the things we have no business being adamant about.

Let us be adamant, but be adamant about the gospel.

Stranded in Paris

I overslept.

In a huge way.

I woke up at 9:30 AM local time in the bunk bed of a Paris hostel, and I was supposed to get up at 6:00 AM.

I had a flight at 11:30 back to the States, and I simply could not miss that plane.

I quickly dressed and grabbed my bag, running for the train station that would take me to the airport. Fortunately, I had become familiar with the transit map over the last week despite my complete inability to read or speak French. Unfortunately, the train was late due to a mechanical problem.

But it came. And I ran in to the airport and approached the ticket booth 45 minutes before my flight was to leave.

In most any American airport, that would have been early. But in Paris in 1996, I was two hours late.

The French ticketing agent took no pleasure in pointing this out, but at the same time, it did not seem he would help me.

That is, until the sweet honeymooning American couple came up behind me, also running very late for the same flight back to Atlanta, GA.

With a sigh and shoulder shrug, the ticketing agent said, “Come with me.”

30 minutes later, we were on the plane, eternally grateful to be free of the chaos we whizzed through. No security lines. No checkpoints. No passport check. No visa stamps. Just straight onto the plane. All possible because of a reluctant ticketing agent who made a new way.

This is what the writer of Hebrews says Jesus did for us to give us the ability to draw near to God. “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Hebrews 10:20).

No more earthly priest. No more animal sacrifices. No more burnt offerings. No limits to the amount of time I can spend or how often I can come. Through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, there is a new and living way to God.

Do we live in light of this? What are to be the practical implications of this great truth?

There are at least three, and I’ll write of those in future posts.

Don’t DEFINE. BECOME.

Jesus told stories … and used metaphors. Pharisees didn’t use language that way. They used language to define and defend.

The contrast in the two ways of using language became about as clear as it can get when one day a man asked Jesus to define “neighbor.” Pharisees loved definitions. Jesus answered him with a story, the story of the Samaritan (Luke 10). If Jesus had answered the question along the lines in which it was asked, the two men could have split hairs of a definition far into the night. But Jesus didn’t do that. He told a story. The story pulled the man into BECOMING a living flesh and blood neighbor (or not), not bloodlessly defining the idea of neighbor.

Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way, p 213-214.

Stricter Judgment: Approaching a Pastor so His Final Judgment Goes Well

In my last post, I wrote about four or five things to listen for in your pastor’s sermon so that you can have the assurance he is taking his responsibility seriously. He is, after all, facing a stricter judgment in eternity for his role as a teacher, and should be held accountable for his sake, not to mention yours and the church’s.

But how do you approach a pastor about this?

Fortunately, we have very clear instruction from Jesus about speaking to our brothers and sisters in love in Matthew 18:15-17.

There is a Gospel-centered remedy for your dilemma, rooted in Jesus’ command that Christians love one another. Follow these four steps from Matthew 18:15-17.

  1. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Note five things:
    1. Be as certain as you can that you’ve been sinned against.
    2. You are responsible for going (no exceptions are given).
    3. You are responsible for showing your brother his fault(s) (nothing more or less).
    4. Your brother is responsible to listen.
    5. If he rightfully repents, you have “gained a brother.”
  2. “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” If you believe the Scripture is clear that you’ve been sinned against, yet your brother does not listen/repent, bring one or two others along in order to “establish” evidence. You may find in this meeting that the evidence falls against you. You were not sinned against. You misunderstood him, or had false information. If this is the case, rejoice! You may find that your concerns are validated: your brother has sinned against you. And hopefully, he will listen/repent with this larger audience that is for him and for the truth so that you can gain your brother (more about how pastors can and should respond in the next post).
  3. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” There are lots of ways an individual congregation might practice this. Above all, remember: the goal is for your pastor to listen.
  4. “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Jesus is not saying to remove someone from the congregation, but to essentially give someone the “cold shoulder.” There can be no real fellowship with such a brother when a united congregation affirms that sin needs to be repented of and the brother stubbornly won’t. There is an implied hope in the passage that a “cold shoulder” will help the brother repent and be restored. This is in keeping with Paul’s wisdom in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11. Forgiveness and restoration is the goal, but sometimes the “cold shoulder” has to get us there.

These four steps are admittedly difficult, and the latter is especially difficult to apply to a preaching pastor! It’s in situations like these where church polity/governance plays a huge role, and there are no clear answers. But

  • The presumed pastor will no doubt be tempted to double down on his pride and resist the loving overtures of the one he has sinned against. He may use this opportunity to slander or otherwise further wound this brother that has come to him. How easy it is for pride to swell!
  • It requires no humility for such a pastor to share his concerns with others who will likely sympathize with his hurt than it is for him to explore the Scriptures and personally and privately address his brother with a loving spirit. How easy it is to excuse or diminish our responsibility to biblically deal with interpersonal conflict!
  • Such a pastor may find that he was mistaken, and who wants to go through a process like this only to find they were wrong? Does it not feel better to think that we are right than to be right with others? How easy it is to value self-esteem more than the Gospel!
  • Congregations, regardless of the church’s leadership and official processes that may or may not be present to deal with such things, generally don’t find pleasure in serving as a judge between brothers. How easy it is to talk about things privately elsewhere than in the congregational forum Jesus calls for!

