Month: March 2014

The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts Who is Enthroned on the Cherubim


And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4:3

The fourth chapter of 1 Samuel is a sad chapter. It’s really sad because it reminds me of me. Let me explain. Israel went to battle the Philistines one day and they ended up filling up 4,000 body bags with their own soldiers. Not a good day for Israel. So they think to themselves that they must have lost the battle because the ark of the covenant was not with them. So they have UPS deliver the ark, which actually has a longer name: “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts Who is Enthroned on the Cherubim” (1 Samuel 4:4). With a name like that, Israel thinks for sure they will win the next battle. But they don’t. Israel once again gets pulverized by the Philistines, only this time, the Philistines steal “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts Who is Enthroned on the Cherubim.” Not a good day for Israel.

You do realize that you’re supposed to chuckle when you read that the Philistines stole the ark, don’t you? The author of 1 Samuel wants you to laugh when you read in verse 11 that the “the ark of God was captured.” As if the Philistines really captured “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts Who is Enthroned on the Cherubim.” Yahweh, the One who is enthroned on the cherubim, let the Philistines “capture” Him. But, why? Why would God let His name get dragged through the mud? Why would He give the Philistines an opportunity to go on Facebook and brag about how they not only defeated Israel, but actually “captured” their god, Yahweh? The reason the Lord did it was to teach Israel a lesson: Yahweh (and the ark) is not a lucky rabbit’s foot.

Israel assumed that they lost the battle because they did not have the ark. Israel was using God like a lucky rabbit’s foot (Ralph Davis). After they lost the first time, Israel should have stopped to pray. They should have wept and repented over any sin. Instead of weeping, Israel was just interested in winning. Israel was more interested in success than repentance. Instead of using God to win, Israel should have remembered a few things about the ark: It showed that Yahweh reigns over all creation. It showed that Yahweh had revealed Himself and His character (because the 10 commandments were kept inside the ark). Israel served a God who did not leave them i the dark as to what He expected. And the ark showed them that reconciliation and forgiveness was possible because of the mercy seat. Israel served the God of the universe who welcomes sinners into His presence, and yet they just wanted to take Him out to battle to win instead of first repenting of any sin and then enjoying His presence.

And we often do the same thing. We want to win, not weep. Do we use God just to win or have things go right or just to get what we want? Or, do we pray and read His word because we meet with Him, the God of the universe?

May we become a church that is quick to repent. May we become a church who enjoys the Giver more than His gifts. May we become a church that humbles ourselves before “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts Who is Enthroned on the Cherubim.”


To Take Tests and to Teach War


Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. These are the nations: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. Judges 3:1-4

I don’t like tests; I never have. Even if I had mastered the material for a test to be given in school, I still hated taking tests. Too much pressure. Sweaty palms. Racing heart. I still don’t like tests. But I’m learning that discipleship entails being tested by the Lord and I don’t necessarily like that.

Judges 3 informs us that Yahweh left many nations in the promised land precisely to test Israel and to teach men how to fight in battles. Of course, the Lord could have wiped out every enemy and made life easy and sweet for Israel. But Judges tells us that they were left for a reason: to teach war/to test Israel. It wasn’t that the boys in Israel did not know how to swing a sword. Every little boy learns that at an early age. Yahweh left these nations so that the Israelites would understand that a life devoted to Him involved a fight and struggle on their part and He graciously wanted to teach them that truth. As Daniel Block states:

“When Yahweh expresses his determination that the present generation of Israelites should learn war, his concern is not primarily that they learn how to conduct war but that they learn the nature and significance of this war. They have entered the land as Yahweh’s covenant people with the mandate to drive out the Canaanites and to claim it as his gift to them. The continued presence of the Canaanites represents a test whether they will accept Yahweh as their sovereign and their responsibilities in fulfilling his agenda. In accordance with earlier pronouncements (Deut 7:1-5), Yahweh will not do for Israel what they are not willing to do for themselves. The Canaanite nations represent not only a challenge to him and his historical program, but they also remain a test, proving whether or not Israel will accept her status as his covenant people, with all the privileges and obligations attached thereto. This generation needs to learn that they have been called to a holy war, that Yahweh is the commander-in-chief, and that the enemy is to be totally exterminated.” (Judges)

The Lord left the Canaanites precisely to keep reminding the people of Israel that they served Him, they were in a holy war against sin, and that they must work with Him to destroy their enemies. We can glean several applications from this passage:

1. God tests His children. We may not like this idea, but it is true. God never tempts us to sin (that comes from within us!), but He does test us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness…Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. James 1:2-3, 12-14

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ… Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 1:6-7; 4;12

Are you experiencing tests and trials? Are you suffering? God may be testing you to see whether or not you “would obey the commandments of the LORD” (Judges 3:4). Don’t despise the trial and test. He is working for your good and His glory. How will you respond to the test?

