Thursday, 20 December 2007

Charge! - 1 Chron 28:9-10

What a responsibility! Young Solomon, standing in front of all the people, hears his father David tell him that God himself has chosen Solomon to be David's successor, to build the temple and to lead God's people. And what a person to have to follow ... David, the man after God's own heart, the man to whom God gave such success, the man to whom God's promised land was finally all given. How could he possibly carry such a burden and responsibility?

Actually, the key is embedded in the charge given by David. How does it start? - "Acknowledge the God of your father, and serve Him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind ... If you seek Him, He will be found by you ...". This is the key! God with us. Understanding that our God wishes to have a close, personal, and working relationship with us, providing all the power, all the strength, all the protection, and all the resources needed - this is what allows us to tackle the daunting tasks He has for us!

And what an object-lesson Solomon had in David. Yes, David had been very foolish many times. But yet, David had kept a 'short account' with God - he had turned back to his heavenly father quickly and with a repentant heart after turning from Him each time. He had acknowledged his sin, confessed that his sin had been against God, and sought His forgiveness. He had laid himself on the mercies of God, even in God's punishment, each time. And through all of David's life walking with the Lord he had seen all God's provision, protection and power.

And yet, there is a warning too: "... the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts ... if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever". Solomon knew this, and yet did not walk with God as he should have done. He saw all God had done, knew God's continued blessing because of God's mercy because of His promises to David, and yet his heart was not fully committed to God. Psalm 115 pleads with us to trust the Lord, even though the nations around might say 'Where is their God?'. Our response must alway be 'Our God is in heaven, He does whatever pleases Him'. And, in remembering and worshiping Him only, there are blessings stored up for us. How many blessings were stored up for Solomon and his descendants, promised in v8, that were never seen.

We see this same story time and again in the Bible. We fail, and as a result we also fail to know all the riches He has for us in Him. Oh to learn to walk closely with our God who indwells us, to daily dedicate our lives to Him, to be His and His only, to find all our joy in Him alone. What an inheritance Solomon had, and what a great inheritance is ours. And so, we too must "Be strong and do His work" only in His power, presence and provision.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

On a snowy day - 1 Chron 11

It's a very crisp winter morning, with frost lying thick on the ground. I've just come back in from walking to the school at 7am with my daughter - unusually early because of a school coach trip. Because the school is just down the road and around a corner from the manse, I really did not expect anything unusual to happen. What would have happened, however, if I had come across a lion stuck in one of the ditches that criss-cross the wetlands in this part of Somerset? I guess I would have left well alone, and put as much distance between it and me as possible.

Benaiah was a different sort of character. One of David's mighty men, he either heard about, or came across, a lion in a pit on a snowy day. Rather than pass on by, content it could do no harm, he jumped right in with it and killed it. Why? Was he some kind of nutter or show-0ff? Was it a silly dare? We are told that Benaiah was put in charge of David's bodyguard, and so I think we can safely assume that he was not mad, and that he was not a foolish risk taker or unthinking show-off. So why did he do it?

I guess we will never know for sure, but the context of the verses do permit what is probably accurate speculation. A lion in a snow-bound pit would be unable to get out, held in by the slippery sides. If the lion had survived to get out once the snow had melted, it would be very hungry! It would have been a real danger. Rather than leave the danger, he risked his own life to save the lives of others - precisely the action you would expect of a good bodyguard!

Why is this little incident (and that of his slaying of the 2.3 meter high champion of the Egyptians) included here? Is it for us merely to admire the strength of David's mighty men? Clearly not, since "all scripture is given by inspiration ... so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped" (2 Tim 3v16). The big point is that when David was on the run, in danger of his life, God's appointment for him to be king seemingly so unlikely to happen, God was working to bring His will to pass. He brought to David men who became known as 'mighty', and not merely called 'mighty' by David but acknowledged as 'mighty' by all. They were not just mighty in their deeds but also in their hearts, as we see in Benaiah's actions on that snowy day. God was training up a 'crack squad' with David who He would use to bring His word to pass. And, God was doing this without any recruitment posters, planned training campaign, or head-hunting scheme ... David was clearly an organised man, a great planner and military strategist, but it was God who brought these men, gave them their military experience, trained them up, and prepared them so that David had this life-long support from the mighty men.