Yet we must consider what happens if we don’t follow these Gospel-centered steps.

  • A brother is not gained. Put another way, a relationship is broken.
  • Gossip, murmuring and grumbling persist in the body (James 5:9).
  • The “unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace” are disrupted in the congregation (Ephesians 4:3).
  • Division and quarreling grow in the church family (1 Corinthians 1:12).
  • Christian maturity is stunted in the fellowship (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).

The choice is clear.

  • If we follow the Gospel-centered process Jesus gave us, the worst-case scenario is that one person receives a “cold shoulder” from the congregation in the hopes that he will one day repent. And even in this scenario, involved individuals in the congregation are forced to examine themselves and heed the warnings of practicing the sin being address and the pride that comes with it. Yes, it’s more difficult and looks different when this person is a teaching pastor, but the principles still hold.
  • If we follow the way of the flesh, much of the church becomes divided and its growth is stunted. Phone calls, emails, parking lot meetings and the like distract a church from its mission and eat away at fellowship in the church.

People are people. There will be sin in the church. The question is this: will you choose to believe the Gospel when it comes to interpersonal conflicts, or will you choose the destructive way of the flesh?

Next post: how to be a pastor that hears and receives this feedback well.

Coming to Terms with the Fact You Don’t Have it All Together

For many years, people with terminal illnesses were an embarrassment for doctors. Someone who could not be cured was evidence of the doctors’ fallibility, and as a result the doctors regularly shunned the dying with the excuse that there was nothing more that could be done (and that there was plenty of other demand on the doctors’ time).

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a doctor in Switzerland who railed against this unkindness and spent a lot of time with dying people, both comforting and studying them. She wrote a book, called ‘On Death and Dying’ which included a cycle of emotional states that is often referred to (but not exclusively called) the Grief Cycle.

In the ensuing years, it was noticed that this emotional cycle was not exclusive just to the terminally ill, but also other people who were affected by bad news, such as losing their jobs or otherwise being negatively affected by change.  The cycle is generally recognized in five (sometimes seven) stages:

  1. Denial and Isolation.
    At first, we tend to deny the loss has taken place, and may withdraw from our usual social contacts. This stage may last a few moments, or longer.
  2. Anger.
    The grieving person may then be furious at the person who inflicted the hurt (even if she’s dead), or at the world, for letting it happen. He may be angry with himself for letting the event take place, even if, realistically, nothing could have stopped it.
  3. Bargaining.
    Now the grieving person may make bargains with God, asking, “If I do this, will you take away the loss?”
  4. Depression.
    The person feels numb, although anger and sadness may remain underneath.
  5. Acceptance.
    This is when the anger, sadness and mourning have tapered off. The person simply accepts the reality of the loss.

Perhaps, now, you are thinking about someone you know (or yourself!) who has experienced a traumatic event and where they (or you) are in this cycle. In one sense, seeing this cycle of grief may seem to diminish the humanity of people by insinuating that there is nothing unique about our pain.  On the other hand, there is something incredibly comforting about this, as it normalizes our experience and gives us the support of others who have been down the road before.

While the cycle itself is amazing to me, I am particularly interested in the last stage: acceptance. A person who has experienced a loss and is in this stage has essentially come to terms with his or her loss, but is never the same. There is still sadness and grief, but there is an embrace of the reality that while life will not be the same, it does continue.  Life presses forward, but the experience and loss will never go away. This is acceptance.

It occurred to me this week that acceptance is a crucial part of being a Christian. Acceptance of the fact that we don’t have it all together. Acceptance of the fact that that we don’t get to choose how God sanctifies us or blesses us. Acceptance of the fact that God is not impressed with us or our efforts.

And this acceptance is a grievous thing. It’s sad in a very real way to come to the end of yourself.

Yet it’s also awesome, because there … in that place where you accept the fact of your inadequacies … Jesus doesn’t condemn and judge, but embraces. He “comforts.” We receive the kingdom of God.

I really think this is what Jesus meant when He said, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit” … which is to realize you don’t have it all together .. and then “Blessed are those who mourn” … which is to accept the fact that you don’t have it all together. Those people follow Jesus. Those people are Christians.

So here’s to not only not having it all together, but being sad about it and then embracing it … because right there, Jesus embraces us.