2. God may not remove the temptation or trial. Wouldn’t we all love it if we had a promise in Scripture that went something like this: “Ask the Lord and He will remove all temptation to sin so that you never have to struggle with it again. Also, beloved, ask Him to take away all your trials and hardships and He will wave the magic wand of grace and give you an easy, care-free life.”

We don’t have a promise like that in God’s word. But what we do have is better! Read the promise given to Paul (and all God’s children!) as he struggled with his “thorn in the flesh” (whatever that was)-

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

We also have a promise that God will provide a way of escape out of temptation-

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

When you are tempted to sin, look for the escape hatch. It’s there; God will provide it. Endure by His grace.

3. God has called us to make war on sin. Just as Israel was called to totally exterminate the enemy, we too are called to mortify sin. It never ends. The battle will continue until the day we die. One of my seminary professors once asked an elderly man what it was like being a Christian as a very old man. He replied, “The passions never die.” We will be making war on sin until the day we die. There is no “vacation” when it comes to putting sin to death.

Be encouraged today, brothers and sisters. God may not remove the test or the trial, but He will empower you by His grace to endure. Trust Him and keep obeying His word. God may not remove the temptation, but He will provide an escape route. Trust Him and keep obeying His word.

Still learning to take His tests and to make war on my sin,

Don’t Be a Donut Killjoy


Toby: Who brought in donuts?
Michael: Somebody got donuts for my birthday!
Toby: Happy birthday!
Michael: You didn’t know it was my birthday.
Toby: I… guess I forgot.
Michael: Well, I guess I forgot to give you a donut [closes box].
Toby: Are you serious?
Michael: Mmm.

That was a scene from The Office. It reminds me how sometimes Christians can be killjoys who close the “donut boxes” that God meant for us to enjoy. Paul warned Timothy of this-

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1-5

Everything created by God is good. You can’t get too far in Genesis 1 without realizing that. But, what about donuts? They are good. Krispy Kreme is good. The problem with donuts is that we may be tempted to eat too many and we all know that that won’t end well. Eating too many donuts (which are good things) will take a toll on our stomachs: we’ll either experience a stomachache or a “stomach expansion.” But that doesn’t make donuts bad. The problem lies not with the donuts, but with the human being that may consume too many to their detriment. Moderation truly is a wise ideal.

Everything created by God is good. This is what Paul is trying to get across to his friend, ministry partner, and young pastor Timothy. False teachers had crept into the church and were teaching that marriage was bad (even though God said it was good in Genesis!) and certain foods should be avoided. Paul counters by reminding Timothy that all God has made is good. That means donuts are good. The key lies in how we receive them: to be received with thanksgiving.

Everything created by God is good. But some people gauge holiness by what is denied or given up. They pride themselves in what they abstain from. They look down on others when they enjoy God’s good gifts. Paul gauges holiness by what one enjoys as a gift received from God with thanksgiving. Of course that does not mean we can receive with thanksgiving something that we know from Scripture is sinful. We are not called to enjoy sin with thanksgiving. But we can receive the good things that God has created with thanksgiving. Physical exercise is beneficial (1 Timothy 4:7). Wine can be helpful (1 Timothy 5:23). Food, clothing, and money are good things, but they can be abused (1 Timothy 6:6-10).

God is not a cosmic killjoy. In fact, Paul reminds Timothy of this one more time as he closes out his letter:

…God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 1 Timothy 6:17

God gives us many things to enjoy in this life because God is good. Everything that God created is good. And that includes donuts. Just be careful how many you eat.

To Eat and Drink and Be Joyful


And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun. Ecclesiastes 8:15

The following excerpt is from missionary Jim Elliot’s diary, dated 15 January 1951-

“I walked out to the hill just now. It is exalting, delicious. To stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coat tail and the heavens hailing your heart — to gaze and glory and give oneself again to God, what more could a man ask? Oh the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth!”