Sometimes we are called on to accomplish things which seem unusual and of no relevance to God's work. Benaiah certainly did not expect to have to deal with a lion in a pit on that snowy day, I'm sure. But, in God's great providence, He is equipping His people for His work so that His church can continue to march in His triumphal procession until the day of His return. The church may look weak from time to time, may be 'on the run', may even have to be 'in hiding', but He always provides, always cares and continues to use people committed to Him to work out His great plans.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Minor [major] hero - 1 Chron 9:20

When doling out the jobs in the tabernacle, gatekeeper was probably not one of the jobs that people would have been clamoring for ... better than some, but hardly in the 'thick of the action'. Yet any job that we are given should be done for His glory, and with an eye to making the most of every opportunity He gives us.

Here in 1 Chronicles 9 we are reminded of Phinehas, who was in charge of the gatekeepers. Why is he remembered so many hundreds of years afterwards? Well, we find out more in Numbers 25, but before we go there lets just pause and look at what 1 Chronicles 9 says about him. Here we read: "... and the Lord was with him". What a wonderful commendation. Of course, the Lord was with all of the Israelites in the desert, because His presence was physically seen above the tabernacle both in day and night. And, in a much deeper way, the Lord is also always with those who are His - by the indwelling of the Spirit in the believer. However, there was something about the way Phinehas walked with God which particularly identified that the Lord was with him.

If we look in Numbers 25, we read that: "While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods." The very presence of God was seen physically with them in the signs of the pillars of cloud and fire; the miracles of God's deliverance from evil were still within living memory; the command of God in Ex 24:12-16 not to listen to the invitations of the surrounding nations - the people had all these benefits, and yet still turned from God. But Phinehas stood out. He saw the hypocrisy of the people weeping before God on the one hand whilst still inviting people of the surrounding nations into their home, and acted decisively to deal with the sin. Because he knew his God, and the Lord was known to him, he did not turn aside to sin, but was zealous for God's name.

I love 1 Chron 9:20, because it does not bring us back to the particular act that Phinehas did, but to the motivation that led to the act: "the Lord was with Him". People who truly know God must, surely, live and act in the light of His purity, glory and for His honour. No matter how humble or great the position God has given us, if we are living our life with the knowledge of His presence, always in His sight, and always for His glory, we can be greatly used for His honour. Not only did Phinehas act for God's glory, but his actions also saved the Israelite nation, because his actions stopped a plague put upon them in judgment.

Do we desire to be greatly used for God? Then we must be those who live our lives with God.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Well, just ask [for what glorifies Him]! - James 4v2

Here is another passage that I often hear quoted: "You do not have because you do not ask God". I say that I have heard it often but, thinking about it, I have to confess that I do too little to respond to the challenge of the verse.

It so happened that this morning I was reading from 1 Chron 4 as well as James 4. In the middle of the long genealogy that is found in that chapter, there are two verses of narrative that stand out - v9-10 "Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, 'I gave birth to him in pain.' Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, 'Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.' And God granted his request." Here was Jabez, born with the name 'pain'! Can you imagine it ... all through your life being called 'what a pain!' What an awful burden in life. Yet, in reality we are all born under the same curse, because in Genesis we see that at the fall the woman was told that she would suffer pain in child-birth and Adam would be subject to painful toil all his life. Thus, Jabez merely had an obvious label to point out the condition we are all born into because of the fall. But Jabez understood that He had a God who was able to free him from the curse, and so looked to God who answered him. He could have looked elsewhere for happiness, but knew that true contentment could only come from God. He could have looked elsewhere for blessing, but knew that the only blessing that would address his great needs was in God. Only in God is there an answer to the curse of sin, and only in God is there an answer to our needs, whether small or large. There is much more that could be said about Jabez, and you can read more from a much more capable preacher here.

However, although I really need to apply both James 4v2 and 1 Chron 4v9-10 personally, what I noticed this time was the context of the promise found in James 4v2. In the earlier verses God challenges His people - they are quarreling and fighting because they want things that others have but do not have these things themselves. There were two things wrong - a covetous heart that was not content with all God had given, and a failure to understand that He is able to supply all our needs. These both actually boil down to the same issue - a failure to understand that all we have comes from Him, who gives generously according to His own purposes for us. The problem is that we continually look elsewhere for the things we desire, when we should be looking to Him. Furthermore, v3 tells us that even when we do ask, we do so with wrong motives ... we seek what we desire for our own use or pleasure and fail to seek what He desires us to have for His glory; "for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt 6v21).

And so, I was challenged about two things today from James 4v2: How I need to learn to pray more for things rather than seek to find these things by myself, and how I need to have a heart that desires Him and His glory, so that the things I ask of Him are the very things that He longs to give. I have to get both of these right - desiring Him means that I will pray in His will for the things He desires for me. And there is a bonus: in getting this right I will also realise the promise in v7-8: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you.".