I think Jim captured the essence of Ecclesiastes 8:15- we are called to enjoy God and His creation. But what about the fact that sin has so tarnished this world? What about all the suffering that surrounds us? How are we to reconcile enjoying God and living in a sin-wrecked world? One of my mentors (that I studied Hebrew/Old Testament under in seminary), Dr. Gordon Johnston, explains the intent of the Teacher, the author of Ecclesiastes (also known as Qoheleth)-

“Qoheleth is not commending a self-indulgent lifestyle of Epicurean hedonism. Nor is he lamenting the absolute futility of life and the lack of eternal retribution. He is submitting to the reality that in a sin-cursed world there is much of human existence marked by relative futility. Since the righteous man cannot assume that he will automatically experience temporal prosperity and blessings on this earth, he should – at the very least – enjoy each day to its fullest as a gift from God. D. R. Glenn notes, ‘Each day’s joys should be received as gifts from God’s hands and be savored as God permits.’” (The NET Bible, p.1137)

That’s exactly what we mean when we say in our mission statement at the church where I serve as pastor: “We exist to ignite a passion in every person to glorify and enjoy God everywhere and in everything.” God made us to know Him and enjoy Him and His creation. This is only possible because of the Gospel; because of Jesus. So go ahead and enjoy your Lord today. Enjoy His creation. Enjoy a cup of Starbucks. Enjoy some pie. Enjoy a nap. Enjoy the company of friends and families. Savor all of these “graces” as God permits.

Thrilled that the God we serve is not a cosmic killjoy!


One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, 
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
 and I will declare your greatness.
 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. Psalm 145:5-7

I love these verses! This psalm is highlighting the need to pass on the Gospel to the next generation, something that we take very seriously at the church where I serve as pastor. We want to make sure that the kids that come through the church hear about the great God that we serve. But did you notice the role that personal meditation plays in this process?

Meditating, thinking, pondering, etc on the glorious splendor and wondrous works of God gets “sandwiched” between 2 verses that speak of the next generation’s reception of God’s truth. What this means is this:

~ Unless we personally meditate and think about how infinitely glorious God is, we will never tell the next generation about Him.
~ Unless we personally meditate on all of His incredible works, we will never tell the next generation about Him.

In other words, if we don’t “own” the Gospel ourselves, we will never be motivated to pass it on to others. Practically, it looks likes this:

~ Unless we personally meditate and think about how infinitely glorious God is, we will never tell our children about Him. We will never have family devotions. We will never talk about the Lord when we sit, walk, lie down and rise (see Deuteronomy 6:7).
~ Unless we personally meditate on all of His incredible works, we will never serve in our churches through ministries such as AWANA, youth group, Sunday school, VBS, etc.

But (and linger on this “but”), if we think about how glorious, awesome, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, magnificent, wonderful, amazing, stunning, staggering, mind-boggling, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, excellent, and marvelous God is, then we might just be flabbergasted enough to tell the next generation about Him.

Why not get started on telling the next generation right now. How so? For starters, you can read all of Psalm 145 and see what kind of God you serve… and then meditate on it. Maybe you’ll want to share what you know about God with your children or the children and youth at the church where you worship?

“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, 
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.”

Why Ebenezer Shouldn’t Be a Scrooge


Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12

In 1st Samuel 7 we find the nation of Israel returning to the LORD after some 20 years of what appears to be half-hearted repentance (see 7:2). Finally fed up with the empty promises of sin and the worship of the gods of the Canaanites, Israel returns wholeheartedly to Yahweh (7:3-11). Then Samuel sets up a large stone and calls it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help.” It was to serve as a reminder that the Lord had helped the Israelites not only defeat the Philistines, but that He had in fact always been faithful to His people. That’s why Samuel says, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”

As far back as Israel could remember, the Lord had helped his chosen people. Out of Egypt. Through the Red Sea. Through the 40 year wilderness journey. Entering and possessing the promised land. And now in His grace to fully restore them. The Lord had always been there helping.

John Calvin said, “So numerous are the dangers which surround us, that we couldn’t stand a single moment, if His eye did not watch over our preservation.”

He’s right. And so is Samuel. God has been watching over His children and helping them, even up until the moment that you began reading this blog post. And He will continue to help us. That’s the way God is. That’s the kind of God He is. He helps His people. And we see His help most clearly in the Incarnation. God has helped us in the Gospel by sending Jesus. And God has sent His Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 16:7).

Think about this today: if God took His eye off of you for even a single second, you would probably crumble. (I agree with Calvin, I think you would!)

Be like Samuel today and tell people, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” Don’t be a “scrooge” with your thankfulness. Raise an Ebenezer!

Thankful for Yahweh’s help,

The God We Cannot Exaggerate


I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. Psalm 145:1-3

I love the “time element” of these verses. David tells us that he praises God today (and every day) and he will praise God forever and ever. In this life and the next, David will worship Yahweh. The infinite God is not limited by time, nor is His praise. This is because He is great. His greatness is unsearchable. David wants us to get the point: God is great. Three times he mentions God’s greatness: Great is the LORD…greatly to be praised… his greatness is unsearchable.

Francis Chan explains the greatness of God-

“Many Spirit-filled authors have exhausted the thesaurus in order to describe God with the glory He deserves. His perfect holiness, by definition, assures us that our words can’t contain Him. Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?” –Francis Chan, Crazy Love, p.31

I love that last line: “Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?”

Go ahead and try it. Try and exaggerate His goodness, His mercy, His grace, His love. You can’t. His greatness is unsearchable and uncontainable by any human or angelic language. So just stop right now and worship Him. Thank Him for all that He is, all that He does. And then go tell somebody at work or school or neighborhood or home or church about how incredible your God is!

Did you just worship Him? Well, guess what?-

“Because God is eternal and omniscient, the praise that we give him will never fade from his consciousness…” Wayne Grudem

Think about that today. All of the praise and worship that you give Him (or just gave Him) never fades from His memory! That will change the way you sing songs on Sunday morning. His praise endures forever!

Languages, nations, people groups, etc cannot exhaust God’s praise! The variegated praise of our God lingers in His mind forever! Even if you try and exaggerate all of His attributes (and you can’t), your feeble attempt will never fade from His consciousness. He’s that great!

Humbled by an infinite God,

Grace is Only for Sinners


He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

Did you notice all of the first person pronouns in the Pharisee’s prayer? I… I… I… I… I… There’s not one mention of what God has done. There’s no mention of grace. All that the Pharisee seems to be consumed with is his righteousness and the sin of others. I think we all like to think of ourselves as the tax collector in this story. He’s the good guy. That’s probably how we always read the Bible. Too often we identify with the hero of the story. We probably do that because it makes us feel good about ourselves. And therein lies the problem: we are focused on us. We are focused on “I.”

As much as we may hate to admit it, we don’t play the role of the tax collector as often as we do the role of the self-righteous Pharisee. Sorry if that bothers you, but I’m just telling it like it is!

Jerry Bridges says, “The problem with self righteousness is that it seems almost impossible to recognize in ourselves. We will own up to almost any other sin, but not the sin of self-righteousness. When we have this attitude, though, we deprive ourselves of the joy of living in the grace of God. Because, you see, grace is only for sinners. After love and humility, there are at least twenty-five more Christian virtues to put on, among which there is surely a lot of room for all of us to grow. Yet to the extent that we miss the mark in those positive Christian character traits, we are sinners in need of God’s grace.”~ The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness

So now that I’ve convinced you that you are probably more like the self-righteous Pharisee, let me remind you that Jesus still loves you. He knows that it’s easy for you and I to point out the sins and flaws and weaknesses of others while highlighting our own “righteousness.” And guess what? He still loves you. He still loves me. So instead of focusing on what others have failed to do or on what you “seem” to do better than others, focus on Jesus. Focus on Jesus because he loves humble sinners. Remember, grace is only for sinners. And that’s what you are! I know that might sting a little, but I wouldn’t be a good pastor (or blogger) if I didn’t tell you that you are one.

A sinner just like you,

The Splicing of Our Limp Wires


“Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock.” Ezekiel 36:37

When you really think about it, it’s pretty amazing that the God of the universe invites us to not only seek His presence in prayer, but that He actually does things in this world because we pray. Amazing. It’s amazing because we are weak, frail, and helpless mortal beings connecting with the eternal God. Suddenly prayer doesn’t seem so boring.

John Piper says,

“Prayer is the coupling of primary and secondary causes. It is the splicing of our limp wire to the lightning bolt of heaven. How astonishing that God wills to do His work through people. It is doubly astonishing that He ordains to fulfill His plans by being asked to do so. God loves to bless His people. But even more He loves to do it in answer to prayer.” (Brothers, We are Not Professionals, p.53)

Suddenly prayer doesn’t seem so boring! God has invited us into His presence. That’s amazing! Will you turn down His invitation? He actually wants you to come and pray! Join others and pray as you “put the Lord to remembrance” (Isaiah 62:6) and “pour our hearts out before Him” (Psalm 62:8).

May we become a church that recognizes our own frailty and may that catapult us into prayer. May we become a church that is known as a church that is busy splicing our limp wires to the lighting bolt of heaven!